591 S.W.3d 799 (Ark. 2020), CV-18-918, Agents Mutual Insurance Company v. Benham

Docket NºCV-18-918
Citation591 S.W.3d 799, 2020 Ark. 39
Opinion JudgeKAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice
Party NameAGENTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant v. Melissa BENHAM, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Appellee
AttorneyDavid A. Hodges, Little Rock, for appellant. Putman Law Office, by: William B. Putnam; and Taylor Law Partners, Fayetteville, by: Steven E. Vowell, for appellee
Judge PanelSpecial Justice A.J. Kelly joins in this opinion. Wood, J., concurs. Hudson, J., not participating.
Case DateJanuary 30, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Arkansas

Page 799

591 S.W.3d 799 (Ark. 2020)

2020 Ark. 39

AGENTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant

v.

Melissa BENHAM, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Appellee

No. CV-18-918

Supreme Court of Arkansas

January 30, 2020

Page 800

APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 66-FCV-13-1110], HONORABLE STEPHEN M. TABOR, JUDGE

David A. Hodges, Little Rock, for appellant.

Putman Law Office, by: William B. Putnam; and Taylor Law Partners, Fayetteville, by: Steven E. Vowell, for appellee

OPINION

KAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice

Appellant, Agent Mutual Insurance Company (AMIC), brings an interlocutory appeal of the Sebastian County Circuit Court’s order certifying a class action filed by appellee Melissa Benham, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated. On November 26, 2013, Benham filed a class-action complaint asserting causes of action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Benham’s complaint alleged that AMIC improperly depreciated the cost of labor in the payment of certain claims for dwelling or structure damages. On June 1, 2018, Benham filed a motion for class certification, appointment of class representatives, and appointment of class counsel. On September 17, 2018, the circuit court entered an order granting Benham’s motion. On the same day, the circuit court also entered an order denying, in part, AMIC’s "Objections and Motion for Protective Order" on certain discovery.

AMIC brings this interlocutory appeal and presents two issues: (1) the circuit court erred in granting the motion for class certification and (2) the circuit court abused its discretion in denying, in part, AMIC’s objections and motion for protective order. Because the class-certification order at issue does not comply with Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b), we remand this matter with instructions.

I. Standard of Review

An interlocutory appeal may be taken from an order certifying a case as a class action in accordance with Rule 23 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure. Circuit courts are given broad discretion in matters regarding class certification, and we will not reverse a circuit court’s decision to grant or deny class certification absent an abuse of discretion. ChartOne, Inc. v. Raglon, 373 Ark. 275, 283 S.W.3d 576 (2008). When reviewing a circuit court’s class-certification order, this court reviews the evidence contained in the record to determine whether it supports the circuit court’s decision. Teris, LLC v. Golliher, 371 Ark. 369, 266 S.W.3d 730 (2007). Our focus is "whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met," and "it is totally immaterial whether the petition will succeed on the merits or even if it states a cause of action."

Page 801

Philip Morris Cos. v. Miner, 2015 Ark. 73, at 3, 462 S.W.3d 313, 316 (quoting Am. Abstract & Title Co. v. Rice, 358 Ark. 1, 9, 186 S.W.3d 705, 710 (2004)).

II. Class Certification

Rule 23 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure governs class actions and class certification. The rule provides, in pertinent part: (a) Prerequisites to Class Action. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties and their counsel will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

(b) Class Actions Maintainable. An action may be maintained as a class action if the prerequisites of subdivision (a) are satisfied, and the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.... An order certifying a class action must define the class and the class claims, issues, or defenses.

(Emphasis added.)

Having considered the requirements of Rule 23, we now turn to the circuit courts order granting class certification: Comes now before the Court Plaintiffs Motion for Class Certification, Appointment of Class...

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