Florida Appeals Court Stops Consumer-Led Class Action Against BJ’s Wholesale Club
On May 8th, 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal ruled against a consumer who was leading a charge to bring a class action against BJ’s Wholesale Club for alleged deceptive pricing practices. In the case of BJ’s Wholesale Club v. Bugliaro, a Florida consumer had filed a claim against the wholesaler on the grounds that it charged excessive sales tax on discounted items.
In 2017, a lower state court certified the group of consumers as a class, which initially allowed this class action lawsuit to move forward. However, citing two different reasons, the Florida appeals court has, at least for the time being, halted the class action claim. In this post, our Miami, FL commercial litigation attorneys explain the reasoning of the court.
Issue 1: Failure to Exhaust Remedies
As a starting point, the appeals court states that the consumers failed to properly exhaust all available remedies that are set forth under Florida law. The appeals court notes that consumers are required by Florida law to exhaust their remedies directly with the state’s Department of Revenue before they can actually file a lawsuit. Since all available administrative remedies have not been properly exhausted in accordance with state regulations, the Florida court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this claim — and therefore, it lacks the authority to certify the group of consumers as a ‘class’.
Issue 2: The Class is Not ‘Ascertainable’
Beyond the administrative issue, the Third District Court of Appeal also halted the lawsuit on the grounds that the proposed class in question was not ‘ascertainable’. Florida law only allows class action lawsuits when the plaintiffs can clearly define who qualifies as a member of the class. If the proposed class is deemed to be either overinclusive or underinclusive, then the class cannot be certified. As a result, no class action lawsuit will be permitted.
In this case, the plaintiffs wanted the class to be made up of the members of 31 different BJ’s Wholesale Club stores in the state of Florida. The consumers contend that these members were all overcharged sales tax in violation of state law. However, the court notes that this class is not specific enough. The issue is that BJ’s Wholesale Club is a nationwide business. Members don’t join individual stores, meaning members who reside in other states could have, and likely did, shop at Florida locations during the relevant time period. Thus, if sales tax was improperly charged, they were also victims. The appeals court ruled that this class is too broad, and all of the eligible class members will not be able to be identified and notified as is required by the law.
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At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Miami commercial litigation attorneys provide results-oriented legal representation to our clients. To get more information on what we can do for you, please call us today for a confidential case evaluation. With law offices in Miami and West Palm Beach, we handle deceptive marketing and false advertising issues throughout Southeastern Florida.