Representing the Unrepresented in Class Actions Seeking Monetary Relief
Brian Wolfman, Alan B. Morrison
Class actions are important and useful both to deter wrongful conduct and to provide compensation for injured plaintiffs. In complex cases, however, the existing class action structure falters. In this Article, Messrs. Wolfman and Morrison argue that in “settlement class actions” the current class action rules do not adequately protect class members whose interests do not coincide with those of the class representatives and the class attorneys. Through a survey of recent, prominent settlement class actions, the authors show that the current system does not fairly treat subgroups in a class with respect to matters as diverse as future injury, fee distribution, applicable law, and timing of payments. In response to these problems and others, Messrs. Wolfman and Morrison ultimately urge the adoption of amendments to the class action rules to handle settlement class actions. The effect of these amendments would be twofold: first, to ensure that “unrepresented” class members would be represented by counsel who would have adequate opportunity to champion their interests; and second, to allow a judge handling a settlement class action to evaluate the substantive provisions of a proposed settlement, and to impose or reject certain terms in order to assure fairness within the class, as well as between the class and defendants.