A class action is a form of lawsuit where a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court. Despite the massive propaganda efforts that corporations have launched against class action litigation, these are the type of lawsuits that make lasting changes for the benefit of consumers.
United States Federal Class Action Lawsuits
In the United States federal courts, class actions are governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23 and 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (d).
Under § 1332 (d) (2) the federal district courts have original jurisdiction over any civil action where the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000,000 and either 1. any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State different from any defendant; 2. any member of a class of plaintiffs is a foreign state or a citizen or subject of a foreign state and any defendant is a citizen of a State; or 3. any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State and any defendant is a foreign state or a citizen or subject of a foreign state. Nationwide plaintiff classes are possible, but such suits must have a commonality of issues across state lines. This may be difficult if the civil law in the various states have significant differences.
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 increases defendants' ability to remove state cases to federal court by giving federal courts original jurisdiction for all class actions with damages exceeding $5,000,000, exclusive of interest and costs.
The procedure for filing a class action is to file suit with one or several named plaintiffs on behalf of a proposed class. The proposed class must consist of a group of individuals or business entities that have suffered a common injury or injuries. Typically these cases result from an action on the part of a business or policy that applied to all proposed class members in a uniform manner. After the complaint is filed, the plaintiff must file a motion to have the class certified. In some cases class certification may require additional discovery in order to determine if the proposed class meets the standard for class certification.
Due process requires in most cases that notice describing the class action be sent, published, or broadcast to class members. As part of this notice procedure, there may have to be several notices, first a notice giving class members the opportunity to opt out of the class, i.e. if individuals wish to proceed with their own litigation they are entitled to do so, only to the extent that they give timely notice to the class counsel or the court that they are opting out. Second, if there is a settlement proposal, the court will usually direct the class counsel to send a settlement notice to all the members of the certified class, informing them of the details of the proposed settlement.
In civil procedure law, the class action must have certain definite characteristics:
The class must be so large as to make individual suits impractical,
There must be legal or factual claims in common,
The claims or defenses must be typical of the plaintiffs or defendants, and
The representative parties must adequately protect the interests of the class.
The party seeking certification must also show that common issues between the class and the defendants will predominate the proceedings, as opposed to individual fact-specific conflicts between class members and the defendants, and that the class action, instead of individual litigation, is a superior vehicle for resolution of the disputes at hand.
Stritmatter Law has had a history of involvement in many class actions over the years. The largest to date was a nine year battle involving Behr Clear Sealants. See, Smith v. Behr Process Corporation, 113 Wn. App. 306, 318, 54 P.3d 665 (2002). The case was first filed in Grays Harbor County for a class of all users in Western Washington. A later class covered users throughout the United States. The Western Washington case was successfully tried to verdict and won on appeal. The nationwide class case was settled for a sum totaling $132.5 million. The Western Washington case was settled for $67.5 million.