Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiffs, Windsor and other class members (Plaintiffs) and the Defendants, Amchem Products, Inc. and other companies (Defendants), in a class action suit involving asbestos litigation, attempted to reach a global settlement agreement applying to all present and future asbestos claims.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A global settlement of a class action suit purporting to apply to all present and future potential plaintiffs is void if it does not provide structural assurances that it will take into account the differences among the individuals and groups affected.
Issue. This case concerned the legitimacy of a class action certification seeking to achieve global permanent settlement of current and future asbestos-related claims.
Held. The decision of the Circuit Court was affirmed. The sprawling class the district court certified does not satisfy FRCP Rule 23’s adequacy of representation requirements. The settling parties achieved a global compromise with no structural assurance of fair and adequate representation for the diverse groups and individuals affected.
Dissent. Justice Stephen Breyer (J. Breyer) dissented in part, in which he was joined by Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). Their dissent focused on their belief that the district court was in a better position than the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) to make fact based determinations regarding whether class members were fairly and adequately represented.
Discussion. The Supreme Court’s decision here can largely be read as a restriction on the tenuous nature of the settlement-class in class action lawsuits. Before approving a settlement in a class action lawsuit, the Supreme Court will require a serious inquiry into the adequacy of representation of potential class members affected by the settlement. With reason, the Supreme Court is concerned with potential conflicts of interest by lawyers representing factions of the class.