Aggregation, Community, and the Line Between
Elizabeth Chamblee Burch
University of Georgia Law School
May 10, 2010
Kansas Law Review, Vol. 58, p. 101, 2010
FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 414
As class-action theorists, we sometimes focus so heavily on the class certification threshold that we neglect to reassess the line itself. The current line asks whether procedurally aggregated individuals form a sufficiently cohesive group before the decision to sue. Given this symposium’s topic - the state of aggregate litigation and the boundaries of class actions in the decade after Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor and Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp. - the time is ripe to challenge our assumptions about this line in non-class aggregation. Accordingly, this Article examines group cohesion and asks whether the current line is the only dividing line or even the correct one. If we are willing to look for genuine cohesion among individuals who are procedurally aggregated but lack sufficiently common traits before the decision to sue, then we will find an alternative, but perhaps more compelling, justification for binding collective interests.
This Article draws on the dominant justifications for group litigation - consent and interest representation - to explore this alternative line-drawing scheme in terms of political theory. Encouraging plaintiffs to form groups and reach decisions through deliberation relies on a mix of individual consent and moral obligation. Allowing plaintiffs to exercise their free will when deciding whether to associate with others preserves the liberal tenet of self-determination and escapes the anti-democratic criticism leveled at class actions. Yet, a purely liberal approach fails to capture the obligatory aspect of reciprocal promises to cooperate and the communal obligations that attach. Although plaintiffs voluntarily enter into the group, once they are group members and have tied together their collective litigation fates, they should not be permitted to exit when doing so violates their commitments. Of course, the community itself determines the content of its members’ rights and obligations to one another. Thus, this Article concludes by explaining the rationale for group autonomy in terms of pluralism and communitarianism.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: nonclass aggregation, multi-district litigation, class action, liberalism, communitarianism, Rule 23(b)(2), Rule 23(b)(3), group cohesion
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Date posted: December 2, 2009 ; Last revised: September 30, 2015