It may sound like the opening line of a lawyer joke, but establishing enough plaintiffs who can validly join their claims together to form a class is a crucial aspect of bringing a successful class action. Thus, one of the very first issues that plaintiffs in a potential class action will have to establish is whether enough plaintiffs with sufficiently similar claims against a defendant exist and can be tracked down and brought into the class. How many of those plaintiffs there actually needs to be depends on several issues, including whether the claims are brought in state or federal court (which is a different question from whether the claim is based on state or federal law).

The Plaintiffs Needed for a Class Action in Federal Court

Class actions that are brought in federal court must meet the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. With regard to the number of plaintiffs that must be included, Rule 23 does not provide a specific number. Instead, the rule requires what is referred to as “numerosity” and requires that “the class is so numerous that joinder of class members is impracticable.”

What this means is that the federal court must be convinced that it would be impracticable (unreasonable due to complexity) for all plaintiffs with their own claims against the same defendant to separately bring their claims in a joint action (joinder). A class action allows instead for a single plaintiff to represent a whole class of plaintiffs in such situations.

In practice, the federal courts have not provided a specific cut-off for how many plaintiffs are needed to meet this numerosity requirement but have instead looked at a number of factors to determine whether joinder of claims is impracticable. These factors include the ease of locating plaintiffs, the relative size and similarity of claims, and geographical distance between plaintiffs. The number of plaintiffs is of course important too, and the courts have generally found numerosity where there is over 40 plaintiffs but been far less likely to find numerosity where there is less than 20 plaintiffs.

The Plaintiffs Needed for a Class Action in State Court

When a class action is brought in state court, then the the rules of procedure for that particular state will rule whether there are enough plaintiffs for a valid class. In California, the applicable law is California Code of Civil Procedure Rule 382, which provides similar language as Rule 23 in saying that there are enough plaintiffs when “it is impracticable to bring them all before the court.”

California courts have for the most part followed federal precedent from Rule 23 in understanding state court class certification requirements so the 40 number is applicable in California state court as well. For the most part, other states have also followed the federal requirements for class certification, making a group of 40 plaintiffs a solid candidate for a certified class, while having fewer than 20 in your potential class a tougher call.

Consult an Experienced Class Action Attorney Today

You as a potential plaintiff are not expected to prove the requirements of a class, but as a general matter it will be important for there to be a number of other plaintiffs out there who have similar claims against the defendant. If you have been injured by the wrongdoing of another and think you may have a potential class action claim, take the first step in protecting your rights and contact the class action attorneys at McCuneWright today for a free consultation.