Preclusion and the Denial of Class Certification: Avoiding the 'Death by a Thousand Cuts'
99 Iowa Law Review Bulletin 85 (2014)
23 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2014 Last revised: 12 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 1, 2014
Consider this fact pattern: D acts in a way that arguably injures 100 people. One victim (Rep-1) brings a class action against D on behalf of the 100. After litigation, the court denies class certification (for lack of manageability or of commonality or of predominant common questions). If those findings do not preclude the putative class members, 99 other potential class representatives may line up to try again and again to have the class certified. In the colorful terms of Professor Martin H. Redish and Meghan Kiernan, D faces the “death by a thousand cuts.” Commentators and courts have wrestled with whether putative class members ought to be bound by Rep-1’s failure to gain certification. In an article in the Iowa Law Review, Redish and Kiernan suggest that we have been focusing on the wrong target for preclusion. Because the class lawyer is the de facto real party in interest, preclusion should be invoked to bar counsel from bringing a second certification motion.
In responding to the Redish/Kiernan proposal, this piece has three goals. First, it explicates the source of D’s dilemma. Specifically, the “death by a thousand cuts” looms because of the asymmetry between the requirement that one may not be bound without having had a “day in court,” on the one hand, and preclusion doctrine, on the other. The problem is reminiscent of the seminal work by Professor Brainerd Currie on nonmutual preclusion.
Second, I disagree with the assumption, implicit in the Redish/Kiernan article, that the Supreme Court’s rejection of preclusion in Smith v. Bayer Corporation (2011) ended the possibility of precluding putative class members. I argue that these non-parties are bound because they are in privity with the class representative, so long as the court rejecting class certification expressly found that the class representative was adequate under Federal Rule 23(a)(4) or its equivalent. It is unfair to allow putative class members to claim non-party status if the court found Rep-1 to be adequate. In that instance, the members have had their day in court on issues relating to class certification and should be bound.
Third, I argue that issue preclusion is problematic not because of Smith, but because of more prosaic doctrinal concerns, principally the requirement that multiple cases present the same “issue.” This problem will also thwart the Redish/Kiernan proposal, at least if it is to be implemented by case law along the lines of traditional preclusion. Implementation in a rule, however, could avoid these doctrinal restrictions.
Keywords: issue preclusion, class action, class certification, effect of judgment, res judicata, courts, practice and procedure
JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation