7th Circ. finds jurisdiction over claims by more than 100 plaintiffs

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Judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Friday that federal courts have jurisdiction over cases in which 100 or more plaintiffs bring related claims. The case involves 144 plaintiffs claiming injuries from chemicals released by the manufacturing practices of four companies. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that state courts should hear the matter because the Class Action Fairness Act only gave federal courts jurisdiction over mass actions in which the plaintiffs proposed a joint trial, and that in this case the plaintiffs wanted a settlement or summary judgment, not a trial. The court Friday noted that no circuit had yet addressed this issue, stating:

   The question is not whether 100 or more plaintiffs answer a roll call in court, but whether the “claims” advanced by 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly. A trial of 10 exemplary plaintiffs, followed by application of issue or claim preclusion to 134 more plaintiffs without another trial, is one in which the claims of 100 or more persons are being tried jointly, and §1332(d) thus brings the suit within federal jurisdiction.

In 2005, the US Department of Justice reported that there had been an almost 80 percent decrease in the number of federal tort trials from 1985 to 2003. According to Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 2002-03, the decrease can be attributed to the growing use of alternative dispute resolution and the increased complexity and costs of trial. In addition, DOJ research showed that 98 percent of tort cases were settled without trial. Despite the study's findings, many people perceive lawsuits to be on the rise. In February of 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Class Action Fairness Act, which sends large class action suits to federal courts rather than state courts, commenting that he wanted to "[end] the lawsuit culture in our country."

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