The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.
Following the Court's preliminary approval of the proposed settlement on May 19, 2010, and in advance of the fairness hearing held on August 13, 2010, Plaintiff Cardenas and Defendants separately moved for certification of the proposed class, final approval of the proposed class action settlement in this matter. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, along with the objections to the Court, and having heard testimony and argument at the August 13, 2010 fairness hearing, the Court: (1) certifies the proposed class; (2) approves the class action settlement; and (3) awards attorney's fees to class counsel.
In October 2008, Paul Meserole commenced the first of the class actions, concerning defective optical blocks in second generation SXRD rear projection television sets manufactured and sold by Sony, which was subsequently consolidated by the Panel for Multidistrict Litigation with six other class action lawsuits. While not immediately apparent to the purchaser, the defects allegedly cause various color anomalies and discolorations to manifest themselves over time and "severely interfere with the program display." (Meserole Compl. ¶ 3.)
Plaintiff Sabrina Cardenas filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Texas in June 2009, making similar -- and some identical -- allegations to those contained in the initial complaint brought by Plaintiff Meserole. In November 2009, Plaintiff Cardenas and Defendants announced, after informal discovery and discussions mediated by retired Judge Glenn Ashworth, a JAMS mediator in Dallas, that they had agreed upon terms to a class action settlement. (Letter to the Court from Sony and Plaintiff Cardenas, Nov. 12, 2009.)
Following formal confirmatory discovery, Plaintiff Cardenas and the Defendants separately moved for preliminary approval of the settlement, which the Court granted after three days of hearing and argument in April and May 2010. In re Sony Corp. SXRD Rear Projection Television Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 09 MD 2102, 2010 WL 1993817 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 2010). The Court's May 19, 2010 order: (1) preliminarily certified the proposed class, for purposes of settlement only; (2) preliminarily approved the class settlement; (3) named the law firm of Federman & Sherwood, counsel for Plaintiff Cardenas, as class counsel; (4) approved the notice to the class and ordered the dissemination thereof by mail and publication; (5) stayed proceedings in all related cases; and (6) scheduled the August 13, 2010 fairness hearing. Id.
Plaintiff Cardenas moves the Court to certify as a class, for settlement purposes only:
All individuals who purchased, or received as gifts, second generation Sony Grand WEGA SXRD rear projection HDTV televisions bearing the model designations KDS-R60XBR2, KDS-R70XBR2, KDS-50A2000/2020/3000, KDS-55A2000/2020/3000, KDS-60A2000/2020/3000 and KDS-70Q006. Excluded from the Settlement Class are: Sony, its affiliates, and their employees and immediate family members; persons who purchased or acquired a Television for commercial use or resale; persons who are claims aggregators; and persons who claim to be an assignee of rights associated with the Televisions. (Plaintiff Sabrina Cardenas' Memorandum in Support of Motion for Final Approval of Class Action Settlement and Response to Opposition to Proposed Class Action Settlement and Request for Attorneys' Fees ("Pl. Mem."), 10-11.) Certification of a class is appropriate if the proposed class meets the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure -- numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation -- and if "parties seeking class certification . . . show that the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(1), (2), or (3)." Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 614 (1997).
Numerosity: Rule 23(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a class be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." The proper inquiry is whether such joinder is impracticable, not whether it is impossible. Robidoux v. Celani, 987 F.2d 931, 935 (2d Cir. 1993). In its submissions to the Court, Sony has represented that 352,022 televisions sets covered by the class were sold. (Letter to Court from Sony, Aug. 10, 2010.) With a class of this size, joinder would be impracticable.
Commonality and Typicality: Rule 23(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits certification of a class only if "there are questions of law or fact common to the class." Rule 23(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that "the claims or defenses of the representative parties [be] typical of the claims or defenses of the class." The Second Circuit has explained:
The crux of both requirements is to ensure that maintenance of a class action is economical and [that] the named plaintiff's claim and the class claims are so interrelated that the interests of the class members will be fairly and adequately protected in their absence. The commonality requirement is met if plaintiffs' grievances share a common question of law or of fact. Typicality, by contrast, requires that the claims of the class representatives be typical of those of the class, and is satisfied when each class member's claim arises from the same course of events, and each class member makes similar legal arguments to prove the defendant's liability. Marisol A. v. Giuliani, 126 F.3d 372, 376 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Here, the models of television sets covered by the proposed class are all rear-projection high definition televisions. These television models use a form of technology known as an optical block, which has failed or degraded in a number of the class members' television sets over time. The problems described by the class members in their letters to the Court have been similar, if not identical, to those alleged in Plaintiff Cardenas' complaint, namely, "yellow stains, green haze, and other color anomalies" that "severely interfere[e] with the program display." (Cardenas Compl. ¶ 1.) These common facts have given rise to common questions of law, concerning the extent to which Sony made misrepresentations to consumers and whether the two year warranty of the optical block or an implied warrant covers the instant problems. Therefore, the Court concludes that both the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23(a) are met by the proposed class.
Adequacy: Rule 23(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Procedure requires that "the representative parties . . . fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." Plaintiff Cardenas became involved in this lawsuit when her television developed the color anomalies complained of by other members of this class. (Cardenas Compl. ¶ 4; Transcript, Apr. 23, 2010 ("Apr. 23 Tr."), 10.) Her counsel has ably represented her interests and those of the rest of the class during extensive settlement negotiations, confirmatory discovery, and the settlement approval process. (Apr. 23 Tr. 10-26, 32-36.) On this basis, the Court concludes that Plaintiff Cardenas "will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4).
Rule 23(b): Separate and apart from the Rule 23(a) requirements, the Court must determine whether the action falls within one of three "types of class actions," as described in Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure before it may certify the case. Amchem Products, Inc., 521 U.S. at 614. Plaintiff Cardenas contends that this class falls within the third category of class action in that it is one where "the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members" and where "a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). In determining whether the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) have been met, the Court must consider: (1) "the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions"; (2) "the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already ...