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September 09, 2015 Articles

Under the Shady Grove of an Alabama Pine

State laws that limit class actions in certain contexts are at risk of falling under the shade of Rule 23's axe

by Matthew M.K. Stein


Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked a narrow question: Can a federal court exercise so-called Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) jurisdiction—the form of jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)—over a putative class action that, if brought instead in the state court, contains claims that could not be brought on a class action basis? The Court’s answer, because of federalism and the Rules Enabling Act, was yes. A claim that could not be brought on a class action basis in state court, because state law prohibits those claims from being brought on that basis, could be brought on a class action basis in federal court because Rule 23, the class action rule, is a procedural rule and, as a procedural rule, is valid in all federal courts. (Briefly stated, under the Erie doctrine, federal courts may apply federal procedural law but must apply state substantive law.)

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