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Meeting the Requirements of Rule 4:32-1(a) at the Class Certification Stage in A Consumer Fraud CaseSusana Cruz  Hodge

If your case has survived defendant’s motion to dismiss, you have negotiated ESI, discovery is complete and expert reports have been exchanged, it’s time to file that class certification motion and see if your case has some legs after all. If your case is being adjudicated in the Superior Court of New Jersey, you must satisfy the requirements of R. 4:32-1(a) and either R. 4.32-1(b)(2) or (b)(3) in order to obtain class certification. Today’s blog entry will focus on the Rule 4:32-1(a) elements. 

Generally:

On a motion for class certification, the Court must accept as true the allegations in the Complaint. The Court must also afford Plaintiff “every favorable view” of the Complaint and the record. Iliadis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 191 N.J. 88, 96 (2007) (quoting Riley v. New Rapids Carpet Ctr., 61 N.J. 218, 223 (1972); The Court should not reach the merits of the claims at the class certification stage. 

Rule 4:32-1(a):

            Rule 4:32-1(a) requires that:

                    (1)        the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;

                    (2)        there are questions of law or fact common to the class; 

                    (3)       the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses 
                                of the class; and

                    (4)        the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

In In re Cadillac V8-6-4 Class Action, our Supreme Court’sseminal decision on class certification, the prerequisites of R. 4:32-1(a) for maintaining a class action were summarized as “numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.” 93 N.J. 412, 425 (1983).

Numerosity:

A class must be so numerous that joinder of all class members is impracticable. R. 4:32-1(a)(1). The Court need not determine the precise number of class members.  Rather, a finding of numerosity may be based solely on the allegations of the Complaint, or on common sense presumptions. A class of 250 members has been found sufficient by New Jersey courts.

Commonality

Rule 4:32-1(a)(2) requires that there be “questions of law or fact common to the class.” One single common question is sufficient.  In a consumer fraud case, this element is met where a fraud has been perpetrated on numerous persons by the use of similar misrepresentations.

Typicality

“The requirement that the claims of the representative parties be typical of the class, R. 4:32-1(a)(3), is sometimes equated with the requirement of R. 4:32-1(a)(4) that the representative parties fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Cadillac, 93 N.J. at 425 (citation omitted). To meet both prerequisites, “[t]he claims of the representatives must have the essential characteristics common to the claims of the class.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).  However, note that “the harm suffered by the named plaintiffs may differ in degree from that suffered by other members of the class so long as the harm suffered is of the same type.” Id. In a consumer fraud case, typicality will be met where all plaintiffs claim they have suffered the same breach of the same warranty or contract as a result of the same misrepresentation by the defendant.

Adequacy

“The last requirement of R. 4:32-1(a) that a plaintiff fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class is generally presumed in New Jersey class cases. The adequacy requirement under R. 4:32-1(a)(4) is satisfied if it appears that (1) Plaintiff’s interests are not antagonistic to those of other members of the class, and (2) Plaintiff’s attorneys are qualified, experienced, and generally able to conduct the litigation.   While the burden is on defendant to prove that the representation will be inadequate, it is appropriate to tout the class representatives understanding of and commitment to the case.