The Development of Class Action Litigation

Class action is defined as “a representative suit filed on behalf of named plaintiffs for themselves and on behalf of a discernible group of people or legal entities similarly situated.” Class action is regarded as an unconventional form of litigation. This regard is due to the fact that the named plaintiffs assume the responsibilities that are not present in individual litigation because they are required to efficiently represent class members that are not present. Essentially, class action was created to be an exception to the rule that litigation must be carried out on behalf of the individual named parties only. Litigation can, therefore, be carried out through representatives on behalf of the class members that are not present.

Class action was originally initiated in the eighteenth century English equity courts. In 1938, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was enacted in the United States. These rules outlined the class action system and process. Original Rule 23 distinguished the different types of class action, which included “true”, “hybrid”, and “spurious”. “True” class action concludes the rights of all class members. “Hybrid” class action involves class members who make separate claims against the same property or fund. “Spurious” class action involves class members who make separate claims regarding common questions of fact or law. Unlike “true” class action, “hybrid” and “spurious” class action judgments do not determine the rights of absent members of the class. These three categories were eventually eliminated in 1966, when the Federal Rule 23 was amended.

In Hansberry v. Lee, the Supreme Court pointed out that the roots of class action litigation are “in bills of peace in equity which involved multiple parties.” Class action’s utilization in other frameworks became accepted as it developed throughout time. Significantly, the characterization of class action suits was drawn out in Supreme Tribe of Ben Hur v. Cauble. The characterization follows: “Where the parties interested in the suit are numerous, their rights and liabilities are so subject to change and fluctuation by death or otherwise, that it would not be possible, without great inconvenience, to make them all parties, and would oftentimes prevent the prosecution of the suit to a hearing. For convenience, therefore, and to prevent a failure of justice, a court of equity permits a portion of the parties in interest to represent the entire body, and the decree binds all of them the same as if they were before the court.” Furthermore, the components that led to the development of class action include: protecting defendants from conflicting obligations, protecting interests of class members that are absent, and providing a course of action that facilitates spreading litigation costs among numerous litigants with similar claims.