OCTOBER TERM, 1996
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit
No. 96-270. Argued February 18, 1997—Decided June 25, 1997
This case concerns the legitimacy under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure of a class-action certification sought to achieve global settlement of current and future asbestos-related claims. Never intending to litigate, the settling parties—petitioners and the representatives of the plaintiff class described below—presented to the District Court a class-action complaint, an answer, a proposed settlement agreement, and a joint motion for conditional class certification. The complaint identifies nine lead plaintiffs, designating them and members of their families as representatives of a class comprised of all persons who had not previously sued any of the asbestos-manufacturing companies that are petitioners in this suit, but who (1) had been exposed—occupationally or through the occupational exposure of a spouse or household member—to asbestos attributable to a petitioner, or (2) whose spouse or family member had been so exposed. Potentially hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of individuals may fit this description. All named plaintiffs alleged exposure; more than half of them alleged already manifested physical injuries; the others, so-called "exposure-only" claimants, alleged that they had not yet manifested any asbestos-related condition. The complaint delineated no subclasses; all named plaintiffs were designated as representatives of the entire class.
The exhaustive agreement, inter alia, (1) proposed to settle, and to preclude nearly all class members from litigating, claims not previously filed against petitioners; (2) detailed an administrative mechanism and a schedule of payments to compensate class members who meet defined exposure and medical criteria; (3) described four categories of compensable cancers and nonmalignant conditions, and specified the range of damages to be paid qualifying claimants for each; (4) did not adjust payments for inflation; (5) capped the number of claims payable annually for each disease; and (6) denied compensation for family members' loss-of-consortium claims, for exposure-only plaintiffs' claims for emotional distress, enhanced risk of disease, and medical monitoring, and for "pleural" claims involving lung plaques but no physical impairment, even if otherwise applicable state law recognized such claims.
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