Bringing an End to the Trend: Cutting Judicial 'Approval' and 'Rejection' Out of Non-Class Mass Settlement
70 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2011 Last revised: 22 Jul 2011
Date Written: July 9, 2011
In March 2010, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a mass settlement between the City of New York and the 9/11 first responders and rescue workers. The settlement was not a class action but some ten thousand cases aggregated for efficiency purposes. Nonetheless, Hellerstein, invoking the spirit of Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules, which provides for judicial approval of settlement in class actions, decided that the settlement was not enough. Hellerstein’s actions inspired a debate over whether judges have the authority to approve or reject settlements absent class certification. This Note continues this discussion, and in doing so, contends that the 9/11 “rejection” was part of a larger trend of judges “approving” non-class mass settlements, even though the Federal Rules do not sanction such conduct. In presenting this trend, this Note discusses three examples of non-class action, multidistrict litigation before turning to the 9/11 settlement. This Note concludes that judicial “approval” and “rejection” of settlement, although a pragmatic response to the burdens of mass litigation, is inconsistent with the Federal Rules and adversarial system, and therefore, courts should bring an end to this practice.
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