Diary of a 1L
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Thursday, August 07, 2003
2:33 AM

We have two cases to read for Orientation. One is for what I think will be a more informal case briefing session, and one is going to be with a real live professor the afternoon of the first day of class. Today, I'm going to write about the first case so I can go back later and see if I totally missed the point.

The first case is a ruling from a case that was recently in the news, Pelman v. McDonalds. Here is a link to the ruling in PDF format.

Two children along with their parents were trying to start up a class action lawsuit against McDonalds, and the ruling was in regard to a third party, Rivka Freeman, who wanted to join up with the suit. She was trying to make argue that she should be allowed to join based on Rule 19(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The judge decided that Freeman could not join the class because she did not meet the criteria for joining a class action that are listed in the rule Freeman cited. In making this determination, the judge used a particular interpretation of Rule 19(a) that came from a previous ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. It lists three conditions under which someone should join a class action lawsuit.

The first condition is when the parties already involved would not be able to get the relief they're after without the new member of the class. I get the sense that this would usually apply to adding parties to the defense side such that the plantiffs can get money or other relief from all of them at once. The judge says that Freeman isn't needed for the plantiffs to get what they want.

The second condition is when the person who is trying to join the suit can't protect their interests adequately without getting in on the action. The judge argues that this doesn't apply to Freeman because she doesn't claim to be someone who would be a member of the class; neither does she claim that the people already in the suit wouldn't adequately represent her interests.

The third says that you must let the new person in if, otherwise, the parties might be subject to "inconsistent obligations or double liability". I don't understand much about class action lawsuits yet, but I think this condition goes to the heart of what they're for. It's more efficient to have a whole bunch of people sue McDonalds at once than have them all sue separately. For that matter, it also makes more sense to have them sue McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell and the like all at once, too. The judge says that Freeman's claims are mostly quite different than those of the current plaintiffs, so it wouldn't hurt the current parties if Freeman just did her own lawsuit against McDonalds.

The judge had a couple of side comments. First off, he mentioned that since Freeman was acting as her own attorney, the judge should cut her slack, although she still has to follow the law. He also says that Rule 19 wasn't really Freeman's best bet. Rule 19 is usually used defensively to keep parties from having to join up with a lawsuit, whereas Rule 24 is more typically used by parties that want to intervene. He goes on to say, however, that Freeman's motion would have failed even if she had used Rule 24.

This would be the point at which I would evaluate the judge's reasoning. This ruling seems pretty cut and dried, and it does indeed seem like the judge cut this lady a lot of slack. He strongly implies that she is off her rocker and that she basically only filed this motion because she heard about the case on TV. The ruling was quite thorough, though. I was impressed the judge would take that much time to address such a seemingly weird motion from a weird person.

I guess one way you could criticize the judge in this case is to say that he should have cut Freeman even more slack. It's kind of hard to argue with this ruling because the motion seems so clearly in violation of the rules involved. Based on what's in the ruling, if I were Freeman's attorney I think I would advise her to try to start a separate lawsuit.

Okay. That was pretty long. Also, I don't think people refer to "The Judge" as if he or she was a person. They talk about "The Court". I think it's important to remember, however, that there are people behind everything "The Court" does. Sometimes they're wrong.

So I wonder how much I would write about this ruling if I were writing three months from now...probably two sentences, tops. I suppose I'm assuming that this at all important, which it's not, except that it's our first Orientation case.

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