Class Action Litigants Get Critical Win At Supreme Court in Chambers v. Moses Cone

June 09, 2020   |   Burton Craige

In Chambers v. Moses Cone Hospital, the plaintiff filed a class action claiming that the defendant hospital had a practice of overbilling uninsured ER patients. After the hospital wrote off the named plaintiff’s bill, the trial court dismissed the action as moot. A unanimous Court of Appeals affirmed (Bryant, Dietz, Berger). On June 5 the Supreme Court reversed.

In a 6-1 decision written by Justice Anita Earls, the Court agreed with NCAJ and its co-amici, and held that a defendant cannot automatically moot a class action by picking off the named plaintiff before class certification.

Our holding today recognizes a narrow exception to the doctrine of mootness when a named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to pursue class certification and has otherwise acted without undue delay regarding class certification. In these limited circumstances, the named plaintiff’s claim relates back to the filing of the complaint for mootness purposes, and he retains the legal capacity to pursue class certification and class-wide relief, even though his individual claim may have been satisfied.

Justice Newby dissented.

This is a critical win for class action litigants in our state.

Along with the N.C. Justice Center and the Center for Responsible Lending, NCAJ took the unusual step of submitting an amicus brief at the PDR stage because of the broad impact of the Court of Appeals’ decision. After the Supreme Court granted the PDR, we and our co-amici submitted a new brief, and NCAJ then hosted a moot court for plaintiffs’ lawyer John Bloss.

Thanks to Narendra Ghosh, Carol Brooke, Clermont Ripley, Jack Holtzman who, along with myself, drafted the amicus brief. And thanks to our co-amici organizations who joined in this successful effort to protect consumers and the class action remedy.

About the Author

Burton Craige

Partner at Patterson Harkavy