Consumer Rights Class Actions
Class Actions are a method where one individual acts on behalf of many individuals who have a very similar claim. As an example, a bank or a credit card company charges an improper fee, a small fee, to all bank or credit card customers. This would be a situation that would lend itself to a class action. A case is filed as a class action but must be certified or approved by the Court. The Court then has to approve any settlement and any notice to the class agreed upon by the lawyers. In order to be certified there are several requirements. The plaintiff's claim must be similar in many ways to the other, absent, class members to be fair to the defendant and the absent class members.
Class Actions have become a common sight in the civil system, both at the state and federal level. Thousands of class actions are filed every year, both high profile and non-discreet.
Class actions under New Jersey Law are permitted as a device to permit one person to act on behalf of others who are similarly situated. This person is known as a class action representative. This representative has various duties to the class in a fiduciary capacity. The New Jersey Court Rules make reference to various requirements to permit this individual person to act on behalf of all the other persons similarly situated. Frequently individuals proffer the same question: don’t you need many individuals to have a class action? No, the point of a class action is to have one person rather than numerous individuals, and this one individual can act on their behalf. This person is only permitted to act as a class action representative, on the other person’s behalf, if he has completed a strict set of requirements which is reviewed and approved by the Court. Not anybody can be a class action representative. There have been to very stringent requirements, as set forth by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
New Jersey law favors the certification of class actions in consumer cases. There have been numerous cases certified by various New Jersey courts as class actions. This includes many consumer class actions.
The first stage would be to file a complaint in the individual capacity, requesting to act on behalf of others similarly situated. This is typical of all civil claims filed in New Jersey. During this process, discovery would be undertaken by the defendants and the requested class representative, both as to the merits of the claim and the class certification requirements. Then, after the discovery is completed under the class certification requirements, the plaintiff’s law firm requests the court approve this individual as a class representative and approve the matter as a class action. After the matter is approved as a class action and the class action representative is approved, notice is provided to the members of the class. The matter then proceeds to trial or ultimately settles.
The class action rule is very powerful in that it permits a consumer with a small, but typical, claim to have a significant impact on the way a defendant does business or for such business to return any ill-gotten profits.