The Supreme Court and the Class Action: Where We Are and Where We Might Be Going
Richard D. Freer
Emory University School of Law
December 7, 2012
In 2010 and 2011, the Supreme Court decided five class action cases. In 2012, it has agreed to hear four more. This piece summarizes what the Court has done and where it appears to be going concerning aggregate litigation. The goal of this piece is more practical than theoretical: to place all nine cases in context and draw preliminary conclusions about the impact these cases have had and will have -- not only on class action practice, but in other areas, including the Erie Doctrine, waivers of class arbitration, anti-suit injunctions, the binding effect of judgments on class members, enforcement of Rule 10b-5, and the apparent efforts of defendants to front-load litigation by demanding greater consideration of merits-based facts (and qualification of experts) at the class certification stage.
The cases dealing with waivers of class arbitration implicate the role of the civil suit in law enforcement. If small (usually consumer) claims cannot be pursued on an aggregate basis, they may never be vindicated; individuals and lawyers will not find it economically feasible to do so. Yet the Court appears unwilling to recognize a public-policy exception to the primacy of contract. Thus, if the underlying contract waives aggregate litigation or arbitration, apparently this will not be trumped by the concern that the relevant law (often consumer protection laws) will not be enforced through civil litigation.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: class action, class arbitration waiver, civil procedure, Supreme Court
JEL Classification: K10, K13, K40, K41, K42
Date posted: December 8, 2012 ; Last revised: December 15, 2012
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