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What are the initial requirements for a class action lawsuit?

Civil legal issues involving a large group of people are sometimes litigated through class action suits. Simply having numerous parties does not, however, guarantee that this is a viable option; certain prerequisites must be met in order for a group to pursue class action litigation.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, available through the United States Courts, govern civil procedural issues in federal lawsuits. Class action civil litigation, which is addressed in Rule 23, is described as a situation in which class members can be selected as representative parties for the rest of the group. 

In order to utilize this option, four prerequisites must be met. First, the class must be large enough that joinder of the individual members would not be practical. Second, there must be common legal or factual questions that apply to the entire class. Third, the representative parties' claims or defenses must be typical of the entire class. Fourth, the class' interests must be adequately and fairly protected by the representatives.   

In order to maintain a class action, other requirements must also be satisfied. These are outlined in FRCP 23(b). Under this rule, class actions will generally be maintained if they are the most efficient and beneficial way of handling the claims at issue. Acceptable reasons for allowing such suits include:

  • The pursuit of consistent adjudications across the group's members
  • The protection of the interests of individual members
  • The commonality of factual or legal questions
  • The opposition's actions (or refusal to engage in actions) on grounds applicable to the whole class makes it appropriate to apply final relief to all members as a group 

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