With its decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013), the United States Supreme Court muddled the degree to which a district court may scrutinize the merits of a class action at the certification stage. In Comcast, the class plaintiffs sought to address one of the considerations for certification – the capacity for damages to be measured on a class-wide basis – by offering an expert damage model projecting damages under plaintiffs’ four, combined antitrust theories. While rejecting three of those theories, the district court certified the class on the basis of the fourth theory, coupled with the damage model. Comcast appealed, noting that the damage model (1) had not separated damages by each of plaintiffs’ four theories, (2) thus, potentially included damages under antitrust theories that the district court had rejected, and (3) in turn, could draw into the class persons not damaged under the one, permitted antitrust theory. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected Comcast’s argument, finding that such examination of the damage model’s methodology would amount to an improper consideration of the merits of the case at the certification stage. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed, held that the class was improperly certified, and suggested that class counsel attempting to prove that they can quantify damages on a class-wide basis must:
- tie each theory of class impact to a discrete calculation of damages, and
- demonstrate the calculations are just and reasonable inferences, rather than speculation.
Whether Comcast will prompt closer scrutiny by district courts of merits other than damages during class certification remains to be seen.