Classmember's Claim of Inadequate Notice Fails

One for the plaintiff's class action bar.... Ron Matorana was a class member in a wage and hour class action against Allstate. Under a settlement, he was entitled to $65,000. But he didn't file a claim form. The settlement papers were approved by the court as fair and reasonable. Matorana, though, received nothing. He claimed he was ill during the notice period and was inattentive to the deadlines in the notice of the settlement he received.

So, he sued class counsel for malpractice, as well as Allstate, for failing to remind him adequately to file a claim form. The trial court said no. Court of Appeal? No sale.

Allstate owed Matorana no duty to follow up at all, so he had no basis for suing Allstate. The malpractice claim against his lawyers was without merit too.

Matorana argued that the notice procedure was inadequate, because it did not contain a provision requiring counsel to check up on class members who did not file claims. That argument was barred because the class procedures were deemed fair and reasonable by the trial court in the class action lawsuit. As such, a challenge to that finding was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

He also claimed that class counsel had a duty to follow up when he did not submit the form, although not required under the settlement agreement. (Collective "gulp" from the plaintiff's bar).

Not to worry. The court of appeal disagreed. Although class counsel owed Matorana a duty of care, that duty did not include contacting all class members who did not file claim forms. As the court pointed out, if class counsel were required to deal with every class member individually, that would undermine the purpose of a mass-mailed settlement notice approved by the court as fair and consistent with due process. On the other hand, if counsel misrepresented the dates or interfered with filing a claim that conceivably could have given rise to some liability.

The case is Matorana v. Marlin & Saltzman and the opinion is here.