An Opt-In Option for Class Actions

Scott Dodson*

Federal class actions today follow an opt-out model: absent an affirmative request to opt out, a class member is in the class. Supporters defend the opt-out model as necessary to ensure the viability of class actions and the efficacy of substantive law. Critics argue the opt-out model is a poor proxy for class-member consent and promotes overbroad and ill-defined classes; these critics favor an opt-in model. This bimodal debate—opt out vs. opt in—has obscured an overlooked middle ground that relies on litigant choice: Why not give the class the option to pursue certification on either an opt-out or an opt-in basis? This article explores such an opt-in option. It considers the effects of opt-in classes’ enhanced cohesiveness and representational character on the ease of class certification, the logistical challenges of opt-in mechanisms and the technological advances that can mitigate those challenges, the doctrinal feasibility of allowing an opt-in option, and the potential pitfalls the option presents. The article concludes that the opt-in option has positive potential, and it offers specific proposals for rulemakers to consider.

* Harry & Lillian Hastings Research Chair and Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law. Thanks to those who read and commented on early drafts, or who engaged me in preliminary conversations, including Rick Marcus, Shay Lavie, and the participants at the 2015 SEALS Civil Procedure Roundtable and the Tel Aviv University Faculty Colloquium Workshop.

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