485 F.2d 710 (5th Cir. 1973), 71-2842, Huff v. N. D. Cass Co. of Alabama

Docket Nº:71-2842.
Citation:485 F.2d 710
Party Name:Brisco HUFF, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. N. D. CASS COMPANY OF ALABAMA, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:September 04, 1973
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 710

485 F.2d 710 (5th Cir. 1973)

Brisco HUFF, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,


N. D. CASS COMPANY OF ALABAMA, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 71-2842.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

Sept. 4, 1973

Page 711

U. W. Clemon, Birmingham, Ala., Nathaniel Jones, NAACP, William D. Wells, New York City, for plaintiff-appellant.

Charles L. Reischel, EEOC, Washington, D.C., Morris J. Baller, New York City (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Julia P. Cooper, EEOC, Washington, D.C., Jack Greenberg, New York City, amicus curiae.

Perry Hubbard, Tuscaloosa, Ala., O. S. Burke, Jr., Marion, Ala., for defendant-appellee.

C. V. Stelzenmuller (Thiokol Chem. Corp.), Birmingham, Ala., Milton A. Smith, Gen. Counsel, Washington, D.C. (The Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. A.), Lawrence M. Cohen, Chicago, Ill., amicus curiae.


GODBOLD, Circuit Judge:

The central issue in this class action is whether the trial court properly dismissed the action on the basis of a preliminary determination that the single plaintiff representing the class was not entitled to relief on the merits of his individual claim.

The plaintiff, Brisco Huff, was a black who claimed that his employer, N. D. Cass Company, laid him off and failed to recall him from racial motivations. Proceeding under Rule 23, Fed. R.Civ.P., 1 he charged also that the employer discriminated against black workers as a class by restricting them to lower

Page 712

paying, more menial jobs and by operating a discriminatory recall policy. The class was composed of "black persons who are employed or might be employed by the defendant company who have been and continue to be or might be adversely affected by the practices complained of herein."


* * *

The court conducted a preliminary evidentiary hearing on plaintiff's individual claim of racially motivated layoff and failure to recall, and following the hearing found that the failure of the company to recall plaintiff 2 was based entirely upon his unacceptable performance of duties and not in whole or in part upon racial considerations, and that, therefore, plaintiff was not a member of the class and could not adequately protect its interests as required by Rule 23(a)(4).

We agree with the panel opinion, 468 F.2d 172, that the District Court was not plainly erroneous in its findings on the motivations for plaintiff's nonrecall and that the court did not err in limiting discovery. 3 As to the right of Huff to maintain the class action, this court is committed to the principle that the standard for determining whether a plaintiff may maintain a class action is not whether he will ultimately prevail on his claim. Miller v. Mackey Int'l, Inc., 452 F.2d 424 (CA5, 1971); Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 417 F. 2d 1122 (CA5, 1969). Thus the trial court applied an incorrect standard, and its decision must be vacated and the cause remanded for consideration under the correct standard. Possibly this court might say no more than that, cite Johnson and Mackey, and stop. But this would not be a response to the inherent difficulties, which have surfaced in this case, of meshing the power and duty of the court to inquire into maintainability -which requires the satisfaction of all the requirements of Rule 23(a) and at least one of the requirements of 23(b) -with the generalized statement that the court should not exclude plaintiff as a representative because he cannot succeed on the merits of his individual claim. A growing body of case law, and in this case the briefs of the parties and the several amici and the struggles at oral argument to articulate whether and to what extent the court may inquire into plaintiff's claim, all exemplify the opposing tensions.

Johnson and Mackey do not hold that there is no inquiry which a trial court may make before the complex and often expensive machinery of the class action moves ahead. Rule 23(c)(1) provides that "as soon as practicable after the commencement of an action brought as a class action, the court shall determine by order whether it is to be so maintained." This language of the Rule, the cases, and the texts, all articulate the desirability of determining maintainability of the class action at what has been called "the earliest pragmatically wise moment." Berman v. Narragansett Racing Ass'n, 48 F.R.D. 333, 336 (D.R.I.1969). Accord, Burns v. Thiokol Chemical Corp., supra. See also, Frankel, Some Preliminary Observations Concerning Civil Rule 23, 43 F.R.D. 39 (1967). Action by the court on maintainability may be triggered by motion of the parties or on the court's own initiative. 4

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Maintainability may be determined on the basis of pleadings, see Hyatt v. United Aircraft Corp., 50 F.R. D. 242 (D.C.Conn.1970), cf. Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 92 S.Ct. 1965, 32 L.Ed.2d 627 (1972) 5 but "[t]he determination usually should be predicated on more information than the complaint itself affords." 7A Federal Practice & Procedure (Wright & Miller ed.) § 1785, p. 131. The court may, and often does, permit discovery relating to the issues involved in maintainability, 6 and a preliminary evidentiary hearing may be appropriate or essential as a part of the vital management role which the trial judge must exercise in class actions to assure that they are both meaningful and manageable. We do not accept the idea that to avoid infringing the plaintiff's and the class' right to jury trial 7 district judges must be barred from making any evidentiary inquiry; 8 we reject also the argument that the judge is inextricably bound by the face of the pleadings.

Recognizing that preliminary inquiry may be appropriate, we turn to consideration of what the scope of that inquiry should be.

First, some background. The federal courts have a particularly vital role in cases such as this. To them alone Congress has assigned the power to enforce compliance with the strictures against racial discrimination in employment under § 703(a) of Title VII.

When, as frequently is the case, the alleged discrimination has been practiced upon the plaintiff because he is a member of a class that is allegedly discriminated against, the court trying a Title VII suit bears a special responsibility in the public interest to resolve the employment dispute by determining the facts regardless of the individual plaintiff's position . . . .

Hutchings v. United States Indus., Inc., 428 F.2d 303, 310 (CA5, 1970).

The trial judge in a Title VII case bears a special responsibility in the public interest to resolve the employment dispute, for once the judicial machinery has been set in train, the proceeding takes on a public character in which remedies are devised to vindicate the policies of the Act, not merely to afford private relief to the employee.

Id. at 311.

At the appellate level we have made clear that we give full scope to Title VII, recognizing, as we do, that employment discrimination is "one of the most deplorable forms of discrimination known to our...

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