Class Action and Parens Patriae

  • There exist situations in which groups of people may need to file a lawsuit for an antitrust violation
  • Consider the following real situation that occurred in Hawaii (1969)
    • Standard Oil was accused of fixing gas prices, resulting in an increase in price to 300,000 different Hawaiian motorists, valued at a total $2.18m per year
    • Treble damages came to $6.55m per year; however, this amounted to only $21.84 per person
    • Why would any single person want to go to court with Standard Oil over $21.84 in damages?
  • To remedy these types of situations, the courts allow class action suits and parens patriae suits

Class action suits

  • Class action suits allow groups of people who all have small claims to a common offense to band together and file a suit with the courts
  • The plaintiff is responsible for providing “individual notice” to all members of the class
    • Notice typically involves substantial costs
    • All potential members of the class are given time to decide if they would like to participate
    • Potential members of the class may opt out of the class to do as they please
  • The courts must consider four criteria for a class action suit:
    1. The interests of members of the class in individually controlling prosecution of separate actions
    2. The extent and nature of any litigation concerning the issue already started by members of the class
    3. The desirability of concentrating the litigation in the particular forum
    4. The difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action suit

Parens Patriae Suits

  • Parens patriae suits are legal actions brought on by the government on behalf of a group of people
    • Designed to protect those who cannot protect themselves
  • Goal = recover damages caused to all individuals of the state
    • The government cannot file a suit to benefit only a particular group of individuals
    • The government can choose to keep the damages as general revenue or distribute it to its citizens