The Class Action Fairness Act: Curbing Unfairness and Restoring Faith in our Judicial System

By / 3.17.2003

A rapidly growing number of class actions that are being filed in some of our state courts appear to be doing more harm than good. Under the current regime, most participants in those cases—not just the defendants—tend to be losers. The states whose courts have honorably decided not to play class action games are, contrary to fundamental federalism principles, being forced to transfer authority over their citizens’ claims and the interpretation of their own laws to other states whose courts seem to have an insatiable appetite for such lawsuits. Consumers are paying a big price as well. Even though they are supposed to be the beneficiaries of these lawsuits, there is mounting evidence that much (if not most or all) of whatever monetary recoveries are obtained in state court class actions often go to the counsel
who brought the actions, not the persons on whose behalf they supposedly were filed. And consumers are ultimately paying the bill for those recoveries in the form of a “litigation tax” that must be added to the prices they pay everyday for products and services. As The Washington Post recently editorialized, “no component of the legal system is more prone to abuse” than class actions.

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution actually foresaw—and tried to prevent—the types of problems that are raised by these class actions when they gave federal courts “diversity jurisdiction” over cases that involve interstate commerce. Unfortunately, the federal statutes exercising that constitutional authority were drafted before the evolution of the modern class action lawsuit and have been interpreted to exclude most interstate class actions from federal court. The upshot is that even multimillion dollar cases, brought on behalf of tens of thousands of class members living in all 50 states, with outcomes that set national policy, are heard in state (not federal) courts. Some members of the bar have seized on this opportunity, searching out and finding state court venues where the judges will readily certify cases for very lucrative treatment as either class actions or their kin, mass joinder actions.

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