How many people must be involved in a class action lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit allows a group of people with a common complaint to file a lawsuit together against the same defendant. Rather than each person having to file their own separate lawsuit over the same issue, a class action consolidates all the claims into one case. This makes the process more efficient for both the plaintiffs and the courts. But how many people are required to bring a class action lawsuit? Let’s take a closer look at the rules regarding the minimum number of plaintiffs.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit, also known as a class action or class suit, is a type of lawsuit where a group of people with similar injuries or losses caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. Some key characteristics of class action lawsuits include:

– There must be enough common questions of law and fact among the group that it makes sense to bundle their claims into one case.

– The people in the group are called “class members” or “class representatives.”

– The class members’ injuries and losses must stem from the same circumstances or actions taken by the defendant.

– The class is represented collectively by one or more “lead plaintiffs” who have suffered the same injuries as other class members.

– If the class action is successful, any settlement or award benefits all class members equally.

– Participation in a class action is voluntary – potential class members can opt-out if they do not want to be part of the lawsuit.

Class actions aim to provide an efficient way for people with similar claims to pool their resources and obtain justice as a group. They prevent the court system from being clogged with countless individual cases about the same misconduct or defective product. The combined resources of the class members also makes it more feasible to challenge wealthy corporate defendants and motivate changes in their behavior.

Purposes of Minimum Plaintiff Requirements

Every class action lawsuit must meet certain requirements in order to be certified by a court as an official class action. One of these requirements is having a sufficient number of proposed class members. Requiring a minimum number of plaintiffs serves several important purposes:

– It ensures the case is important enough to merit class action status. If only a handful of people are affected, their claims can be handled through individual lawsuits.

– Having more plaintiffs means there are enough resources between the class members to justify the costs of complex class action litigation.

– It shows the court that the defendant’s actions had an impact on a substantial group of people, rather than just a few isolated individuals.

– It reduces the chances that the case was manufactured just to extract a settlement from the defendant versus representing a real widespread harm.

So the minimum class size requirement exists to validate that the issues raised in the lawsuit are truly appropriate for class action treatment. Courts want to confirm that the case meets the goals and purposes of class action litigation.

Federal Court Minimum

For class action lawsuits filed in federal court, Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets the baseline for the minimum number of members required in a class. According to Rule 23(a), a class action lawsuit cannot proceed unless:

“The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”

The rule does not specify an exact number threshold. Rather, it establishes a flexible standard requiring that the class must be large enough that requiring every single member to be joined individually in the lawsuit would be extremely difficult or inconvenient.

Some key factors courts consider in determining if the numerosity standard is satisfied include:

– Total number of class members – Generally at least 40 members is seen as sufficiently numerous.

– Geographic distribution of class members – If the members are dispersed across a large region, joinder becomes more impractical.

– Ease of identifying and contacting class members – If class members are hard to find, joinder becomes more burdensome.

– Nature of relief sought – Joining more plaintiffs is more impractical if the main relief sought is injunctive or declaratory versus just monetary damages.

– Defendant’s ability to compensate claims – If the defendant has enough funds to pay small claims, joinder becomes less impractical.

– Inconvenience and impracticality of joining all plaintiffs.

So while each class must be evaluated case-by-case, most federal courts rule that 40 or more plaintiffs presumptively satisfies the numerosity requirement, while fewer than 21 members is rarely sufficient on its own.

State Court Minimums

For class actions filed in state courts, the minimum number requirements may vary based on each state’s own class action statutes and case law precedent. Many states simply follow the baseline federal rule that the class must be so large that joinder would be impracticable.

But some states have set more definitive thresholds through statutes or court decisions. For example:

– California – No minimum number specified, but generally at least 40.

– Florida – No fewer than 30 members.

– Illinois – At least 2 members.

– Texas – At least 50 members.

– New York – Recent case law seems to require at least 40 members.

So in some states, the minimum numbers are left flexible and up to judicial discretion based on case specifics. In other states, absolute numerical minimums are defined in the class action rules. When filing a class action in state court, it’s important to research the particular state’s class action requirements.

Smaller Classes May Be Permitted

While most class actions have plaintiff groups numbering at least in the dozens or hundreds, there are some scenarios where a court may certify a class with fewer than the recommended minimum number of members:

– Defendant’s total net worth is very limited – If funds available are small, fewer plaintiffs with claims may sufficiently justify a class action.

– Class members are difficult to identify and locate – The size requirement may be relaxed when giving notice to all class members is unusually difficult.

– The individual injuries are very small – If individual damages are just a few dollars, joinder of a large group would be highly inconvenient compared to the small potential individual recoveries.

– The primary relief sought is injunctive – When ending unlawful conduct is more important than monetary damages, the need for numerous plaintiffs decreases.

– Judicial economy is served – In a case involving an issue likely to reappear frequently, a class action may conserve court resources even with a minimal number of class members.

So even though most classes include dozens or more plaintiffs, special circumstances may warrant granting class certification for fewer than the generally recommended minimums.

Factors That Increase Minimum Requirements

On the other hand, there are also some circumstances where courts are likely to require larger class sizes above the minimum thresholds:

– Very high claim value for individual plaintiffs – If each plaintiff’s damages claim is worth millions, joining dozens may be manageable without a class action.

– Extensive media coverage – When an issue has already attracted public attention without prompting a flood of individual lawsuits, courts may require more plaintiffs to demonstrate the need for class status.

– Class members are easy to identify/contact – Joining more plaintiffs is viewed as more practical if they can be readily located.

– Already pending individual lawsuits – If enough plaintiffs have filed their own suits, adding more via a class action becomes less necessary.

– Uncommon or dubious claims alleged – Courts may want to see higher numbers when the claims involve unusual legal theories or facts.

– Exposure mainly occurred in a limited area – A class action covering plaintiffs across the whole country may not be warranted if the exposure was confined regionally.

So courts have discretion to require larger class sizes than typical minimums when they believe doing so is appropriate to meet the goals of class action litigation.

Multiple Smaller Classes May Be Allowed

Instead of certifying one enormous class action, courts will sometimes approve dividing a case into multiple smaller classes. Each class may target a different geographic area, different time period, or other appropriate grouping. Some reasons why multiple smaller class actions may make sense include:

– Defendant’s conduct varied materially in different locations

– Product defects differed across models or regions

– Different states’ laws apply to different groups

– Manageability is enhanced by breaking case into subclasses

– Particular issues or relief differ among subgroups

– Inconsistent verdict risk is reduced via smaller classes

As long as each subclass meets the minimum size and commonality requirements, splitting into multiple classes targeting different portions of the overall plaintiff group may be permitted. This allows the case to move forward efficiently with each class represented by named plaintiffs sharing common circumstances.

Exceptions Where No Minimum Size Is Required

Rule 23 does outline some specific class action situations where the court has discretion to certify a class action even if the numerosity standard is not met:

1. Rule 23(b)(1)(A) – Individual separate lawsuits would create risk of inconsistent results for defendants due to incompatible standards of conduct.

2. Rule 23(b)(1)(B) – Individual separate lawsuits would affect non-party class members’ ability to protect their interests.

3. Rule 23(b)(2) – The class seeks injunctive or declaratory relief applicable to the whole class based on the defendant’s actions toward the members generally.

So if the circumstances indicate that class treatment will provide substantial advantages even with a limited number of plaintiffs, the size requirement may be eased or excused altogether at the court’s discretion.

Analyzing Minimum Participation Case by Case

No universal bright line rule governs how many plaintiffs are mandatory to bring a class action in every situation. The federal rules emphasize a flexible standard based on whether joinder of all members would be impracticable. Some states laws provide more concrete numerical thresholds. Overall, courts conduct a practical case-by-case analysis of the relevant factors and policy goals.

While less than 20 plaintiffs is rarely sufficient, over 40 is usually enough to meet the numerosity test. But the appropriate minimum depends on the specifics of each case and the class members involved. In smaller classes, it becomes even more important to closely analyze whether class treatment will provide substantial benefits under the circumstances despite the limited size.

Threshold for Beneficial Class Treatment

The objective of the minimum size requirement is to ensure that resolution on a class-wide basis provides significant advantages before the court will certify as a class action. While the class does not necessarily need to be enormous, it should be large enough to make class procedures clearly more beneficial than alternatives like mass joinder or individual lawsuits.

Some factors that influence whether the class meets the threshold for beneficial treatment include:

– How many individual lawsuits would be avoided?

– Do common issues predominate across the class?

– How complex and costly would alternatives like mass joinder be?

– Are class members geographically dispersed?

– How difficult would it be to notify all members absent class procedures?

– How likely are individual members to obtain legal representation and file their own suits if not certified?

– How small are the individual harms versus potential litigation costs?

– Does the case raise novel legal issues or reliance on expert testimony for which class procedures are advantageous?

The greater the efficiencies, cost savings, consistency benefits, and access to justice advantages class procedures create, the more willing courts are to grant certification even for a smaller class. But if alternatives to class treatment are straightforward, a larger group of affected individuals may be needed to warrant certification.

Examples of Class Actions Certified Despite Small Size

Here are some examples of class actions that federal courts certified, despite falling short of the 40+ member general guideline:

– A tenant advocacy organization with 22 members was permitted to bring a class action challenging eviction practices at an apartment complex, because of the geographic proximity and economic circumstances of the tenants.

– 31 purchasers of allegedly defective motor home vehicles were certified as a class because they were dispersed across multiple states and the high cost of the purchases justified litigating common defects efficiently.

– A class of 36 nurses was approved in a lawsuit against a hospital over wage violations since the nurses worked varying shifts at multiple locations, making joinder impractical.

– A class of 15 people arrested under a statute later ruled unconstitutional was allowed, because of the important individual rights violated and limited state resources to compensate them.

– A class of 27 mobile homeowners was certified in a suit against a trailer park over leasing practices, because of the close geographic proximity of the park residents sharing common injuries.

So in appropriate situations where class procedures offer clear advantages, courts are open to bending the minimum size guidelines to promote efficiency and justice.

Small Class Actions More Common in State Courts

Many state court judges are more willing than their federal counterparts to relax class action size requirements when warranted by circumstances. Some key reasons small class actions are more readily approved in state courts:

– No federal diversity of citizenship jurisdiction requirements to satisfy

– Varying minimum state law class size requirements or flexibility

– More latitude to focus on state-specific policy goals versus stringent federal standards

– State case law precedents supporting certification of smaller classes

– closer tie to local populations and desire to facilitate access to the legal system

– Streamlined state court case procedures allowing quicker resolution

So plaintiffs with smaller classes who meet state-specific class action rules will often have better odds obtaining certification through state court rather than attempting to get approved in federal court.


While most class actions involve plaintiff groups of at least 40 or more, court rules on minimum required size aim for flexibility based on the impracticality of alternatives like joinder. Some states set numerical thresholds by statute or precedent, but the federal rules avoid absolute requirements. Ultimately the minimum number sufficient for class certification depends on analysis of multiple case-specific factors. Smaller classes can be approved when class proceedings provide clear benefits, while larger groups may be required depending on the claims asserted and availability of other procedural options. Both plaintiffs and courts must weigh these considerations to determine when class treatment is superior even with fewer than the ideal number of members.

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