Frequently Asked Questions
What is Class Certification?
What is Class Certification?
Any person can file a lawsuit as a proposed or putative class action. However, the lawsuit does not actually become a class action until the Court certifies it as a class action. A Court will only grant class certification if a lawsuit meets certain legal requirements discussed below. Once a Court grants class certification, a settlement or judgment award may benefit all the class members, even though they had no direct involvement with the lawsuit.
Prerequisites for Class Certification
Every class action must meet the requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy set forth in Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
There must be enough potential class members for a lawsuit to qualify for class certification. Specifically, Rule 23(a)(1) requires the class to be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”
There is no “magic number” that Courts apply when evaluating numerosity. However, Courts have stated that 40 class members or more is generally sufficient as a rule of thumb. Various factors that affect how many members are needed include the nature of the lawsuit, the size of individual claims, and the location of the subject matter in dispute.
Commonality means that potential class members share common issues. Rule 23(a)(2) states there must be “questions of law or fact common to the class.” In general, the commonality requirement is satisfied if the class representative shares at least one question of fact or law with the prospective class members that is capable of class-wide resolution.
Typicality requires that a class representative have claims or defenses that are typical of the claims or defenses of the class. The claims do not have to be identical. But, they must be reasonably consistent with those of the class members.
The test of typicality is whether other members have the same or similar injury, whether the action is based on conduct that is not unique to the class representative, and whether the other class members have been injured by the same course of conduct.
- Adequacy of Representation
A court will not certify a class action unless the class representatives and class counsel will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. In general, the class representative must be part of the class, have the same interest as the class members, and suffer the same injury as the class members.
In particular, the class representative must not have conflicts of interest that would impede them from achieving the objective of the class. Courts have generally held minor conflicts alone do not preclude class certification. Rather, a conflict must be “fundamental,” which means it involves a specific issue in controversy. For example, courts have stated a fundamental conflict exists when the same conduct by a defendant benefited some class members but harmed others.
Similarly, class counsel—the attorneys seeking to represent the class—must be adequate. Courts may consider factors such as the attorneys experience with class actions, their knowledge of the relevant law, their efforts in investigating the lawsuit, and their resources available to litigate the case.
Predominance and Superiority
The above criteria of numerosity, typicality, commonality, and adequacy, are simply prerequisites for class certification. In addition to meeting those criteria, a party seeking class action status must show the class qualifies as a type of class action outlined in Rule 23(b).
A common basis for a class actions, particularly in auto defect lawsuits, is when common questions of law or fact predominate over individual questions, and a class action is superior to other available methods for litigating the case.
For example, courts have found common questions of law or fact predominate in auto defect cases when the defect affects all the vehicles owned by the class members, and the same or similar laws apply to the claims. Further, courts have found superiority when individual consumers would find it too costly to bring individual lawsuits to obtain relief.