Class Actions

Class Actions

A lawsuit that allows a large number of people with a common interest in a matter to sue or be sued as a group.

The class action suit has its birth in the Equity courts in England around the seventeenth-century and were made as a bill of peace. The courts would allow this bill to be heard if the number of litigants or people affected were so large that joining their claims in a regular lawsuit was not possible or practical. The members of the group possessed a joint interest in the question to be adjudicated; and the parties named in the suit could adequately represent the interests of persons who were absent from the action but whose rights would be affected by the outcome. If a court allowed a bill of peace to proceed or move forward, the resulted judgment would bind all members of the group.

We quote Justice Joseph Story, who wrote the following in Equity Court, while he served in the U.S Supreme Court from 1811 till 1845. “…all persons materially interested, either as plaintiffs or defendants in the subject matter of a bill ought to be made parties to the suit, however numerous they may be…” This was mainly made to take away the necessity of a “multiplicity of suits” related to the same matter, thus saving the courts and the litigants time and money.

Initially, a class action could be brought only in equity cases, disputes in which the parties did not necessarily seek monetary damages but instead might desire some other type of relief. The adoption of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 1938 broadened the scope of the class action suit, providing that cases in law seeking money damages as well as cases in equity could be brought as class actions. In 1966, the scope of the class action was again clarified and expanded when Rule 23 was amended to provide that unnamed parties to a class action were bound by the final judgment in the action so long as their interests were adequately represented.

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