I-1-7-1.Introduction to Class Action Litigation

Last Update: 9/14/05 (Transmittal I-1-56)

Class action litigation is intended to resolve legal problems common to a group of individuals, eliminating the need for multiple individual suits and to prevent conflicting rulings. The Supreme Court's decision in Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682 (1979), upheld the propriety of the class action device and the equitable power of district courts to order injunctive relief in suits brought under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) provides that one or more members of a class may sue as representative parties on behalf of all members if:

  • the class members are so numerous that joining all members of the class would be impracticable;

  • there are questions of law or fact common to the class;

  • the claims of the representative parties are typical of those of the class; and

  • the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

In addition to meeting Rule 23(a)'s requirements, a class action can only be maintained if the class meets one of Rule 23(b)'s requirements. Typically, for cases involving SSA, the case is brought under Rule 23(b)(2), which states that “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole.”

Furthermore, although a complaint may be filed as a class action, it is not officially a class action until a court certifies it as one.