Class Actions

Class Action Definitions

Class actions have a language all their own. Here are some of the more common terms you'll run across in a class action, and their definitions.

Absent Class Member: A class member who is not a named party to the litigation and has not opted out of the class. Absent class members are bound by the judgment in the class action.

Adequacy of Representation: Refers to how well and fairly the class representative acts on behalf of the other class members. Adequacy is a factor in determining whether a named plaintiff may act for the class.

Certification of the Class: This is the process in which the court decides whether a class action is the appropriate form for the lawsuit.

Certification Hearing: The certification hearing determines whether the class will be certified and a class action can proceed.

Class Counsel: The lawyer or lawyers who represent the class in a class action.

Class Representative: One or more persons who act as the named plaintiffs (or rarely defendants) in a class action.

Clear Sailing Agreement: An agreement by defendants and their counsel not to object to the fee application made by the counsel for the class.

Collusion: An improper agreement between the parties in a class action in reaching a settlement.

Commonality: One of the factors determining whether a class may be certified. A common question of fact or law is required to certify a class.

Common Fund Class: A type of class action, and possibly the most prevalent, which seeks to obtain a monetary pool to compensate class members for their harm. Counsel's fees and legal expenses will also be paid from the fund.

Compensatory Class: A type of class action in which the class members seek money damages.

Decertification: A class that was previously certified may be decertified if a requirement for a class is found not to exist.

Declaratory Judgment Class: A type of class action asking the court to declare the rights and obligations of the parties respecting some matter in controversy.

Defendant: The party being sued by the plaintiff; usually accused of some wrongdoing.

Exclusion Request: A request by a class member to be excluded from the lawsuit.

Fairness Hearing: A court hearing to determine whether a proposed settlement is fair.

Injunctive Relief Class Action: A class action to cause the defendant to stop doing something, or to do something. For example a lawsuit on behalf of minority fire fighters may seek to enjoin a city fire department from using a racially discriminatory promotion system.

Interlocutory Appeal: An appeal from an order of the court that is not the final judgment in the case. For example, an appeal of the court's order certifying the class is an interlocutory appeal.

Intervene: The process by which someone who is not a party to a lawsuit joins the lawsuit. Members of a class do not need to intervene to obtain the benefits of the action.

Lead Counsel: The lawyer or firm that heads the litigation for the class, with court approval.

Liaison Counsel: A lawyer that acts as a go-between for the parties and the court in a complex case.

Limited Fund Class: A class whose claims are too numerous or too large to be compensated from the assets of the defendant.

Lodestar: A method of calculating the attorneys' fees in a class action, based in part on the number of hours spent working on the case.

Notice: The means of informing the parties of their rights and responsibilities, or of the occurrence of some event in the case.

Numerosity: A factor in certifying a class. If the potential number of plaintiffs is so numerous that it's not practical for them to sue individually, this factor weighs in favor of certification.

Opt Out: Class members may opt out of the litigation. This is done so that the member may pursue a lawsuit individually. If a class member does not opt out, he or she will be bound by the outcome of the case and will not be able to sue individually on the same claim.

Objector: A person who objects to something in the class action, such as the proposed settlement or the lawyers' fee application.

Representative Plaintiff: One of the class members who acts in name for the class. Also called the named plaintiff. This person must be able to represent the class adequately and fairly and must have a claim that is typical of class claims as a whole.

Publication: Giving notice of the class action by mass media, such as television and newspaper announcements.

Steering Committee: Lawyers of the class who meet to make decisions about the litigation, including strategic and administrative decisions.

Typicality: The representative plaintiff's claims must by typical of or typify those of the class as a whole.\

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