Mechanics of a Class Action Lawsuit

how to file a class action lawsuit

The victims of fraudulent or deceptive practices by banks and businesses, as well as employees who are cheated out of wages and consumers who buy defective products, often find it advantageous to bring a class action lawsuit. By joining together rather than pursuing individual claims, victims gain the strength they need to battle large corporate defendants.

The individuals who commence a lawsuit are called plaintiffs. In California, plaintiffs often turn to class action lawyers to help them vindicate their rights. Class action attorneys help plaintiffs make a number of important decisions when they file a class action.

Determining the Size of the Class

A class action lawsuit is meant to provide efficient justice to large numbers of people who have suffered a similar harm. If a business only defrauds a few customers, courts will sometimes not allow those victims to file a class action lawsuit against the business. Many class action lawsuits involve hundreds or thousands of potential class members. A nationwide class might consist of millions of people.

As a general rule, a class will not be certified (that is, the lawsuit will not be allowed to proceed as a class action) unless at least a few dozen people have suffered a common harm. The more people who can be identified as potential class members, the more likely it is that the class will be certified. 

Choosing a Venue

Class action lawsuits are filed in both California state courts and federal courts. When a lawsuit is filed on behalf of Californians against a California business alleging violations of California law, it will typically be filed in state court. When the suit is filed against a business that is not located in California or when it alleges violations of federal law, the case might be filed in federal court, or the defendant might force it to be moved out of state court and into federal court.

The place in which the lawsuit is filed is called the “venue.” In some cases, the law dictates the choice of venue. In other cases, the plaintiffs can choose the venue. When plaintiffs opt to file in state court, the defendants may be able to force the lawsuit into federal court. The law governing venue can be complex, and the decision about the court in which to file often requires sound strategic judgment. Experienced class action lawyers always try to keep a class action lawsuit in the most favorable venue, when the law permits a choice. 

Choosing Class Representatives

The named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit represent a class of victims who have suffered similar harms. For example, if the class action concerns excessive fees charged by a bank, the plaintiffs will be people who were overcharged in ways that were typical of the overcharges that other customers of the bank experienced.

In addition to having suffered harms that are similar to those suffered by other class members, class representatives must:

  • Be willing to represent the interests of all class members, not just their own interests
  • Have no fundamental conflict with other class members
  • Be able to understand the basic issues (although not all of the legal complexities) that are raised in the lawsuit
  • Be willing to take an active role in the lawsuit, which may include testifying in depositions and producing relevant documents
  • Have a strong interest in pursuing the lawsuit vigorously
  • Be willing to find class action attorneys who will take the case

The first victims to discuss a potential lawsuit with a class action lawyer often become the class representatives. They are typically awarded a greater share of the settlement than class members who do not actively participate in the litigation. Before they will be selected as class representatives, however, it must be clear that they satisfy the criteria listed above. 

Certifying the Class

After the class action attorneys choose class representatives, they will prepare a complaint and file it in an appropriate court. After both sides engage in discovery (a process of gathering evidence), the plaintiffs will ask the court to certify the class. A judge will certify the class if legal standards for the class action have been satisfied.

A judge will generally certify the class if:

  • The class is sufficiently large to make a class action appropriate
  • The factual and legal issues raised in the lawsuit are fundamentally the same for all class members
  • The claims of the class representatives are typical of the claims raised by the entire class
  • The class representatives are capable of representing the class
  • The attorneys for the plaintiffs are capable of handling the litigation

The last point makes it imperative for individuals who are thinking about starting a class action lawsuit to find a law firm that has experience handling class actions. Judges are more likely to certify a class if experienced class action lawyers have taken care to prepare a lawsuit that meets all of the criteria listed above.

Need assistance with your class action? Contact our attorneys at the Cooper Law Firm today for a free case evaluation. We've helped recover over $200,000,000 and do not charge you any fees or costs unless your case is won.