Class Action Lawsuits Abound in California

November 18, 2007

California is still a happy hunting ground for class action lawyers — despite the 2005 federal class action reforms designed to move many national class action cases into federal courts, according to a review by the Civil Justice Association of California of class action lawsuits filed in California courts over the past three years.

“Data shows that a state like California — with a huge population and laws tilted against defendants — remains a major forum for class action lawsuits, despite the 2005 federal Class Action Fairness Act,” said John H. Sullivan, CJAC president.

Research in six major California counties detected approximately 3,400 class actions filed in superior courts for the three-year period ending June 30, 2007.

“That’s an average of more than four class action lawsuits each and every day the courthouses are open,” Sullivan said.

Nearly half of those suits (47 percent) involved employment laws. The second largest group (36 percent) was in the consumer action category.

“California is experiencing a perfect storm of employment litigation,” Sullivan said. “First, the state’s class action rules favor plaintiffs’ lawyers. Second, California’s unique rules for distinguishing hourly from salaried employees and governing meals and rest periods are trapping too many employers — which lead to lawsuits. Third, our courts have been stretched thin with a growing criminal and civil caseload, putting pressure on the capacity to deal with complex class action lawsuits.”

Case filings grew during the three year period studied: 1,093 in 2004-’05; 1,180 in 2005-06; 1,156 in 2006-’07. Los Angeles County experienced the most filings (1,753; 51 percent). Figures from the state’s other five counties are:

  • Alameda County: 218 filings, 7 percent of statewide total;
  • Orange County: 378 filings, 11 percent of statewide total;
  • San Diego County: 457 filings, 13 percent of statewide total;
  • San Francisco County: 508 filings, 15 percent of statewide total;
  • Santa Clara County: 115 filings, 3 percent of statewide total.

In addition to employment law (47 percent of total) and consumer actions (36 percent), other filing categories identified were environmental (6 percent), product liability (3 percent), shareholder (3 percent), civil rights (2 percent), governmental (2 percent), and construction defect (1 percent).

The study was conducted in each county by legal researchers at the international law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Data was compiled by examining the dockets for each of the six counties for the period studied. The docket study was supplemented in certain instances by reviewing the filed complaints themselves and by reference to private services, such as those offered by commercial vendors and local bar associations, providing information on filed cases.

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