Class actions are supposed to be for people who have small claims that are not worth pursuing alone but, due to the number of people affected, are worth pursuing in the aggregate. Nonetheless, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals continues to read the class action rules and cases strictly, making it difficult for people with similar small claims to join together and pursue justice. Whether it is consumers who are sent credit cards in violation of the truth-in-lending act or pre-trial detainees who are kept in jail too long after bond is posted, the court continues to parse the rule and case law with scant attention to the larger picture and purpose of the procedure.
Credit Card case
In Muro v. Target Corp., the named class representative settled her claim but reserved her right to appeal the district court’s denial of class certification. The 7th Circuit denied her appeal because she did not have a sufficient interest to continue the litigation on behalf of the class. This type of reasoning gives defendants an incentive to pick off willing class representatives by settling with them, thereby avoiding exposure to the larger class as a whole.
Pre-trial detainee case
In Harper v. Sheriff of Cook County, the court found that individual variations in facts among class members precluded certification. In my opinion, this shows a lack of imagination and creativity that the class action mechanism should promote. The important thing to remember is that all of the plaintiffs’ claims are too small to bring individually, so the individual variations cannot be too large to begin with. If necessary, subclasses could be devised to take into account some of the variations.
If the courts really want to dispense justice to as many people as possible, they must quit equating big individual claims with important issues. Resolving small individual claims that affect hundreds of thousands or millions of people can be more important to fostering trust and confidence in our legal system.