How Is a Class Certified?

A small number of plaintiffs bring Class Action lawsuits but are for the benefit of a larger group of people. Before a class action lawsuit can proceed, the class must be certified. This process ensures that the plaintiffs have enough similarities to proceed with litigation against the named defendant as part of one larger case.

About Class Actions

In a typical lawsuit, there is one plaintiff who has been injured by one or more defendants. The amount of damages that the plaintiff has suffered may justify the high cost of litigation.

In class action lawsuits, the individual value of damages may not be as significant. For example, consumers may have been wrongly charged a fee or may be unhappy with a product or service. However, many individuals may have the same type of legal problem as one another. Filing separate lawsuits would be expensive and time-consuming.

Class action lawsuits allow these plaintiffs to band together and form a united front. The case may be able to proceed as a class action lawsuit in which a judgment can benefit all of the plaintiffs who split the proceeds.

Representative Plaintiff

Rather than having every plaintiff present his or her case, representative plaintiffs are selected to be the spokesperson for the class. These individuals then go to court to litigate the case and seek a judgment that will benefit all members of the class.


Depending on the state procedure, a class is certified after the court initiates this process or the plaintiff files a motion to this effect. The court must certify the class before it can proceed as a class action. The court assesses if the requirements discussed below are met.

Certification means that the court has determined that a class action is the best option to manage the multiple claims. Class certification may result when injunctive relief or another form of equitable remedy is available.

In class certification determinations, the judge is provided with a certain amount of discretion. The case moves to pre-trial procedures if the class is certified. This process does not constitute that the judge believes that the defendant is liable or that the jury will find the defendant so. Instead, it is a matter of determining whether there are enough similarities in a number of cases that justify joining them together.

Requirements for Certification

Although states can vary in some respects, most states have the following requirements for a class to be certified:


Class action lawsuits are not for cases where there are only a few plaintiffs. Instead, there must be too many plaintiffs and lawsuits against a particular defendant that it would not be practical for them to each file an individual lawsuit. Many class action lawsuits have hundreds or even thousands of plaintiffs. However, many cases have allowed classes to certify with 40 or more plaintiffs.

Common Questions of Law or Fact

The class must have similar questions of law or fact that is common to the class. This is to ensure that it will be efficient to handle all of the claims in one case.

Typical Claims

The representative plaintiff must have claims or defenses that are typical of the class. For example, if a lawsuit alleged that a business illegally imposed additional fees on customers, the representative plaintiff must have had an account with that business and been overcharged with the fee in question. The representative plaintiff’s claim should be so similar to the claims of the other members of the class so that litigating the representative plaintiff’s case will sufficiently decide the cases of the absent class members.

Protection of the Interests of the Class

The representative plaintiff must be able to fairly and adequately protect the class’ interests. The representatives and class lawyers have to consider the interests of the entire class. Courts look to the lawyer’s competence, as well as that of the representative plaintiff.


If some of the parties have interests that are different from others’ interests in the class, subclasses may be established. Each of these subclasses must have its own representative.

Other Criteria

There may be additional criteria. For example, the class needs to be defined clearly enough so that it can be determined which individuals are or are not members of the class. Additionally, there may be a requirement for judicial efficiency, meaning that the class action is the most efficient way to resolve the claims.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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