The law practice at the Kalfayan Law Firm focuses extensively on class action litigation in California and nationwide. Class action litigation requires a significant investment of time and money, as cases can take years to resolve as they go up and down the court system through multiple trials and appeals. We don’t give up on our cases or our clients. We are committed to seeing each case through to the end to obtain justice and compensation for our clients. Learn more about class action litigation below, and if you have been harmed by a violation of state or federal consumer protection laws, business litigation or antitrust laws, call the Kalfayan Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your potential claims.
What is a class action?
A class action is a type of civil lawsuit where the named plaintiff serves as the representative for a much larger class of people who have suffered the same or substantially similar harm. The idea behind class actions is that it would be inefficient or unmanageable if every potential plaintiff brought their own case to court or had to join the lawsuit as a named plaintiff. Imagine one case with hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs each with their own lawyer bringing their claims in one lawsuit. In a class action, the named plaintiffs pursue the case on behalf of the entire class.
How do class actions work?
The major difference between a class action and an individual lawsuit is in the process of certifying the class. A class action complaint starts off as a “putative” class action; it does not proceed until the court decides to certify the class. This is the major hurdle in class action litigation. If the class doesn’t get certified, the case dies.
Once the class is certified, the case proceeds much like an individual lawsuit, but on a much larger scale. There is a period of discovery where both sides can gather information and evidence from the other through tools such as depositions and requests for the production of documents. After discovery, the case proceeds to trial before a judge or jury, and a final decision is reached in favor of the plaintiff or defendant.
Like other cases, class action lawsuits can settle out of court any time before trial or before a final judgment (verdict) is reached. Many class actions settle after the class gets certified and the defendants realize the jeopardy they are in. Class action settlements are subject to a “fairness hearing,” where the judge will decide if the proposed settlement is fair before approving it.
What does it take to get class certification?
Class certification is the major hurdle and most important step in class action litigation. Plaintiffs must prove several factors to the court’s satisfaction before the judge will certify the class. These include:
Ascertainability – The class must be defined by objective criteria or some feasible method of determining who belongs to the class. The class representative (the named plaintiff) must be part of the proposed class and have a live claim or controversy that can be resolved in the courts.
Numerosity – The class has to be large enough to justify a class action. Generally, having more than 40 class members will be sufficient, although classes can number in the hundreds or thousands depending on the case.
Commonality – The class members must have common questions that are susceptible to common answers.
Typicality – The claims of the class representatives must be typical of the claims of all class members.
Adequacy – The class representatives can’t have conflicts of interest with the other class members, and the legal counsel representing the plaintiffs must have experience with class actions and the type of claims involved and demonstrate competency in handling the case.
Other criteria – Any of the following might also need to be present to convince the court to certify a class: a risk of inconsistent rulings if no class is certified; the defendant has limited funds for settling all the claims against it; the case is “injunction-only”; a class action is superior to other means of resolving the dispute; common issues of the class predominate over any individual issues with the named plaintiffs.
What does the lead plaintiff do?
The plaintiff whose name appears on the complaint is the one who files the lawsuit and serves as the class representative. The lead plaintiff works closely with the attorney who is handling the case. The lead plaintiff has the authority to make important decisions in the case, including deciding whether to accept a settlement or go to trial.
How do class members get paid?
A common fund will be established, and class members will be notified of their ability to file a claim through the mail or online. Class members are included in the settlement unless they opt-out. If the case is a collective action instead of a class action, members must opt-in to join the case. Employment wage and hour cases are often “opt-in” collective actions as opposed to “opt-out” class actions. You should be notified in either case if you are a class member and whether you have the option to opt out or if you need to opt-in.
When should I opt out of a class action?
If your damages are significantly greater than other class members or if you have unique issues that would be decided differently, it might be in your interest to opt out of the class action and file your own individual lawsuit. This is a decision you should make only after consulting an experienced attorney. As a class member, you don’t have to do anything other than wait for your share of the settlement. If you opt-out, you have to hire your own lawyer, appear in court, and take an active role in the litigation, which could be costly and time-consuming.
Is a class action the same as multi district litigation?
A class action is one lawsuit with many plaintiffs (one or more named plaintiffs plus class members). Multi district litigation (MDL) involves many similar lawsuits which have been filed in different federal courts and are transferred to one district court to manage the litigation. If several similar class action lawsuits have been filed, it is possible they could be consolidated into an MDL.
What is a bellwether trial?
In multi district litigation, each plaintiff keeps their lawsuit and attorney, although the cases are all managed together. At some point, the court will start to hold trials to test the issues in the case. The outcome of one trial serves as a bellwether or indication to the remaining parties about how the issues are likely to be resolved in their cases. A decision in a bellwether trial is only binding on the parties in that case, but it can often spur serious settlement talks for the other litigants once they see how their case is likely to be perceived by a jury.
Are class actions filed in state court or federal court?
Class actions can be filed in state or federal court, depending on whether state or federal law is involved. Even if the case is filed in state court, the defendant might try to remove it to federal court, which they can do depending on the amount in controversy, diversity in state citizenship between the parties, or if a federal question is involved. Also, state law might limit what kinds of cases can be brought as class actions, forcing the plaintiffs to file in federal court. One state, Virginia, does not allow class actions to be filed in its courts at all. Generally speaking, plaintiffs prefer to litigate in state courts and defendants prefer federal court, but every case is unique.
Who pays the attorney’s fees in a class action?
Class action law firms take cases on a contingency basis. They don’t charge any fee unless they are successful, and if they don’t win, they don’t charge any fee. If they do win, their fees are generally a percentage of the recovery. The attorneys might also submit a detailed report to the court of the hours they’ve spent on the case, which is multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate and can be further multiplied by other relevant factors. This is known as the “lodestar method” of calculating attorney’s fees. Either way, the judge will review the attorney’s request for fees and will only approve an amount the judge deems reasonable. Fees are paid out of the settlement. Class action lawyers front all the costs of the litigation and devote years of their lives toward getting a successful outcome for their clients who believe in justice and fighting for a principle.