by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A 6-1 ruling from the N.C. Supreme Court will allow a possible class-action lawsuit to proceed against a major Triad hospital, even though the original plaintiff in the case appears to have no claim.
The suit originally pitted Christopher Chambers against Moses Cone Memorial Hospital. Chambers challenged an emergency room bill of more than $14,000. He sought to have his case turned into a class-action suit benefiting other patients. Before the case could be certified as applying to more than just Chambers, the hospital dropped all efforts to collect money from Chambers.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anita Earls finds:
Requiring that a named plaintiff have a fair opportunity to present the issue of class certification to the trial court ensures that class representatives will not be picked off at the dawn of the litigation before they have had a chance to engage in appropriate discovery and otherwise prepare to seek class certification from the trial court. It will prevent both a “race to pay off named plaintiffs” before they can pursue class certification and premature class certification determinations before the development of the factual record necessary for a trial court’s rigorous analysis of the issues involved in a class certification motion.
Justice Paul Newby writes the lone dissent.
Historically, this Court has recognized, as a matter of judicial restraint, that mootness renders a case nonjusticiable. And the General Assembly has declared that class representative plaintiffs must adequately represent the interests of the class. Today, the majorityleaves behind both of these well-established legal principles. The majority adopts an exception to mootness that is neither supported by this Court’s precedent nor justified by the policy considerations the majority attempts to address. Itthus gives judicial life support to class action claims led by named plaintiffs who have no personal interest in the case and are in no position to adequately represent the interests of the rest of the class claimants.