Lack of Typicality Kills Class Action Against General Mills

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 27, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit reversed a federal district court's decision to certify a class of plaintiff homeowners against General Mills. According to the lawsuit, General Mills allowed pollutants to decrease the plaintiffs' property values. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the Eighth Circuit determined that their injury was too atypical. It's a major victory for General Mills to say the least.

And it seems to place limits on the earlier SCOTUS case of Tyson Foods Inc. v. Bouaphaeko in which the court based its certification on statistical evidence of commonality despite individualized injuries.

General Mills Leaks

The federal court's decision effectively undoes the class status by some 200 homeowners in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis who brought a collective action against General Mills alleging that the company allowed the leakage of trichloroethylene under their homes, thereby harming property values.

In the lower district ruling, Judge Donovan W. Frank proclaimed that the individual nature of the homes did not defeat the typicality requirement needed for class certification and that the injury suffered by the homeowners was also not uniform either in the form of underground damage or trichloroethylene vapors.

Highly Individualized

But the circuit felt that each of the plaintiff's harms were highly individualized. "These matters ... will still need to be resolved household by household even if a determination can be made classwide on the fact and extent of General Mills' role in the contamination, [for] which determination is problematic," Circuit Judge C. Arlen wrote. In fact, the homes in the Como neighborhood were dispersed in such a way that there was a material question as to the level of variable injury to each. Additionally, the homes were different in age, structure, and footprint.

Not About the Merits

The plaintiffs' attorney was of course not pleased with the decision, but underscored that the circuit made the decision purely on procedure and that the merits of each of the plaintiffs' claims remained intact.

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