Commentary and analysis of two class action decisions from the Supreme Court during the 1996-97 Term, Amchem Prods. Inc. v. Windsor and Adams v. Robertson. The Supreme Court in Amchem finally settled a number of issues relating to settlement classes, while in Adams the Court left unanswered the so-called Shutts problem, pertaining to the due process requirements for mandatory class actions involving non-resident plaintiffs. The Court’s decisions will have lasting consequences for class action settlements and will further fuel the policy debate about the most appropriate means to resolve mass tort litigation. Moreover, when combined with the recent federal trend repudiating nationwide class certification, pessimists will predict that the Amchem decision is a final nail in the federal class action coffin. Such a dire prediction, however, over dramatizes the likely consequences of the Amchem case.
In reality, lawyers will continue to broker class action settlements, and judges are likely to approve them with the requirements of Amchem. In a decision by Justice Ginsburg, the Court in Amchem held that settlement classes are legitimate, and must satisfy all class certification requirements with the exception that Rule 23(b)(3) classes need not satisfy the manageability criterion. However, the Court repudiated the underlying Georgine settlement on the grounds of a lack of commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.
This article discusses the factual and procedural history of the underlying Georgine settlement class that gave rise to the Amchem decision. In Adams v. Robertson, the Supreme Court failed to decide the appeal, concluding that certiorari had improvidently been granted. In failing to decide the appeal, the Court repeated its 1994 disposition in Ticor Title Ins. Co. v. Brown, which raised the same Shutts issue but also remained unresolved as the Court dismissed the case for improvident grant of certiorari.
Linda S. Mullenix, Supreme Court Review: Court Settles Settlement Class Issue, National Law Journal, Aug. 11, 1997, at B12.