How a Class Action Proceeds in Court
The following flow chart describes the typical procedures followed in class action litigation. The sequence of events described may vary from case; however, generally, a class action wil involve all of the steps noted.
Step 1: The first step is the drafting and filing of a complaint against the defendants. This document is then filed in court and delivered or "served" on the defendants by the U.S. mail or a process server.
Step 2: After the complaint is filed, the defendants will usually file an answer denying the allegations. Alternatively, they may elect to challenge the complaint by filing certain motions challenging the lawsuit. If motions are filed, an answer will be required after the judge rules on the motions unless the case is dismissed.
Step 3: After the answers are filed and any motions ruled on, a period of "discovery" will usually take place. Discovery involves the lawyers demanding documents from the other side, asking written questions, and taking depositions. Often courts will hold a conference with the lawyers and set a timetable for preliminary discovery needed for certification to be completed.
Step 4: During the discovery phase, the defendants may file motions to challenge the legal sufficiency or underlying factual basis for the action. These are usually called motions for summary judgment. If a defendant wins, some or all of the claims of plaintiffs may be dismissed.
Step 5: After all preliminary discovery is completed, the plaintiff will file motion to certify a class action. The defendants will file objections to certification. The Court will have a hearing. If plaintiffs win, the case proceeds to be certified.
Step 6: Notice. If the lawsuit is one for money, the court will order notice go to the class. Notice is published in the newspaper or sent through the mail. This notice advises class members of their rights, and sets deadlines for objecting, "opting out," or entering an appearance through a lawyer.
Step 7: Trial or Settlement. After final certification is granted, additional discovery may be needed before the case is tried. After that discovery is completed, the case is set for trial unless it settles. The trial of a class action procedurally is the same as for any other civil lawsuit.
Summary of Typical Procedures in a Class Action: