Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 23 (1999)

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Cite as: 527 U. S. 815 (1999)

Opinion of the Court

explained that when a debtor's assets were less than the total of the creditors' claims, a binding class action was not only permitted but was required; otherwise some creditors (the parties) would be paid and others (the absentees) would not"). See also Morrison v. Warren 174 Misc. 233, 234, 20 N. Y. S. 2d 26, 27 (Sup. Ct. N. Y. Cty. 1940) (suit on behalf of more than 400 beneficiaries of an insurance policy following a fire appropriate where "the amount of the claims . . . greatly exceeds the amount of the insurance"); National Surety Co. v. Graves, 211 Ala. 533, 534, 101 So. 190 (1924) (suit against a surety company by stockholders "for the benefit of themselves and all others similarly situate who will join the suit" where it was alleged that individual suits were being filed on surety bonds that "would result in the exhaustion of the penalties of the bonds, leaving many stockholders without remedy").

Ross v. Crary, 1 Paige Ch. 416, 417-418 (N. Y. Ch. 1829), presents the concept of the limited fund class action in another incarnation. "[D]ivers suits for general legacies," id., at 417, were brought by various legatees against the executor of a decedent's estate. The Ross court stated that where "there is an allegation of a deficiency of the fund, so that an account of the estate is necessary," the court will "direc[t] an account in one cause only" and "stay the proceeding[s] in the others, leaving all the parties interested in the fund, to come in under the decree." Id., at 417-418. Thus, in equity, legatee and creditor bills against the assets of a decedent's estate had to be brought on behalf of all similarly situated claimants where it was clear from the pleadings that the available portion of the estate could not satisfy the aggregate claims against it.17

17 In early creditors' bills, for example, equity would order a master to call for all creditors to prove their debts, to take account of the entire estate, and to apply the estate in payment of the debts. See 1 J. Story, Commentaries on Equity Jurisprudence 547, 548 (I. Redfield 8th rev. ed. 1861). This decree, with its equitable benefit and incorporation of all


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