B&D Defeats Class Certification in Breach of Contract Suit

In a major win for a Beveridge & Diamond client in the solid waste industry, firm litigators led by Principals Megan Brillault and Eric Klein defeated an effort to certify a class of 20,000 businesses with solid waste collection contracts. Sunshine Children’s Learning Center v. Waste Connections of Florida, Inc., --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2023 WL 3057995 (S.D. Fla. April 24, 2023).

A Miami federal judge denied a motion to certify a statewide class action against B&D client Waste Connections of Florida, Inc., regarding alleged violations of waste collection contracts for commercial customers. Plaintiff, Sunshine Children’s Learning Center, alleged that Defendant Waste Connections breached its contract due to the alleged inadequacy of the notices of rate increases that the company provided to Plaintiff. Sunshine sought to represent a statewide class of Florida commercial waste collection customers that consisted of approximately 20,000 customers.

In a 23-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom rejected certification of a class action on multiple grounds, emphasizing that the record showed significant variation in how customers received notice of price increases. Among other rulings, the court decided that determining whether each customer had actual or implied notice of a rate increase, as called for in the contract, had to be determined on a customer-by-customer basis: “The factual issue of actual notice must be resolved individually for each class member. As such, the central question of material breach of the Contracts-At-Issue is not one capable of class wide resolution.” The court further found that “[t]he issue central to the validity of both the contract and good faith and fair dealing claims is whether Defendant substantially complied with the Contracts-At-Issue and met the putative class members’ reasonable expectations. Because liability hinges on an analysis of whether each putative class member had actual notice, individualized questions and proof will predominate.”

The court had earlier denied Waste Connections’ motion for summary judgment on the contract and fair dealing claims, but that ruling found disputed factual issues regarding notice of the rate increases that supported a finding in yesterday’s ruling that the case did not meet Rule 23 class certification criteria.

The Sunshine decision shows that putative class actions based on alleged form contracts can be defeated where the facts of the contract performance show individualized issues specific to contract implementation and performance.

Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Waste Connections, Pat Shea, commented: “We’re pleased with this strong and definitive opinion rejecting class action status for this case. Waste Connections honors its contracts and works with its customers individually to address any concerns regarding rates and service. The Company will vigorously contest efforts to morph a customer contract concern into a class action lawsuit, and the federal court’s decision vindicates our position.”

American Lawyer awarded the B&D team a “Shout Out” recognition for the Sunshine win in its Litigator of the Week competition (subscription required).

The decision was also reported on in Waste Dive

The B&D team also included Associates Casey Clausen, Katrina Krebs, Vetone Ivezaj, Majidah Cochran, Litigation Support Attorney Lang Johnston, and Principals Nessa Coppinger and Jimmy Slaughter.

B&D’s Litigation practice spans federal and state trial and appellate courts across the United States and includes a wide range of class action defense work, both in environmental matters and commercial claims like Sunshine.