Brief Fact Summary. Vietnam veterans harmed by Agent Orange after a settlement agreement was made in a class action, seek to not be bound to that class action settlement.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order for a plaintiff to be bound to a class action, they must be afforded adequate representation in the class action and any class action settlement will not be binding against those lacking that representation.
First, it is obvious after Amchem that a class divided between holders of present and future claims (some of the latter involving no physical injury and attributable to claimants not yet born) requires division into homogeneous subclasses under Rule 23(c)(4)(B), with separate representation to eliminate conflicting interests of counsel.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether an absent class member can be bound to a class action settlement, where he can show he was not adequately represented.
Held. No. Plaintiffs can only be bound to a class action case or class action settlement if they received adequate representation in that class action. When a class member emerges, after the trial or settlement, they are called an absent class member. To determine if that absent class member was adequately represented the court has a two prong test. First question is: was absent class members considered by the first trial judge and second question is; does it appear that the class representative adequately represented those interests? Any money award or injunction granted in such settlement will not be held for or against such plaintiffs once they show that inadequacy. The Second issue at trial is whether the plaintiffs may bring a collateral attack against the defendants. Defendants argue that such an attack would be in violation of their Due Process rights, however as the court points out, the Court historically has allowed collateral attacks in class action suits. While the court did conclude in the suits raised in 1989 and 1990 that the plaintiffs did have adequate representation, there were still funds to be dispersed. Stephenson, is like those plaintiffs, someone with harm that developed after the settlement; however, the funds have since depleted and his suit is raised after payments were scheduled to occur which was until 1994. This court does not wish to attack or discuss the legal arguments of the case, but simply focus on the plaintiffs argument that they do not belong to that class of persons. Since they do not, the defendants may not raise a res judicata defense against Stephenson either. Res Judicata requires the case must be between the same parties. If Stephenson is not a member of that class, then he certainly is not the same party from that settlement case. While res judicata will bind absent class members, it will only do so when that absent member received adequate representation in that prior suit.
Discussion. Absent Class members will only be joined if the interests of those not joined are the same of the class as the interest of those who are, and when it is considered that the later, be fairly represented the former parties in the prosecution of the litigation.