The Eleventh Circuit recently addressed two aspects of Article III standing relevant to class action settlements: the standing of a class member to object, and the standing of class representatives to seek injunctive relief—and thus whether such injunctive relief should be given any weight as part of the approval process.
In Williams v. Reckitt Benckiser LLC, No. 22-11232 (11th Cir. Apr. 12, 2023), a false advertising case, the district court approved a claims-made and injunctive relief class action settlement over the objection of Ted Frank, a frequent objector to class-action settlements. Frank argued that “the parties inflated the perceived value of the Settlement by touting that [Defendants] would pay up to $8 million” while knowing that a typical claims rate would result in a far lower payout. He also objected to the $2.9 million attorney’s fee award as disproportionate to the $1.1 million in payments received by the class. The parties argued that Frank lacked standing to appeal because he bought the challenged product only after learning of the settlement. As a result, they argued he was not deceived by the product’s label and was not injured because he would be fully reimbursed if he submitted a claim under the settlement.
The Eleventh Circuit rejected both arguments. It held that the class definition was not limited to purchasers who had been deceived, and so Frank’s purchase within the class period qualified him as a class member. Next, it held that “an objector’s status as a member of the class who is bound by the district court’s judgment is itself enough to provide him or her with standing to appeal the district court’s approval of a classwide settlement over his or her objection.” As a result, defendants interested in settling class-action cases should give careful thought to the end date of the putative class period, so that would-be objectors cannot manufacture standing to challenge a settlement. Having found Frank had standing to appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s final approval of the settlement, but not for the reasons Frank pressed. Instead, it held that the class representatives lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief: allegations that they “would like” to purchase the defendants’ products in the future if they could rely on the labeling was not sufficient to show “actual or imminent” injury. The district court’s final approval analysis, which recognized the injunctive relief as integral to its overall fairness finding, was thus flawed, warranting remand.