Class Action Lawsuits—Who Pays the Price in Compiling the List?

Class Action Lawsuits—Who Pays the Price in Compiling the List?

How many readers are familiar with a class action suit? Do class actions suits seem to be never ending and broad? What is the scope of such suits? In Oppenheimer Fund v. Sanders, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of a class action lawsuit in regards to compiling the names and addresses of the members of the class.

A class action was brought against Oppenheimer Fund, an open-end diversified investment fund that sells shares to the public at their net asset value plus a sales charge. The respondents bought shares at various times and filed complaints that the shares in the Fund were artificially inflated as they had been overvalued on the Fund’s books. As a result a class action suit was filed. The respondents sought to require the Fund to help compile a list of the names and addresses of the members of the plaintiff class from records kept by using a transfer agent so that individual notices could be sent. The respondents essentially were seeking information about 121,000 people. Of this large number, 103,000 individuals still had shares in the Fund, while 18,000 others had sold their shares. Gathering this information would be time-consuming, as the transfer agent would have to manually sort through paper files. The Second Circuit held that the discovery rules authorized the district court to order the petitioners to assist the respondents in compiling this list of members of the respondent class and to bear the expenses of compilation.

The issue was brought before the Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s holding, finding that it was an abuse of discretion of the court to require petitioners to bear the expenses of compilation. Here, the respondents could easily hire the transfer agent as a third party to compile the list by paying the agent the same amount that petitioners would have to pay. The Court reasoned that this information must be obtained to comply with the obligation of the respondents’ to prove notice to their class. Additionally, no special circumstances were presented to warrant requiring petitioners to bear the expense. The Court noted that a mere allegation of wrongdoing is an insufficient reason to require the Fund to undertake the financial burdens and risks in compiling the list.

Overall, the lesson to be learned here is that in class action lawsuits, where the information sought can be obtained at the same cost to either party, it is the respondents who will bear these expenses to identify members of their own class.

Jennifer Whritenour received her B.S. in Political Science and History in 2011 from the University of Scranton. In 2014, Ms. Whritenour graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law.

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