If you are a consumer and you believe you have been defrauded by a company due to false advertising or a defective product, what can you do? If you are an employee that has experienced discrimination based on gender at a company, and you have noticed that other individuals of the same gender have faced similar circumstances, do you have any legal recourse?

If you are a California resident, there is a possibility that you can file a class action lawsuit against that company on behalf of yourself and other individuals who have experienced the same illegal conduct. 

What is a “Class Action” Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is defined by California Civil Code Section 382, which states, in part:

When the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court, one or more may sue or defend for the benefit of all. 

Thus, when an individual believes that numerous other individuals have suffered similar wrongdoing, one individual can file a lawsuit for the entire “class.” This frees up the court system from hearing hundreds or thousands of lawsuits claiming the same illegal conduct against the same defendant. 

However, to proceed with a class action lawsuit, the class must first be certified. In California, the certification requirements require that the plaintiff, the individual filing the lawsuit, establish that “an ascertainable class” exists and that there is a “well-defined community of interest among class members.” Sav-On Drug Stores v. Superior Court, 34 Cal.4th 319, 326 (2004). The term “well-defined community of interest” consists of three parts:

1. Predominant common questions of law or fact;

2. Class representatives with claims or defenses typical of the class; and

3. Class representatives who can adequately represent the class. 

Id. citing Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Superior Court, 29 Cal.4th 1096, 1104 (2003). 

In addition to the above two factors, the plaintiff must also show that certification of the class would “provide substantial benefits” to the courts and the parties. If the plaintiff can satisfy all of the above requirements, the court will likely grant class certification. 

If a class is certified, the lawsuit will then proceed against the defendant. For the most part, class action lawsuits are settled out of court, but some may proceed to trial. 

California’s Class Action Requirements and Benefits

California is unique in that it has its own rules and procedures that are distinct from those used in federal courts regarding class action lawsuits. Generally, California is viewed as more plaintiff-friendly for the following reasons:

Motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, and other similar motions are normally not permitted in California prior to the class certification stage, unless there is a compelling reason to consider that motion;

California courts will not weigh the merits of the case when considering whether to grant class certification;

California statutes allow for the court to issue injunctions against the defendant prior to class certification;

California courts can decide whether the plaintiff or the defendant will bear the cost of issuing the class notice;

If the class certification is denied in its entirety, California provides for an immediate appeal of that court order;

Attorney’s fees can be recovered in California in class action lawsuits if the lawsuit has been a “catalyst motivating the defendants to provide the… relief sought.” Graham v. Daimler/Chrysler Corp., 34 Cal.4th 553, 567 (2004). 

For example, if you were pursuing a class action case in federal court, the class certification stage may be the point at which the defendant will argue that the plaintiff cannot plausibly succeed in his claims and that therefore, the entire lawsuit should be dismissed. In California however, without a compelling reason to do so, courts will not consider motions to dismiss or otherwise dispose of the lawsuit prior to considering the class certification request. In addition, when considering whether class certification is appropriate, California courts cannot weigh whether the claims in the lawsuit are likely to be successful. What this means is that it is more likely that a class action lawsuit will gain class certification in California and be able to proceed to the next step; in contrast, a defendant has more opportunities to argue against the lawsuit proceeding in a federal court. 

Types of Class Action Lawsuits in California

Individuals can file class actions for a number of claims, including:

False advertising

Unfair business practices

Defective products

Breach of contract

Workplace discrimination

Workplace violations of wage/hour laws 

Breaches of security laws

Environmental issues such as contamination

Anti-trust cases

There are many types of cases that can turn into class action lawsuits; to determine whether your claims may apply to a class of individuals, we recommend you speak with an experienced class action attorney licensed in California. 

What are the Benefits of Filing a Class Action Lawsuit?

The primary benefit of filing a class action lawsuit may be related to the reduction in legal costs. Plaintiffs can share the legal costs, which means they can obtain legal representation at a lower, individual cost. While one person may not want to spend legal fees pursuing an individual claim for, for example, deceptive advertising that compelled him to purchase a certain brand of toothpaste, a class action will make pursuit of that lawsuit worthwhile. The damages that can be recovered for one person may be hundreds of dollars, versus the thousands or millions for a class. 

A class action can also raise the likelihood that all affected individuals will recover some portion of damages. If monetary damages are awarded in a class action lawsuit, that amount will be split evenly among the class. In contrast, if individuals file individual claims against the same company, there is a likelihood that those who filed their claims later will not be able to recover any damages if the company goes out of business.  

What’s Next?

If you believe that you have been wronged by a company or employer and you believe that there are similarly situated individuals who have experienced or been subjected to the same illegal conduct, we encourage you to discuss your case with a licensed California attorney experienced in class action lawsuits. 

At AK LAW ACPC, we have represented both individuals and classes of individuals in a variety of contexts. If you would like to discuss your case with us, please do not hesitate to call or email to schedule a consultation.