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Class Action Defense Issues: Certification of Class Action Cases Under Rule 23 Part I – A General Overview

Defending Class Actions: Certification Under Rule 23 Part I

General Overview

In defending a class action, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. Federal law requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented. The plaintiff must also show the risk of inconsistent or prejudicial adjudications if separate actions are tried, and that a class action is the superior method for resolving the dispute. This article identifies the statutory requirements for class certification.

In federal court, class actions are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A prospective class representative must satisfy the prerequisites of Rule 23(a), which provides:

One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

But in addition to establishing numerosity, commonality and typicality and demonstrating that the class members will be adequately represented, a plaintiff must meet also the provisions of Rule 23(b), which states:

An action may be maintained as a class action if the prerequisites of subdivision (a) are satisfied, and in addition:

(1) the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of

(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class, or

(B) adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the adjudications or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests; or

(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole; or

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. The matters pertinent to the findings include: (A) the interest of members of the class in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; (D) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action.

The requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Thus, class certification requires that the prospective class representative satisfy the elements set forth in Rule 23(a), and demonstrate also that the provisions of Rule 23(b) are met. General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982) (reversing class certification for failure to analyze Rule 23 requirements).

The specific requirements of Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b) are discussed in separate articles.