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Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor

Citation: 28 ELR 20173
No. 96-270, 117 S. Ct. 2231/(U.S., 06/25/1997)

The Court affirms a Third Circuit decision that a class-action certification seeking settlement of current and future asbestos-related claims failed to satisfy the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. The Court first notes that the Third Circuit should have acknowledged that settlement is relevant to the determination of class certification. A remand, however, is not warranted on that account because the Third Circuit's opinion amply demonstrates why the class does not satisfy Fed. R. Civ. P. 23's requirements. The Court next holds that the certification cannot be upheld, because it rests on a conception of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement that is irreconcilable with the rule's design. The Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation. If a common interest in a fair compromise could satisfy this inquiry, that vital prescription would be stripped of any meaning in the settlement context. Furthermore, the predominance requirement is far more demanding than Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)'s commonality requirement. Given the greater number of questions peculiar to the several categories of class members, and to individuals within each category, and the significance of those uncommon questions, any overarching dispute about the health consequences of asbestos exposure cannot satisfy the Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) predominance standard.

The Court further holds that the class does not satisfy Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4)'s requirement that the named parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. The adequacy inquiry under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4) serves to uncover conflicts of interest between named parties and the class they seek to represent. In short, the settling parties achieved a global compromise with no structural assurance of fair and adequate representation for the diverse groups and individuals affected. Finally, without ruling definitively on the notice given, the Court recognizes the gravity of the question whether class-action notice sufficient under the U.S. Constitution and Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 could ever be given to legions so unself-conscious and amorphous.

Justices Breyer and Stevens, concurring in part and dissenting in part, would provide the courts below with an opportunity to analyze the factual questions involved in certification by vacating the judgment, and remanding the case for further proceedings. The Justices first note that the need for settlement in this mass tort case, with hundreds of thousands of lawsuits, is greater than the Court's opinion suggests. They would also give more weight than would the majority to settlement-related issues for purposes of determining whether common issues predominate. In addition, it is not appropriate for the Court to second-guess the district court on the matter of adequacy of representation without first having the court of appeals consider it. Justices Breyer and Stevens further believe it is up to the district court to review the legal sufficiency of notice to members of the class.

Counsel for Petitioner
John D. Aldock
Shea & Gardner
1800 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 828-2000

Counsel for Respondent
Brian Wolfman
Public Citizen Litigation Group
2000 P St. NW, Ste. 700, Washington DC 20036
(202) 833-3000

Justice O'Connor took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.