Supreme Court Clarifies the Standard on which Future Class Actions will be Evaluated in the Federal Courts

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On June 20, 2011, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, No. 10-277, which clarifies how certain class actions will be defined and litigated in the lower federal courts. In Wal-Mart, the plaintiffs sought to certify a class of up to 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart employees alleging gender bias in pay and promotions in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, the plaintiffs sought class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 23(b)(2), which prescribes the rules for class actions seeking injunctive relief rather than money damages. The Wal-Mart plaintiffs were also seeking billions of dollars in damages in addition to their request for injunctive relief.

Class certification is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Under Rule 23(a), the party seeking certification must demonstrate, first that: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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