What is Class Action Litigation?

Class actions are unitary proceedings that involve large numbers of claimants. Fundamentally, class actions are representative proceedings. In federal court, the practice of class action requires an understanding and appreciation of the United States Constitution—particularly the concepts of jurisdiction, notice, and due process. It is also important to be aware of the local rules of practice transmitted by the local court. Local courts may have distinct rules that govern the commencement of class action and time limitations.

The overall benefit of class action litigation is that it conserves the resources of not only the parties involved, but also the courts. Essentially, “the class action device saves the resources of both the courts and the parties by permitting an issue potentially affecting every [class member] to be litigated in an economical fashion under Rule 23.” According to Phillips Petroleum, Inc. v. Shutts, “class actions … permit the plaintiffs to pool claims which would be uneconomical to litigate individually.” Since class action lawsuits eliminate unnecessary duplication of similar claims, they essentially promote judicial effectiveness. In addition, in the mass tort context, class action is regarded as the most fair and speedy procedure for disposing of claims.

Even though class action lawsuits promote effectiveness, they are usually extremely complex and call for more judicial oversight than other types of litigation. An intrinsic part of class action litigation is the potential for conflicting interests to exist among the absent class members, class counsel, and class representatives. According to Plummer v. Chemical Bank, “the interest of lawyer and class may diverge, as may the interests of different members of the class.” Thus, both the named class representatives and the class counsel hold responsibilities to the absent class members. It is obligatory for the named class representatives and their attorneys to protect the interests of the class members that are absent.

Ultimately, class action litigation must defend individual rights and interests. According to Horton v. Goose Creek Independent School District, “the adequacy requirement mandates an inquiry into the zeal and competence of the representative’s counsel and the ability of the representative to take an active role in and control the litigation and to protect the interests of the absentees…” Hence, it is crucial for the named plaintiffs and their counsel to efficiently credit the interests of the absent class members. If an absent class member is inadequately represented by the named plaintiffs, they will not be bound to a judgment.