CHAPTER 11: SELECTED CIVIL PROCEDURES - Table of Contents
11.1 - Other Parties and Class Action Suits • 11.2 - Injunctions
11.1 OTHER PARTIES AND CLASS ACTION SUITS
The prototypical lawsuit has two parties: one plaintiff (either an individual or some type of business entity or other organization) and one defendant. There are other possibilities, however.
A few cases will have captions which appear as if there is no actual party: In the Matter of the Estate of Clint Talbot or In the Interest of Clay Evans, for example. Such captions are usually seen in probate cases, in which the court is being asked to process a will or make decisions about a trust or conservatorship for a disabled person. Acting somewhat akin to traditional parties maybe the "personal representative" or other "interested person" who initiates the proceeding, and "claimants" or "objectors" who respond to whatever is being requested.
Other cases may appear to concern defendants who are long dead or who may never have existed at all. For example, if a landowner claims to own property technically outside the recorded boundaries of the property he purchased, such as through "adverse possession" by having openly farmed it for more than 18 years, he would file a "quiet title" action to declare that ownership. In such an action, he would have to name all of the parties identified in the county's property records as the most recent owners of record of that additional property, even if those owners died 50 years ago. Because those owners might have heirs whose arguable ownership interest might be affected by the landowner's claims, he would have to undertake reasonable efforts to try to identify them and also place legal notices about the litigation and the parties' names in local newspapers.
There can be multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants. If a couple who bought a house have complaints about the quality if its construction, they might jointly pursue claims against their realtor, the house constructor and the architect. Or if a car with three passengers is struck by a driver of a second car who was forced into the oncoming lane by the driver of a third car, those three plaintiffs might each sue both defendants. The presence of multiple defendants creates the potential for additional claims between defendants, such as claims by the driver of the second car against the driver of the third car. Such claims between co-defendants are known as "cross claims." A defendant who is sued may also want to pursue claims against some other party whom the plaintiff did not sue. For instance, the driver of the third car may want to sue her insurance company for improperly canceling her liability insurance the day before the accident, or the seller of her car for not disclosing its faulty steering system. In that instance the defendant would initiate a "third-party" proceeding wherein she would be known as both "Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff" and the target of her claims would be the "Third-Party Defendant."
Although there is often much notoriety surrounding "class actions," they are actually quite uncommon. The purpose of a class action is to permit claims to be pursued on behalf of a large group of people who would all have individual claims, and to have all of their claims resolved in a single case. Class actions are only permitted when the group of such claimants is so large that bringing the action in the names of each member is impractical. For example, if the 26 residents in one city block are all injured by the release of toxic chlorine gas from a train accident, the court would probably not permit a class action but would require all 26 to be named plaintiffs. A class action starts by the court "certifying the class" by determining that such action is procedurally proper. Although there will typically be one or more named plaintiffs in whose name the action is nominally pursued, the court will require appropriate measures to notify all potential members, who would thereby be permitted to "opt out" of the class and either pursue claims individually or not at all.
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