Eleventh Circuit Joins Circuit Split On Whether Offers of Judgment May Moot Individual Or Class Claims

On December 1, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals joined the growing nationwide split between Circuits over whether an unaccepted offer of judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 may moot an individual plaintiff’s claim and/or the claims of a putative class.  Jeffrey Stein, D.D.S, et al. v. Buccaneers Ltd. P’ship, No. 13-15417 (11th Cir. Dec. 1, 2014). 

The Eleventh Circuit held that an unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a plaintiff’s claim even in individual claims.  This conclusion was based in large part on Justice Kagan’s dissent in Genesis v. Symczyk and the language of Rule 68 itself, which holds that an offer of judgment is deemed “withdrawn” and is precluded from being admitted in any proceeding except to determine costs.  Because an unaccepted offer is deemed withdrawn and is inadmissible, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that it could not be used to later challenge subject matter jurisdiction or used to enter judgment based upon the terms of the offer.  This decision is in contrast to other jurisdictions which hold that unaccepted offers of judgment that provide “complete relief” either moot an individual’s claim entirely warranting dismissal (the Seventh Circuit approach) or warrant an entry of judgment on the terms of the offer followed by dismissal (the Second and Sixth Circuit approaches).

While implicit from its conclusion that an unaccepted offer of judgment will not moot even an individual claim, the Court further expressly held that in a putative class action, an offer of judgment made prior to the named plaintiff moving for class certification will likewise not moot the claims of the individual or the putative class.  As we have previously reported, and as numerous other courts, including the Seventh Circuit, have held, a defendant’s offer of judgment to a named plaintiff in a putative class action may moot a claim if the offer is made before the plaintiff moves for class certification, depriving the court of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Eleventh Circuit in Stein rejected this conclusion, instead siding with the Third, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits in holding that an unaccepted offer of judgment prior to moving for class certification does not moot an individual’s claim or putative class action.

A copy of the Eleventh Circuit’s decision is available here.