Symmetry and Class Action Litigation


In ordinary litigation, parties often have different resources to devote to their lawsuit. This is a problem because the adversarial system is predicated on two (or more) parties, equal and opposite one another, making their best arguments to a neutral judge. The class action is a procedural device that aims to solve this problem by equalizing resources between individual plaintiffs and organizational defendants. It does this by allowing plaintiffs to pool their claims. Current developments in class action doctrine, however, reinforce in the courtroom the asymmetry that exists between individual plaintiffs and organizational defendants outside the court. This Article explores these trends and the questions they raise. Why is it that critics of class actions (and some judges) argue that class actions ought not to be certified for litigation purposes because they “blackmail” defendants into settling suits, but they approve of the practice of certifying class actions for settlement when defendants seek to settle clearly meritless claims? Why is the blackmail argument so resilient in the class action context, and what insight does this lend to the context of binary litigation where litigants are more likely to have unequal resources to devote to litigation and, as a result, more likely to enter into settlements that do not reflect the true value of their claim? Should asymmetry of resources in litigation be considered a problem for our court system, or is it right for courts to take litigants as they find them, even if litigants have vastly unequal resources to devote to pursuing their lawsuits?

About the Author

Alexandra D. Lahav is Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut.

By uclalaw