Garza v. Swift Transportation Co., Inc. (8/24/09)

This case holds that review of the denial of a motion for class-action certification must be by special action rather than appeal. It overturns a prior Supreme Court case to the contrary.

Garza was a driver for Swift. He alleged that it systematically underpaid him and other drivers. The trial court denied his motion to establish a class for the other drivers. The First Division reversed. When Swift petitioned for review the Supreme Court told the parties to brief appellate jurisdiction, an issue no one had raised in the Court of Appeals.

They didn’t raise it because in 1972 Reader v. Magma Copper, 108 Ariz. 186, held that denial of class certification could be appealed under 12-2101(D) (order affecting substantial right and preventing judgment). Reader relied, at least in part, on the federal “death knell” doctrine, under which denial of class certification could be appealed if the named plaintiff’s claim was so small that it wouldn’t be practical to pursue by itself. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “death knell” doctrine in 1978 (Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463). The Court also appeared to be concerned that although the “death knell” doctrine is conditioned on the facts of the case, some Court of Appeals cases apparently saw Reader as creating an automatic right of appeal.

Beyond the class-action context, the case is useful for its analysis of the types of cases 12-2101(D) does and does not apply to.