In Campion v. Old Republic Protection Company, Inc., No. 12-56784, (Dec. 31, 2014) the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a putative class representative’s appeal was moot because he had no personal stake in the case after voluntarily settling his individual claims.  Douglas Campion brought a class action against Old Republic asserting causes of action arising out of Old Republic’s allegedly arbitrary denial of claims made by him on a home warranty policy.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied Campion’s motion to certify the class and granted Old Republic’s motion for partial summary judgment on Campion’s claims under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.  Campion then settled his individual claims with Old Republic, and the parties agreed to dismiss without prejudice any class action claims under the California Unfair Competition Law.  However, in the stipulation for dismissal, the parties agreed that Campion retained his right to appeal the district court’s rulings on the putative class claims.  Campion subsequently appealed the district court’s orders regarding class certification.

The Ninth Circuit did not reach the merits of any of the district court’s orders.  Instead, the court held that Campion’s appeal was moot because he no longer had a personal stake in class certification.  The court stated that it made no difference that Campion expressly retained his right to appeal the putative class claims in the settlement.  Citing Narouz v. Charter Commc’ns, LLC, 591 F.3d 1261 (9th Cir. 2010), the court reasoned that the test for whether an appeal is moot after the putative class representative voluntarily settles his individual claims is whether the class representative retains a personal stake in the case, and the personal stake must be a financial interest in class certification.

Applying the Narouz framework, the court held that Campion’s appeal was moot because no matter what happened on appeal, he would not get a penny more.  He did not stand to gain further compensation for his claims because he received their full value under the terms of his individual settlement.  The settlement included his attorney’s fees and costs as well.  Thus, he no longer had any financial interests at stake in the case.

The court rejected Campion’s argument that he retained a personal interest akin to that of a “private attorney general.”  In each of the cases cited by Campion finding a “private attorney general” interest sufficient to meet Article III requirements, the plaintiff’s individual claims had expired involuntarily.  Where the plaintiff voluntarily settles his or her individual claims, the plaintiff must have the requisite financial, or otherwise personal, stake in the outcome of the class claims.  Because Campion conceded that he had no financial or other personal interest in class certification, the court concluded that his appeal was moot and dismissed the case.

Judge Owens dissented, rejecting the majority’s conclusion that a personal stake can only be found where the plaintiff retains a financial interest.  Judge Owens reasoned that by expressly reserving the right to appeal the district court’s rulings on the class claims, Campion retained a personal stake in certification.  Recognizing a circuit split on the issue, Judge Owens noted that the Supreme Court should ultimately decide the question.  Until it does, however, he stated that, based on Ninth Circuit precedent, he would not support the distinction between voluntary and involuntary dismissals and would have held that Campion’s “private attorney general” interest was sufficient for Article III standing.

At least for now, the distinction between voluntary and involuntary dismissals lives on in the Ninth Circuit.  The majority makes it clear that, when putative class representatives voluntarily dismiss their individual claims, they must retain a financial interest in class certification to preserve Article III standing.