Did you know that there was a class-action lawsuit after Super Bowl XLV?  The game was played at Cowboys Stadium (now known as AT&T Stadium) in Dallas, Texas, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. The litigation arose out of a temporary-seating debacle: the full complement of temporary seats was not installed in time, resulting in some ticketholders being left without seats and others being relocated. There was also another group of ticketholders who complained about a restricted view from their seats even though they did not receive the lower, restricted-view ticket price. On the field, the Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25. In the courtroom, the plaintiffs’ bid for class certification suffered the same fate as the Steelers. A look at the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Ibe v. Jones, 836 F.3d 516 (5th Cir. 2016), provides some valuable insights.

The plaintiffs in the suit sought to certify three different classes: (1) the ticketholders who had no seat, called the “Displaced Class”; (2) the ticketholders who were given different seats, called the “Relocated Class”; and (3) the ticketholders who had an obstructed view, called the “Obstructed View Class.” Each proposed class failed.

1) The Displaced Class failed based on numerosity. Classes usually do not fail because they don’t seek to represent a sufficiently large group of people, but that is what happened to the Displaced Class. Admittedly, the proposed class here was small by class-action standards, just 42-55 people. Courts, however, “must not focus on sheer numbers alone” in determining numerosity; the issue is whether joinder is impracticable. In re TWL Corp., 712 F.3d 886, 894 (5th Cir. 2013). Here, the court pointed to a parallel mass action proceeding in federal court that involved 237 individual ticketholders to conclude that joinder of the much smaller Displaced Class was not impracticable. Ibe, 836 F.3d at 530.

2) The Relocated Class failed because of predominance issues related to damages. Predominance is a much more common reason for class actions to fail. The Relocated Class failed because of “complex and individualized issues” regarding whether a class member who was relocated “actually received a lesser quality seat.” Id. Significantly, “[t]here was no record of what replacement seat was received by each relocated ticketholder.” Id. In other words, there were individualized issues regarding whether the members of the class were damaged at all, not merely questions about the scope of their damages.

3) The Obstructed View Class failed because of predominance issues related to materiality. The court held that for the Obstructed View Class, it would be necessary to evaluate the extent of each individual obstruction to determine whether it amounted to a material breach of the contract embodied by the ticket. Id. at 531-32. The court reasoned that a jury could find that a minor obstruction was not material because the ticketholder could still fully enjoy the game. Id. The court further held that individual issues related to reliance precluded a fraud claim because, while some ticketholders may have relied on the lack of an obstructed view when purchasing the ticket, “others purchased seats without obtaining any information about them,” so “expectations varied.” Id. at 532.