Douglas v. Governing Board (CA1 5/28/09

What these plaintiffs were trying to do makes sense only if you know that federal law permits something similar.

Former teachers in the Window Rock School District sued it, claiming that the District had not properly calculated their pay under a particular statute. After the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for certification as a class action, the District made an Offer of Judgment. Plaintiffs accepted it. Then, before the judgment had been entered, they filed a motion for reconsideration of their class-action motion. The court denied this as being moot.

Plaintiffs appealed. They argued that the OJ didn’t cover their claim to represent a class, which is separate from their individual claims on the merits. They pointed to federal cases under which one can, indeed, accept an OJ but then appeal certification.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that Rule 68 specifically says that an OJ need not “be apportioned by claim.” So, the OJ extinguished all of the plaintiffs’ claims. And, while federal litigants can accept and appeal, they must explicitly reserve the right to appeal when they accept; in Arizona, acceptance must be unconditional.

Because they had no claim left to appeal, their appeal was dismissed.

This was an interesting issue but the opinion makes it look harder than it is. The court’s extended discussion of the statutory basis of its jurisdiction, for example, is mostly unnecessary, as is the amount of space spent on the plaintiffs’ lesser – and faintly ridiculous – arguments (e.g., that they can file motions on behalf of people who are not parties to the case and that the OJ doesn’t dispose of all claims unless it contains the word “action”).