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Class Actions: Introduction

Introduction (Class Actions)

I.   Introduction

The following research guide on class actions is intended to be a basic primer of resources to consult in researching the topic for the first time or for attorneys who need a refresher on the basics of class action law.  The guide does not include every resource available on class action law or every issue, but if used in conjunction with the research strategy, this guide should put readers on the right path toward finding the sources they need for this area of law.  Specifically, this guide has analyzed key U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the class actions, subscription services, articles on the types of class actions, and treatises useful in gaining a general understanding of class action litigation. 

A.    Scope and Purpose

Upon navigating this guide, readers will find several tabs. First, the “Federal Law” tab explains the basic starting point for federal class actions – Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”). From there, readers will be directed to information on the prerequisites for certification under Rule 23, including key cases or sources explaining the requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy. Notes of important Supreme Court decisions on CAFA and articles from legal scholars and practitioners analyzing the impact of recent CAFA decisions will guide readers into how to develop an understanding of this new area of class action law.

Two sub-pages under the “Federal Law” tab are included with this guide. The first is “Types of Class Actions.” This tab synthesizes the relevant cases and sources to consult on how the law has defined the 23(b) classes, including case law examples of each type.  The tab also includes basic sources for special types of class actions, including mass torts, antitrust, employment, consumer, and securities class actions. The second sub-page directs readers on sources to consult in how to manage settlement of a class action, how the court appoints class counsel, and how attorneys’ fees and costs are awarded.

For Missouri practitioners, the “Missouri Law” tab is intended to be a comprehensive source on class actions under Missouri’s rules, statutes, and prior case law. This should provide an understanding of how to begin a class action in Missouri state court or how to keep up with class action law in Missouri.

The “Current Awareness Tools” page is intended to be a resource for new class action attorneys or for current attorneys needing access to a condensed version of the best tools for keeping up-to-date on class action law. This page includes a list of both free and subscription-based resources for maintaining current on federal class action law. Finally, for researchers intending to practice their skills and understanding of sources available on class action law, this guide includes two research problems.

B.     Research Strategy for Class Actions 

Class action law is not intuitive. A basic reading of Rule 23 will not be enough to understand the law because case law has defined each requirement of the Rule further.  Before handling a class action or researching an issue under class action law, the best place to start is with an understanding of class actions generally.  Consulting secondary sources on the topic can be helpful for those who have never studied class actions, for those who need to revisit this area of the law, and for those who understand the basics but require more of an understanding on class action litigation before digging into the research.

Once this basic understanding has been obtained, the next step to take is to research relevant case law interpreting either Rule 23 or CAFA, depending on the action. The basic understanding will help make your searches more efficient and effective in solving your class action issue. Case law will help you in pursuing or defending the certification stages of a class action or how your jurisdiction has handled a particular issue in class action litigation.

Perhaps by this point you have found the answer or the sources required to solve your class action issue. If, however, you are researching a class action from start to finish, the next step after understanding the basics of class action law and your jurisdiction’s handling of the issue is to research the relevant substantive law. This research will help you assess how to bring or investigate an action and how to defend an action. This area of research is best left to other guides on that topic, but the “types of class actions” tab is meant to give you a few sources on specific class actions to put you on the right track.

Once you have an understanding of class action law and the substantive law specific to your action, the final step is to research practice tips and trial strategy on class action management. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, and several renowned class action practitioners have shared their experiences and practice points in various methods – text, audio clip, seminar. The current awareness tools in this guide are intended to show readers where these resources are available.  These sources are important in maintaining a class action practice or even in maintaining one action. Often class actions take years to resolve and over time you will need to be aware of new developments in the class action law and practice.

II.   Conclusion

For researchers new to this field, the biggest challenge will be learning about the class action procedural device generally and in a manner that allows the researcher to use it to his or her advantage in the courtroom. Class actions are complex forms of litigation that require extensive resources and time, which is why it is important to keep up with and utilize current awareness tools in the field once the basic understanding is obtained. 

Another major challenge to researching class action law, aside from complexity, is that state law is often different from federal law and can be sparse on the procedural device. Most states have developed class actions modeled after the federal rule, but with many plaintiffs seeking federal court jurisdiction, state case law on this area of the law can be sparse. Researchers may have a difficult time finding controlling authority on the legal issues associated with a particular state class action. This problem can be resolved if the state accepts federal authority on the issue because their class action rule models that of the federal rule.

This guide should assist in putting readers in touch with the best sources on learning about class actions, both subscription-based and free sources. This guide should also assist readers in understanding the shifts in class action law as dictated by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Finally, this guide should help experienced practitioners analyze their choices in current awareness tools on this exciting and challenging area of the law.


Student Guide Author

Kristen Sanocki is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law.  This guide was originally created in support of Professor Diamond's Advanced Legal Research class for Spring 2014. The contents of this guide should not be taken as legal advice or as the work product of MU Law librarians.

Online Services

Because class actions are a form of complex litigation and require many legal resources, it is recommended that the attorneys use one of the big three subscription services: Lexis Advance, WestlawNext, or Bloomberg Law. This is particularly true for attorneys who are involved in federal class actions.