“Ascertainability” in the context of civil litigation involves the identification of individuals who qualify for membership in a putative class action. Although not an explicit requirement under Rule 23, since the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit refused to certify a class due to difficulties in objectively and efficiently identifying class members in Carrera v. Bayer Corp., 727 F.3d 300 (3d Cir. 2013), lower federal courts have been sharply divided over the meaning and extent of the ascertainability requirement for certifying a class.1 The ascertainability issue has taken on particular importance in low-value consumer class actions involving inexpensive retail products, as these cases have become an increasing burden for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers in the current litigation environment—involving a flood of class actions over labeling on consumer products.
Unfortunately, especially for companies that operate nationwide, the US Supreme Court has not yet intervened in this quagmire. After having denied certiorari in two cases last term that addressed ascertainability, the next spate of cases from the Ninth Circuit likely will not ripen for consideration by the Supreme Court until the 2017 Term. Thus, uncertainty and forum-shopping by plaintiffs’ lawyers exploiting the split among the courts are likely to persist for the foreseeable future.
Please note that this Legal Backgrounder is presented for informational purposes only and it is not intended to be construed or used as general legal advice nor as a solicitation of any type.