Class Actions in the Year 2026: A Prognosis
87 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2015 Last revised: 26 May 2016
Date Written: September 8, 2015
In this Article, I offer my predictions on what the class action landscape will look like a decade from now. Those predictions fall into several categories:
First, I discuss whether the basic class action framework — Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 — is likely to be revamped in the next decade. I predict that there is little chance that the basic structure of Rule 23 will change. Calls by some scholars to rewrite Rule 23 will not make headway. The only caveat to that prediction is that either Congress or the Supreme Court could repudiate so-called no injury classes — i.e., classes in which some unnamed class members suffered no harm — a result that would not change the text of Rule 23 but would adversely impact certain kinds of class actions, such as consumer cases. [Modify language based on Spokeo and Tyson Foods.]
Second, I examine the likely state of class action jurisprudence in the year 2025. In that regard, I make several predictions: Securities class actions will continue to flourish, and significant public interest class actions seeking structural relief will continue to be certified. On the other hand, consumer, employment, and personal injury class actions will continue to decline. The Supreme Court will curtail the ability of plaintiffs to establish liability or damages through expert statistical sampling (referred to frequently as “trial by formula”). [Modify based on Tyson Foods.] The “ascertainability” requirement imposed by the Third Circuit will be repudiated by the Supreme Court or by the Third Circuit itself. Although the Supreme Court in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez held that an unaccepted offer of judgment under Rule 68 did not moot the plaintiff’s claim (and thus did not moot the putative class claims brought by the plaintiff as class representative), the Court reserved important issues for a later day. The decision thus ensures that the defense bar will continue to search for ways to pick off class representatives. Defendants will advance several arguments against class certification that, until now, have had only limited success. These will include expansive applications of Rule 23’s typicality, predominance, and superiority requirements. Although defendants will not be fully successful with these arguments, they will succeed in erecting some additional barriers to class certification. During the next decade, courts addressing class certification and the fairness of settlements will give greater weight to allegations of unethical behavior by class counsel and by counsel representing objectors to settlements. The future of class actions will ultimately lie in the hands of a small number of appellate court judges who have a special interest and expertise in aggregate litigation.
Third, I focus on the administration and resolution of class actions and offer two predictions: (1) by 2025, a significantly larger number of class action cases will go to trial than at any time since 1966; and (2) technological changes will fundamentally alter the mechanics of class action practice, offering more sophisticated tools for notice, participation by class members, and distribution of settlement proceeds.
Keywords: class actions
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