Handed down January 20, 2016, the Supreme Court’s decision in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez was a major blow to what class action practitioners call the pick-off strategy: using a Rule 68 offer of complete relief to “pick off” a putative class representative, thereby mooting the class action suit. In Campbell-Ewald the Court rejected this tactic by a 6-3 vote, holding that an unaccepted offer of judgment under Rule 68 does not moot a class action, even where the offer provides everything the named plaintiff has asked for—that is, where the plaintiff “won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
In reaching this decision, though, the Court left open the important question of “whether the result would be different if a defendant deposits the full amount of the plaintiff’s individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff, and the court then enters judgment for the plaintiff in that amount.” This was a wrinkle that had plainly intrigued several of the justices.
Writing in dissent, for example, Chief Justice John Roberts pointedly noted that the “good news” was that “the majority’s analysis may have come out differently if [the defendant] had deposited the offered funds with the District Court.” Justice Samuel Alito likewise noted in dissent that the majority’s decision “does not prevent a defendant who actually pays complete relief—either directly to the plaintiff or to a trusted intermediary—from seeking dismissal on mootness grounds.” And at oral argument, even Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer—who ultimately voted with the majority—mused whether “the case is over” if the defendant not only makes an offer of complete relief but deposits a certified check in the full amount of the judgment with the court or in an independent account.
The ink has barely dried on the Campbell-Ewald opinion, but already at least one court, the Ninth Circuit, has answered the door left open by the decision. Its response: slamming it shut.