Does California law recognize class actions?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Class actions are permitted under California Rules of Civil Procedure §382, and are frequently pursed in California courts. California case law recognizes class actions as an important, even preferred, part of civil procedure in the state courts. This is true despite the fact California Civil Code §382 never actually uses the words “class action”:

“(W)hen the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court, one or more may sue or defend for the benefit of all.”

What authority does this civil rule give to California courts?

This civil rule gives California courts great power in declaring the proper members of a class action suit, a process known as class certification. It is California courts, not the state legislature, that determine class certification.

This rule is in accord with California’s public policy favoring the bringing of class actions in order to provide average citizens with their “day in court.” 

What are the effects of federal law on California Code §382?  

There are occasions when federal courts will also “blend” California and federal rules, resulting in a form of “hybrid” class action case. Examples of this have involved suits for state wage and hour claims brought to federal courts under FLSA, called “misclassification class action” lawsuits.

Many defendants seek to transfer cases into federal jurisdiction, where the rules are often less favorable than in California.

Are class action cases here to stay?

Some critics argue that there should be limits to California class actions. An almost fifty percent increase in state class action cases has occurred during the last ten years. Class action cases (and class action plaintiffs) are favored in California’s’ court system, but change may be on the horizon. The United States Supreme Court will be hearing a case (AT&T Mobility Services vs. Concepcion), where class action litigants were successful in California, but the defendants are seeking the protection of federal regulations and procedural rules. If the defendants win, the effects may be staggering for many traditional state class action plaintiffs.

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