Sometimes, a number of people or parties will file claims, in which each party alleges the same or similar injuries that were caused by the same or similar conduct. In these circumstances, federal and Louisiana law recognize class actions as procedural devices that can be used to aggregate the parties’ claims into a single action.
The purpose and intent of class action procedure is to adjudicate and obtain res judicata effect on all common issues applicable to the representatives who bring the action. However, this res judicata effect also applies to all others who are “similarly situated,” provided they are given adequate notice of the pending class action and do not timely exercise the option to exclude themselves from the class. Class actions are commonly filed in matters that involve common facts and damages such as plant explosions, claims based upon allegedly defective products, or claims involving employment practices or civil rights violations.
Before a court can hold a trial on the merits of a class action, the court must determine whether all of the procedural requirements are met for certification of the class. In making this determination, the court rules on whether the matter may proceed as a class action or whether the named parties must bring individual claims. In Louisiana, the threshold requirements for class certification are found in La. C.C.P. art. 591(A), which provides:
A. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all, only if:
(1) The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.
(2) There are questions of law or fact common to the class.
(3) The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.
(4) The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
(5) The class is or may be defined objectively in terms of ascertainable criteria, such that the court may determine the constituency of the class for purposes of the conclusiveness of any judgment that may be rendered in the case.
Every one of these requirements must be met for an action to be maintained as a class action. Stated differently, the class cannot be certified if even one of these threshold requirements is not met. A party seeking class certification must also establish one of the additional requirements outlined in La. C.C.P. art. 591(B).
In Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that a court must conduct a “rigorous analysis” of the class certification requirements, to ensure that every one of them are satisfied before a case is certified as a class action. Moreover, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove that every requirement of La. C.C.P. art. 591 is satisfied. While only the procedural requirements for class certifications are relevant to determine if a matter should be certified, the “rigorous analysis” required of the court oftentimes requires analysis of the overlapping merits of the plaintiff’s underlying claim. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.
Whether a matter should be certified as a class action is often a contested issue involving high stakes. If it is certified, the matter proceeds as a class action, where the claims are asserted on behalf of the entire class and can result in substantial damage awards. If the matter is not certified, the claim representatives must pursue their claims individually, which leads to significantly less exposure for defendants named in the action.
Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC, 2012-1566 (La. 3/19/13), 112 So.3d 822, 829.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, — U.S. —, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2550, 180 L.Ed.2d 374 (2011).