In a class action lawsuit, a large group of people collectively bring a claim against one or more defendants. Originally, the various categories of class actions were defined in terms of the theoretical nature of the rights involved. The “true” category was one that involved “joint, common, or secondary rights.” Then there was the “hybrid” category, which involved “several” rights related to “specific property”. The “spurious” category, involved “several” rights affected by a common question and related to common relief.
It was thought that these categories accurately described the situations amenable to class action suits. Each category was associated with an applicable scope or extent of possible judgments, which would in turn help determine the res judicata effect of the judgment if questioned in a later action. Thus the judgments in “true” and “hybrid” class actions would extend to the class (although in somewhat different ways); the judgment in a “spurious” class action would extend only to the parties including intervenors.
Today, class actions are divided into four categories. Class actions are authorized under FRCP 23 in four situations[i]:
(1) where individual actions might result in inconsistent decisions that establish incompatible standards of conduct for the defendant[ii].
(2) where the interests of absent class members could be impaired if issues are resolved by individual actions[iii].
(2) where the primary relief sought is injunctive or declaratory, not monetary[iv].
(3) where “questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members,” and where “a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.”[v]
Subsection (b) (3) sets forth the factors to be considered in determining whether a class action is superior to other methods:
(1) the interest of class members to individually control separate actions.
(2) whether and to what extent any litigation concerning the controversy has already been undertaken.
(3) the advantages or disadvantages of litigating the claims in the particular forum.
(4) any likely difficulties in managing the class action.
[i] USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 23
[ii] FRCP 23(b)(1)(A)
[iii] FRCP 23(b)(1)(B)
[iv] FRCP 23(b)(2)
[v] FRCP 23(b)(3)