Friday, December 12, 2014

Peterson v. Bank of America (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 11, 2014)

I have -- perhaps surprisingly -- no problem at all with the 965 plaintiff, 3,142-page complaint filed in this case.  None whatsoever.

Yes, that's a lot of plaintiffs.  Yes, that's a hefty complaint.  Definitely not the kind of "short and plain" pleading expressly required on the federal side.

But Justice Bedsworth is right.  It meets the joinder standards.  Countrywide allegedly did the same (or nearly the same) thing with every loan.  It inflated the appraisal with an in-house entity, wrote the loan and then sold it on the secondary market in order to pocket the proceeds, deceived the borrower, and made out like a bandit -- until the scheme (and market) collapsed.

Sure, there are various differences in the stories.  Just like when a drunk driver crashes into a crowd of people, there are different injuries, different amounts of lost wages, different ways they were hit, etc. that we have to sort out.  But that doesn't stop joinder.  Not in criminal cases.  Not in civil cases.  What Countrywide (allegedly) did is not qualitatively different.

Moreover, the practical realities that Justice Bedsworth raises are exactly right.  It does the courts no good to split this one case into 965.  Moreover, it does the plaintiffs affirmative harm.  Economies of scale exist.  One scheduling order, one set of depositions, one trial, etc.  Makes total sense.  Not 965 different filing fees against a consolidated adversary.

Indeed, perhaps most surprising, if anything, I'm not sure that Justice Bedsworth's opinion goes far enough.  He repeatedly characterizes this case as essentially a "mass action" -- and/or very similar to a class action -- and urges the trial court on remand to deal with subclasses and the like.  I'm not sure I agree.  It's not a mass action.  It doesn't have to be -- and maybe even shouldn't be -- a class action.  It is a group of plaintiffs filing a lawsuit.  No different, again, than a group of plaintiffs hit by a drunk driver or injured in a chemical spill or killed in an airplane crash.  They can sue together.  We deal with any complexities arising therefrom with the normal severance, bifurcation, and severance regimes relevant to individual actions.  I think those more than suffice.

Am I necessarily against putting certain groups of plaintiffs more closely together; e.g., letting all the plaintiffs injured in X way or deceived in Y fashion go to trial together, an putting the W and/or Z plaintiffs on a different track?  No.  Do I think the complaint needs to be over 14 inches tall?  No.  It can definitely be much, much shorter.  (Though I totally understand why the plaintiffs, in light of the ever-increasingly-strict pleading requirements, erred on the side of caution here.)

But as for the case being properly filed, it is.  It should go forward.  There's absolutely no reason why Countrywide should be allowed to force the plaintiff to pay 965 filing fees and undertake 965 trials.

Justice Fybel disagrees with Justice Bedsworth, and dissents.  I'm sure that Judge Fybel would disagree with my approach even more.

Read both opinions.  See who you think's right.