Class Actions in a State of Undress

Almost no litigation grabs attention and headlines more than a high-profile class action. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent class action ruling was no exception in a case involving salacious conduct and a violation of privacy.

The plaintiff in Jane Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC, 2012-1566 (La. 3/19/13) was an unnamed victim of a “peeping tom.” She contended that an employee of a popular gym placed a pen camera in the women’s bathroom where he would tape unsuspecting women in various states of undress. The pen camera could hold only 1-2 hours of film. The perpetrator testified that, after viewing, he would immediately delete the footage. The images of only four women were seen on the footage when it was discovered. After the employee was arrested, one of the victims filed the class action lawsuit. At issue before the Louisiana Supreme Court was whether the class action was properly certified by the Trial Court.

Class action is a nontraditional litigation procedure that was introduced into Louisiana civil procedure in 1961. Louisiana class action procedure is modeled after the original federal rule and has been extensively revised since its inception. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 591 provides the elements that must be met before a class action can be certified. Failure to meet one of the threshold requirements of Article 591 precludes class action treatment. Once of these threshold requirements is numerosity, i.e. a class of potential plaintiffs “so numerous that joinder of all members is impractical.” La. C.C.P. art. 591(a)(1). The requirement of numerosity was at issue in Jane Doe.

In its analysis, the Supreme Court stressed that courts must perform a rigorous analysis to determine whether the proposed class action meets the requirements of Article 591. Simply pleading a class action is insufficient. Instead, the plaintiff “must be prepared to prove in fact” that the Article 591 requirements are met. Id. at p. 9. To establish the “numerosity” requirement, the class representative cannot simply allege that several persons were affected by the defendant’s bad acts. She must be able to offer some proof of a definable group of aggrieved persons so numerous that joinder is impractical.

In Jane Doe, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff did not satisfy numerosity. The employee’s testimony revealed that he may have recorded approximately 20 women. However, because the footage was deleted, most of the potential class members could not show that their privacy had been violated. Only nine women had positive knowledge that they were on video. According to the Jane Doe Court, nine class members did not meet the numerosity requirement and the class was decertified. While the Court did not reveal a “magic number” to meet numerosity, we now know it may be higher than nine.

There is an old adage that “bad facts make bad law.” In Jane Doe, the Louisiana Supreme Court did not let the egregious nature of the conduct impact its view that the requirements of Article 591 must be met in every circumstance.


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