9th Cir. Finds Arizona Fine for Class Action

     TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – A legal malpractice lawsuit should be granted class certification in Arizona even though the class would include members in all 50 states, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday.
     In 2009, four people sued Milberg LLP and other law firms and attorneys for failure to meet discovery requirements in a 2001 class action filed in Arizona against Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company for securities law violations. The court in that class action found for Variable in the end, after Milberg did not meet certain deadlines and the court struck the expert testimony and witness list.
     Senior U.S. District Judge Frank R. Zapata found that because the class in the 2009 lawsuit contained members in all 50 states, each class member’s home state governed the member’s claim.
     “Arizona’s choice of law principles reflect that the law of up to 50 states (i.e., the places of injury and domicile of the absent class members) applies to the state-based malpractice causes of action at issue,” Zapata ruled in 2012.
     Ninth Circuit Judge John Owens disagreed with Zapata’s decision, finding that Arizona is the proper place for class certification because it is the site of the 2001 class action.
     “The unnamed class members were injured when Milberg failed to meet deadlines and make timely filings in the Arizona court. The result of that alleged negligence was vacatur of the class certification order, which also occurred in the Arizona court,” Owens wrote for a three-judge panel. “The unnamed class members lost the potential benefits of class certification in the Arizona litigation. This injury occurred in Arizona.”
     Owens says Arizona also has a strong interest in regulating attorney conduct, even if the four law firms named as defendants are located in Arizona, Washington, D.C. and New York.
     “Arizona has the most significant relationship to these plaintiffs’ claims of attorney malpractice occurring in an Arizona court, and thus Arizona law applies to each individual class member’s claim,” Owens wrote. “The district court abused its discretion by basing its class certification decision on an erroneous view of the proper choice of law.”
     Larry Kasten, an attorney with Lewis & Roca who represents intervenor-plaintiff Lance Laber, declined to comment.
     An attorney for defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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