Disaggregative Mechanisms: The New Frontier of Mass-Claims Resolution Without Class Actions
Emory University School of Law
April 1, 2013
60 Emory L.J. 1253 (2014).
UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-4
Aggregation has long been viewed as the primary if not sole vehicle for mass claims resolution. For a half-century, scholars have consistently viewed the consolidated litigation of similar claims through joinder, class actions and more recently multi-district litigation as the only mechanism for efficiently resolving mass claims. In this Article, I challenge that long-standing and fundamental conception. The Article seeks to reconceptualize our understanding of mass claims resolution, arguing that we are witnessing the birth of a second, unexplored branch of mass claims resolution mechanisms — which I term “disaggregative” dispute resolution systems because they lack the traditional aggregation of common questions that has been the hallmark of traditional mass claims litigation. Disaggregation returns to a focus on the individual akin to that of the single-plaintiff system, but uses either procedural or substantive streamlining, or a shift of costs to the defendant, to correct the asymmetries that prompted the creation of class actions. Many of our most innovative claims structures — from the BP GCCF and the fund created in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, to the common single-plaintiff arbitration clauses in consumer and employment agreements — use this new, bottom-up model of disaggregative mass claims resolution instead of the familiar top-down aggregative model.
These next-generation systems have been heralded as a significant advancement in mass claims resolution, capable of awarding more compensation to claimants more quickly and at lower cost than aggregate litigation. But like the single-plaintiff and aggregate litigation systems that preceded it, disaggregation has its flaws. Because the defendant typically designs these systems, they often give rise to questions about legitimacy and the accuracy of compensation. More shockingly, situating disaggregation within the existing doctrinal trends reveals that the rise of disaggregation allows corporations to avoid class actions in a far broader swath of cases than has previously been identified — such that class actions will, as a practical matter, proceed only at the defendant’s election, raising substantial questions about the viability of private actions as a mechanism for the enforcement of law. Yet, because these systems are the product of contract, attempts to restrict these systems have largely failed. The answer to these problems lies in an unlikely and potentially controversial approach: expanding rather than restricting the availability of disaggregation, by creating a public mechanism for disaggregation — comparable to the existing public aggregation mechanisms.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 59
Keywords: class action, multi-district litigation, tort law, aggregation, arbitration, resolution, mass tort litigation, BP Fund, Deepwater Horizon, Costa Concordia, non-Article IIII courts
JEL Classification: K13
Date posted: April 2, 2013 ; Last revised: January 10, 2015