Class Actions Made Simple

By Oren Giskan
A good decision out of the Seventh Circuit, Butler v. Sears Roebuck Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 23284 (7th Cir. November 13, 2012) makes quick work of two common arguments against class actions. The Butler case involves what plaintiff alleges is a mold problem in front loading washing machines sold by Sears.

First, defendants always argue against class certification. But Judge Posner doesn’t think this makes sense:

“Sears argues that most members of the plaintiff class did not experience a mold problem. But if so that is an argument not for refusing to certify the class but for certifying it and then entering a judgment that will largely exonerate Sears–a course it should welcome, as all class members who did not opt out of the class action would be bound by the judgment.”

In other words, if a defendant did nothing wrong, it should want the class certified, so it prevails against all members of the class, not just the one that filed the case.

Judge Posner also distills the essence of the class action inquiry to one simple question:

“Predominance is a question of efficiency. . . . Is it more efficient, in terms both of economy of judicial resources and of the expense of litigation to the parties, to decide some issues on a class basis or all issues in separate trials?”

There you have it – class actions made simple: Did the defendant do anything wrong? Should we answer that question once or in multiple trials?