Federal Class Actions
In the United States federal courts, class actions are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Class Action Lawsuits may be brought in federal court if the claim arises under Federal Law, or if any member of the potential plaintiff class and the defendant are from different states. Nationwide plaintiff classes are possible, but such suits must have a commonality of issues across state lines. This may be difficult as the civil law in the various states has significant differences and thus each state’s set of claims may have to be handled separately or through the device of multi-district litigation (MDL). It is also possible to bring class action lawsuits under state law, and in some cases the court may extend its jurisdiction to all the members of the class, including out of state (or even internationally) as the key element is the jurisdiction that the court has over the defendant.
Typically, federal courts are thought to be more favorable for defendants and state courts more favorable for plaintiffs. Most class action cases are filed initially in state court. The defendant will frequently try to remove the case to federal court. The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 increases defendants’ ability to remove cases to federal court.
The procedure for filing a class action is to file suit with one or several named plaintiffs on behalf of a putative class. The putative class must consist of a group of individuals or business entities that have suffered a common wrong. Usually, these kinds of cases are connected to some standard action on the part of a business, or some particular product defect or policy that was applied to all potential class members in a uniform manner. After the summons and complaint is filed, the plaintiff usually has to bring a motion (some times at the same time as filing the summons and complaint) to have the class certified. In some jurisdictions class certification may require additional discovery in order to determine if the proposed class is sufficiently cohesive.
Upon the motion to certify the class, the defendants may object to whether the issues are appropriately handled as class litigation, to whether the named plaintiffs are sufficiently representative of the class, and to their relationship with the law firm or firms handling the case. The court will also examine the ability of the firm to prosecute the claim for the plaintiffs, and their resources for dealing with class actions; the court may, as due process requires, have complex notices sent, published, or broadcast to the public, in any place where the class members can be found.