Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
U.S. District Court

Jonathan Selbin Talks to Bloomberg News About Retiring Judge Richard Posner’s Imprint on Class Action Law

Judge Richard Posner retired from the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in early September 2017, leading attorneys on both the plaintiff and defense side to reflect and comment on his ”enormous influence” on complex litigation law through his many class action rulings in his three-plus decades on the bench. As reported by Bloomberg News, while not all class action lawyers see themselves as fans of Judge Posner’s opinions, the consensus is that as a jurist Judge Posner “took seriously the judiciary’s role as guardian of unnamed class members.”

While many plaintiff attorneys view Judge Posner as a seeming antagonist to class actions, with opinions that formed part of the “anti-class-action canon” routinely cited by defendants, Lieff Cabraser partner Jonathan Selbin noted to Bloomberg that he did not see the Judge as being driven by an “inveterate hostility to the class device.” Selbin observed that Judge Posner’s opinions reflected “real and practical concerns about the effective—and fair—use of the civil rules and case management tools to adjudicate complex liability issues, particularly in high value individual cases.”

Jonathan D. Selbin

Selbin, who argued the moldy washing machine product defect cases before Judge Posner, views the Judge’s opinions therein as “part of a unified and consistent view about when such tools were efficient and fair to use, and when they were not, which is the very thing Rule 1 of the Civil Rules mandates.” (The rules should be applied to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”).

Selbin further told Bloomberg that Judge Posner’s opinions overturning class settlements that weren’t fair to the class were also part of his “unified view of what class actions should and should not be about.”

“Almost without exception,” Selbin concluded, “I agreed with the rulings in those cases, because they sought to implement best practices and to safeguard [Rule 23 governing class actions] from abuse.”

Judge Posner was appointed to the Seventh Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He served as the court’s chief judge from 1993 to 2000, and is famous beyond the legal system for his 2004 observation that “The realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.”

In a statement, the Judge called his court tenure a “tremendous honor,” noting that during his time on the bench he had written and issued over 3,300 opinions.

Read the full article on Bloomberg News.