That’s the question asked (and answered) by Texas law professor Robert G. Bone in his paper The Misguided Search for Class Unity. In it, Professor Bone argues that there are two views of the class action: (1) an “internal, outcome-based” view that tends to favor certification for the efficiency benefits, and (2) an “external, process-based” view that tends to oppose certification based on concerns about individual participation and legitimacy. According to Professor Bone, the external view has been ascendant, particularly with recent Supreme Court decisions that require more cohesiveness in a class before certification is appropriate. He believes this is a bad thing:
Cohesiveness limits the availability of the class action and does so in a crude way that correlates poorly with the values that the limits are supposed to serve. This is a serious problem because the class action is an essential component of civil adjudication in the modern world. Mass marketing produces mass harms, which in turn generate massive numbers of suits that can impose huge burdens on the court system as well as the victims themselves. When the number of cases gets very large, class aggregation, though imperfect, can offer the only realistic hope of meaningful recovery at reasonable cost.
Professor Bone’s article is an interesting account of arguments for the class action from an admitted “internal view” scholar. And his candor about his viewpoint leads to a few interesting admissions. Among them is the fact that he (like several other scholars who write about it), think defendants’ invocation of “due process” or “day in court” ideals (such as when a defendant argues that a class is not certifiable if individual litigation would lead to varied outcomes) are largely rhetorical. But even more interesting is his account of how Rule 23 looks from an “internal” perspective:
Rule 23(b) is the key provision for the internal view because 23(b) focuses on the functional reasons for class treatment and functional reasons drive certification and class definition within the internal view. As for Rule 23(a), subdivision (a)(1)’s numerosity requirement expresses a preference for non-class litigation and (a)(4) plays the important role of assuring adequate representation. But 23(a)(2) and (a)(3) make little sense as independent certification requirements. From an internal perspective, Rule 23(a)(2)’s common question requirement adds nothing that is not already covered by 23(b), since the only commonality a class must share is that which serves 23(b)’s class action goals.10 And 23(a)(3) collapses into (a)(4), since the only reason for typicality is to assure that the class representative and class attorney vigorously litigate in the interests of the class. Moreover, given the realities of modern class-action litigation and the agency costs endemic to the attorney-class relationship, the internal view, concerned as it is with achieving outcome goals, focuses mainly on potential conflicts of interest between the class attorney and the class when analyzing adequacy of representation under 23(a)(4).
In other words, it is difficult to reconcile the “internal” view of the class action with the text of Rule 23.
The article itself is well worth a full read. But the takeaway is a fairly simple one: the “internal” or “outcome-based” (one could fairly say “result-oriented”) view of the class action is not consistent with Rule 23 as it stands. When facing arguments that hinge largely on the need for aggregation or the allegedly heinous conduct of a defendant, it is always worth looking back at the actual rule governing the aggregation.