Intervention by Non-Class-Member Objectors

In Devlin v. Scardelletti, the Supreme Court held that a class member who objects in a federal district court to a proposed class-action settlement may appeal approval of that settlement without moving for (and being granted) intervention. As I explained in this article, despite efforts by settling parties to limit Devlin to members of non-opt-out classes, the right to appeal approval of a class settlement should extend to all class members.

Devlin proceeded on the (correct) assumption that a class member could object to a proposed settlement in a district court without intervening. But what about the rights of non-class members to object to a class certification and settlement that could adversely affect their interests? Those issues are addressed in a new decision of the Third Circuit, Benjamin v. Department of Public Welfare. There, the objectors were intellectually impaired residents of state-run care facilities who objected to a settlement that favored community placement. The class definition excluded people who opposed community placement. The district court denied the objectors' motion to intervene for the purpose of challenging class certification and the proposed settlement.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the objectors' interests were not adequately representated by the existing parties, including the state of Pennsylvania, which ran the care facilities. The court noted that although ordinarily a government is an adequate representative of the public, the objectors here had their own personal interests at stake and should not be forced to accede to Pennsylvania's position, which was "necessarily colored by its view of the public welfare."

The Third Circuit remanded to allow the objectors to raise their concerns with the class certification and settlement. Armed with intervention status, presumably the objectors will be able to appeal any adverse rulings on their merits. Worth reading.

0 thoughts on “Intervention by Non-Class-Member Objectors

  1. Rob Bramson says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Brian.
    Another context when this might arise is where there are overlapping classes, with the class representative in one case proposing a settlement while the class representative in the other case thinks that it’s a raw deal for that portion of the (proposed) settling class who qualify under both class definitions.
    The problem for that second class representative is the general rule that only “class members” can object to a proposed settlement. So the person must choose between opting out and continuing on with his/her own class case (while sacrificing the right to object) or to risk losing the ability to act as class representative in the other case by objecting rather than opting out of the settling one.
    This kind of non-party intervention for objection purposes would solve that problem.

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