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Class Action Certification: What Is It?

Gordon, Wolf & Carney Feb. 7, 2022

What is Class Action Certification? This article summarizes what the requirements are and how a lawyer can help.

What is Class Action Certification?

Class certification is performed by a court, after a motion for class certification has been filed by a party.

When a court “certifies” a class, the court is ruling that the case can proceed as a class action, that the class can be represented by attorneys and class representatives appointed by the court, and that those representatives may move forward to litigate the certified claims or defenses of everyone in the class. The court’s class certification decision is generally subject to revision or revocation later in the case.

In what are called “opt out” class actions, class members do not need to affirmatively “join” the lawsuit. Instead, after the Court has certified the class, notice about the class action will be sent to class members, who will have the opportunity to “opt out,” or exclude themselves from the lawsuit. In some class actions, an opt-out opportunity does not exist. In some class actions, for example certain wage cases, class members must affirmatively express their desire to join in the class action.

Requirements for Certification

To certify a class, a court generally needs to find that the proposed class is 1) numerous; 2) presents common questions; 3) that the class representative’s claims are typical of the class’ claims; and 4) that the class representative is an adequate representative.

In addition, the court needs to find that either: 1) prosecuting separate actions by or against individual class members would create a risk of inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual class members that would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class; or, 2) adjudications with respect to individual class members would, as a practical matter, be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests; or, 3) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole; or 4) that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.

The rules for class certification vary somewhat between state and federal court, and among different states.

How a Lawyer Can Help 

An attorney is generally necessary to have a class certified, as one of the class certification requirements is that the representation of the class is “adequate” – which usually involves having an attorney with experience in class actions. Class action attorneys are tasked with adequately and fairly guarding the interests of the class. That is why specific lawyers are appointed by the court as “class counsel” to represent the class, at the time that a class is certified.

Class action cases may involve:

  • Illegal debt collecting practices and debt collection harassment

  • Unlawful debt cancellation agreements, or “GAP” agreements, that do not completely pay remaining loan balances after a total loss of a vehicle

  • Products that are defective

  • Charges regarding vehicle sales that are illegal

  • Unlawful charges imposed on tenants

  • Unlawful repossession practices

  • Unlawful “confessed judgment” provisions

  • Unlawful loan charges

If you believe you have been harmed by a practice that should be addressed by a class action lawsuit, contact the lawyers at Gordon, Wolf & Carney today!