LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) - The Arkansas Supreme Court says it found no abuse of discretion in a circuit court's order granting a class certification motion.
Appellant Baptist Health appealed from the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order granting appellee Andre Hutson's class certification motion.
This was the hospital's second interlocutory appeal.
In its first appeal, the state's high court reversed the certification because the circuit court's conclusion -- that the requirements of commonality concerning issues of fact and law, predominance and superiority were satisfied -- was an insufficient analysis of class-action factors.
Baptist argued on its second appeal that the circuit court abused its discretion by approving a class definition that impermissibly requires delving into the merits to identify the class members.
It also argued that the court abused its discretion in finding that the requirements of predominance and superiority, under Rule 23 of the state's Rules of Civil Procedure, had been satisfied.
Class actions are governed by Rule 23, which provides that one or more members of a class may sue in a representative capacity only if the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable and there are questions of law or fact common to the class.
The Court, in a ruling filed Thursday, said it found no abuse of discretion in the circuit court's approval of the definition. Justice Karen R. Baker authored the Court's 11-page opinion.
"Here, the circuit court found that the class description was definite and administratively feasible for determining whether a particular person was a member. The court stated that identifying a potential class member required determining the date of admission, receipt of one or more (identified medical services), assessment of charges at the master-charge rate, and payment or legal liability for the charges," the Court explained.
"Identification of a class member may require determining whether the person is legally responsible for the charges for services or goods received from Baptist; however, that does not require delving into the individual merits of each claim. Legal responsibility for the charges is but one factor to consider, and based upon the evidence presented to the circuit court, Baptist's records contain much of the information needed to analyze this issue."
The Supreme Court also found no abuse of discretion in the court's determination that the requirement of superiority is satisfied.
"Here, the circuit court found that a class action was the superior method for proceeding because the only alternative method to adjudicate the claims of the class would be through numerous separate trials, with the potential for different and inconsistent results," the Court wrote.
"The circuit court stated that in this situation, certifying the class would provide a substantial benefit from the standpoint of efficiency and judicial economy. Additionally, the circuit court found that the claims typical of the class are generally too small to pursue individually, so that if they cannot sue as a class, it is likely that the claims will never be heard. That only five (identified medical services) are included in this class and that there may be numerous other persons or claims remaining was considered by the circuit court and rejected as a basis to defeat superiority."
It added, "We have noted that the question of superiority is very much related to the broad discretion conferred on a circuit court."
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