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Lauren Coyle, On Behalf of v. Hornell Brewing Co.

August 30, 2011

LAUREN COYLE, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HORNELL BREWING CO., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court upon the motion of Plaintiff Lauren Coyle for reconsideration of the Court's Order denying Plaintiff's motion for class certification. [Docket Item 144.] In the Court's May 26, 2011 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 137 & 138], the Court denied class certification on two independent grounds: first, that Plaintiff herself had not demonstrated her adequacy to represent a class of purchasers of Defendants' products within the meaning of Rule 23(a)(4), Fed. R. Civ. P., and second, that Plaintiff had not demonstrated her counsel's adequacy to represent the class also under Rule 23(a)(4). Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of both determinations, and argues that the Court should therefore certify the proposed class. The Court has reconsidered. While the Court agrees with Plaintiff that its conclusion regarding Plaintiff's counsel was in error, the Court is not persuaded that its determination regarding the adequacy of Plaintiff herself was in error, and the Court will therefore again deny Plaintiff's motion for class certification.

II. BACKGROUND

On August 9, 2007, Plaintiff Lauren Coyle signed an agreement retaining attorney Michael D. Halbfish, Esq. to represent her in a putative class action against Defendants Hornell Brewing Co. and Arizona Beverage Company for "deceptive business practices" related to the use of the word "natural" to describe products that contain the sweetener high fructose corn syrup ("HFCS"). Donovan Decl. Ex. C, attached to Defs.' Opp. to Mot. to Certify, Docket Item 125.

Approximately eight months later, Plaintiff filed this putative class action in the Atlantic County Superior Court on April 21, 2008; Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court on June 5, 2008. [Docket Item 1.] In Plaintiff's original Complaint, and in her two subsequent Amended Complaints, she alleges that a mere three weeks prior to filing her Complaint, on March 30, 2008, and on several unspecified dates previously, she was deceived into purchasing an Arizona brand beverage that had been labeled "All Natural" but that contained HFCS, which she believes is not a natural ingredient. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42-46.

On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff sought class certification of her claims for injunctive relief under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act ("NJCFA"). The Court denied Plaintiff's motion in an Opinion and Order on May 26, 2011. The Court found that Plaintiff was susceptible to unique defenses regarding her credibility as a result of her repeated allegations in pleadings and in certified discovery materials that she made her qualifying purchase of Defendants' product on March 30, 2008, despite the fact that she had retained an attorney to represent her in this action under the NJCFA in August of 2007. Consequently, the Court concluded that she was not an adequate class representative under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4). Additionally, the Court found that the adequacy of Plaintiff's counsel to represent the proposed class was called into question by the existence of Plaintiff's oft-repeated discrepancies in her pleadings and discovery materials, which alleged she was misled by the Defendants' labeling in the sole documented purchase in 2008, providing an alternative basis to deny class certification for failure to satisfy Rule 23(a)(4).

The Court did not, at the time of its denial of class certification, conduct an evidentiary hearing on the factual question of whether Plaintiff did, in fact, purchase Defendants' product on March 30, 2008 as originally and separately alleged. Thus, the Court did not make any factual finding on whether Plaintiff's Complaint merely contained an erroneous date, or whether, instead, Plaintiff purchased Defendants' product for the sole purpose of bringing this lawsuit, feigning confusion about her only documented purchase of the product in question many months after she retained attorney Michael D. Halbfish to represent her.

Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the Court's decision to deny class certification on both grounds because, she argues, contrary controlling decisions of law were overlooked by the Court in reaching its conclusion.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard

Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) permits a party to seek reconsideration by the Court of matters "which [it] believes the Court has overlooked" when it ruled on the motion. L. Civ. R. 7.1(i); see NL Industries, Inc. v. Commercial Union Insurance, 935 F. Supp. 513, 515 (D.N.J. 1996). The standard for reconsideration is high and is to be granted only sparingly. See United States v. Jones, 158 F.R.D. 309, 314 (D.N.J. 1994). The movant has the burden of demonstrating either: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court [issued its order]; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing N. River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). The Court will grant a motion for reconsideration on the basis of the need to correct a clear error only where its prior decision has overlooked a factual or legal issue that may alter the disposition of the matter. United States v. Compaction Sys. Corp., 88 F. Supp.2d 339, 345 (D.N.J. 1999); see also L.Civ.R. 7.1(i).

Plaintiff argues that clear errors of law are present in both the Court's determination that Plaintiff's adequacy was undermined by her credibility concerns as well as the Court's determination that Plaintiff's counsel's adequacy was undermined by the repeated oversights in permitting the inaccurate pleadings and discovery documents to be submitted. Because the Court concluded that each was an independent and alternative reason to deny class certification, in her instant motion for reconsideration, ...


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