Thursday, July 16, 2015
The Yale Law Journal has published a note by student Geoffrey C. Shaw on Class Ascertainability. It may be of interest given the Civil Rules Advisory Committee's recent report to the Standing Committee that "ascertainability" perhaps should be added to the list of class action topics currently being studied by the Rule 23 Subcommittee.
The May 2, 2015 Advisory Committee Report (available at p. 178 of the Standing Committee's Agenda Book for its May 2015 meeting) states:
Recently there has been much concern about what must be shown to demonstrate that a proposed class is “ascertainable,” largely resulting from Third Circuit decisions. This concern seems to be limited to Rule 23(b)(3) class actions. See Shelton v. Bledsoe, 775 F.3d 554 (3d Cir. 2014) (ascertainability is not required in a class action seeking only injunctive relief). And the Third Circuit treatment of the issue may be evolving. See, e.g., Byrd v. Aaron’s Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2015 WL 3887938 (3d Cir., April 16, 2015), in which the panel stated that “it is necessary to address the scope and source of the ascertainability requirement that our cases have articulated” and added that “[w]e seek here to dispel any confusion.” (Judge Rendell, concurring in reversal of the district court’s denial of certification, suggested that “it is time to retreat from our heightened ascertainability requirement in favor of following the historical meaning of ascertainability under Rule 23.”)
The Subcommittee intends to examine this issue; it is not certain at present whether a rule change might be indicated.
The abstract for the Note in the Yale Law Journal on Class Ascertainability is:
ABSTRACT. In recent years, federal courts have been enforcing an “implicit” requirement for class certification, in addition to the explicit requirements established in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The ascertainability requirement insists that a proposed class be defined in “objective” terms and that an “administratively feasible” method exist for identifying individual class members and ascertaining their class membership. This requirement has generated considerable controversy and prevented the certification of many proposed classes. The requirement has taken a particular toll on consumer class actions, where potential class members are often unknown to the representative plaintiffs, often lack documentary proof of their injury, and often do not even know they have a legal claim at all.
This Note explores the ascertainability requirement’s conceptual foundations. The Note first evaluates the affirmative case for the requirement and finds it unpersuasive. At most, Rule 23 implicitly requires something much more modest: that classes enjoy what I call a minimally clear definition. The Note then argues that the ascertainability requirement frustrates the purposes of Rule 23 by pushing out of court the kind of cases Rule 23 was designed to bring into court. Finally, the Note proposes that courts abandon the ascertainability requirement and simply perform a rigorous analysis of Rule 23’s explicit requirements. This unremarkable approach to class certification better reflects what the Rule says and better advances what the Rule is for.