There are few things more dramatic than a television show or film that shows ordinary people joining together in a class action lawsuit to bring down corporations. Like what every class action lawyer will tell you, it is not as simple as that. It takes more than a group of people complaining about the same thing to gain the benefits of a class suit.
Origins of the law
Class actions as done in America have their origins in the legal traditions of the English chancery court. In the 17th century, English courts set up the “bill of peace.” This allowed a group to be represented in court by a single person. To be eligible for the bill, there were three requirements. They first looked at whether there were many interested persons for the lawsuit. The second was determining if all members had an interest in the issues. The third required a representative who can protect the interests of all members, especially those who were absent.
The US adopted class representation on a case-to-case basis until the US Supreme Court said in 1853 that courts should allow it for the sake of justice and convenience. In 1938, as part of the effort to come up with a set of rules for class action lawsuits, the Supreme Court adopted Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Several states, including California, still rely on Federal Rule 23 today to guide them on class suits.
Any class action attorney will tell you that class suit helps deal with cases that involve large numbers of people. Instead of several individual cases, there is just a consolidated suit. Class suits also give litigants strength and unity, preventing defendants from taking apart a case by going after litigants piecemeal. Class suits also discourage unacceptable conduct among companies
Becoming a class
In most cases, there are three important factors for a court to determine if a class suit is possible. One of the most important is the certification of the “class” that will file the suit as one. A class could be composed of a group of factory workers or customers who were affected by the same brand. Another is that there must be enough members of a class that even joint filings will be cumbersome.
Your class action lawyer will point out, though, that numbers alone do not make a class. Federal courts have been known to recognize a group over a dozen members as a class and reject those with a membership in the hundreds. Another requirement is that the litigants must have issues in common. This means that all the members of the class should have at least one issue of law or fact.
The representative is an important part. He or she is required to be a member of the class, as defined by the court. Additionally, the representative must be capable of fighting for the rights of their class. Federal Rule 23 also insists that there be no family or financial relationship with the class action attorney pushing for the case.
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