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Class Action or Group Lawsuits in a Small Claims Court

- July 31, 2017

legal hammerIn a small claims court, class action lawsuits technically do not exist. However, there is a group lawsuit that can be created and operates similarly to a class action lawsuit. In these cases, a large number of people have the same grievance and will sue the same defendant at the same time. This has been discovered by communities and advocacy groups when it comes to issues such as regular noise complaints and drug sales in a community among other claims.

Group lawsuits were first “invented,” so to speak, back in the 1980’s in San Francisco when homeowners won more than 100 small claims court judgments against the City for excessive noise. The group worked together with their resources to get expert witnesses, conduct research, paid for training workshops, and pulled together for legal advice as needed. The group banded together to create a coordinated effort, leading to over 100 successful cases.

The City tried to fight off the claims by saying this was a class action lawsuit, which is not permitted in a small claims court. However, a California court of appeals ruled, “numerous ‘mass’ actions against the City alleging that noise from the City airport constituted a continuing nuisance were neither too ‘complex’ nor had such ‘broad social policy import’ that they were outside the jurisdiction of Small Claims Court…” (City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Div., San Mateo Co., 190 Cal.Rptr. 340 (1983).)

This led to a new approach to small claims for communities. Since the judgment, communities have been successful in shutting down drug houses, suing landlords that rent to drug-selling tenants, and other community claims that have had a positive effect on areas. In these cases, each individual will sue for the maximum amount. Since these smaller court claims can add up quickly, issues that previously dragged on for months or years were resolved much quicker. These suits can be successful if the following is true:

  • It brings credibility and weight to a neighborhood problem that would have otherwise clogged up the higher courts. It should also bring the neighborhood together and bring together better resources.
  • Selecting a small committee can make coordination much easier and lead to success. A large group can only be successful if there are clear leaders that are committed to fulfilling their place in the larger group. This committee should be in charge of finding expert witnesses, legal advice, and other information and training sessions.

Losing defendants will still have the right to a new trial on appeal, unlike in many class action lawsuits. However, class action lawsuits have their place, as well. If you are an individual that is part of a larger group in a lawsuit that extends beyond the jurisdiction of small claims court, contact our team at Jonathan Perkins Personal Injury Lawyers today.

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