The Ninth Circuit recently invalidated the Central District of California’s local rule providing a strict deadline to file class certification motions no later than 90 days after service of a complaint.  Specifically, the panel held that the district court’s strict application of its local rules to the timeliness of the plaintiff’s motion was inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.

Local Rule 23-3 requires plaintiffs to file a motion for class certification within 90 days after service of a complaint.  In the underlying case, the district court denied two joint stipulations to extend the 90-day deadline for filing a motion for class action certification.  The plaintiff ultimately filed a class certification motion on the last day it was permitted to do so.  However, the district court struck the filing because it was not noticed for a hearing date – as required by the Court’s standing orders – and because it did not contain a pre-filing meet and confer statement.  The Court subsequently struck the class allegations as untimely based on the plaintiff’s failure to timely move for class certification.

On appeal, a Ninth Circuit panel reversed the lower court’s strict application of the class certification deadline.  The panel observed that the parties had twice stipulated to continue the deadline, explaining in the second stipulation that the plaintiff needed additional time for class action-focused discovery.  The panel noted that the lower court did not provide any explanation for the denial of the second request or address the stated need for additional pre-certification discovery.  The panel further noted that the plaintiff timely filed the class certification motion, but that the motion was stricken for two technical deficiencies.

The panel held that “the bright-line of Local Rule 23-3 is incompatible with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23,” explaining that a bright line rule is in direct contrast to the flexibility of the Federal Rule, which calls for a determination on class certification “[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues or is sued as a class representative.”  The panel reasoned that the Federal Rule’s “flexible approach makes sense” because the class action determination can be made only after the district court undertakes a rigorous analysis of the prerequisites for certification.  The panel held that the district court’s actions demonstrated the impracticability of the 90-day limit, particularly in combination with the district court’s summary and unexplained denial of the parties’ joint stipulation to extend the 90-day deadline based on the need for pre-certification discovery.

This decision effects a major change in class action litigation practice in the Central District of California, where the 90-day local rule places pressure on parties to conduct early discovery for class certification.