For decades, class action lawsuits have played an integral role in the American legal system because of their ability to combine a large number of small claims into an action large enough to garner the attention of both defendants and courts. While class actions have undoubtedly provided a crucial service to many Americans, several key questions have persisted regarding the authority of the named party or class representative. Specifically, courts have struggled to define the named party's ability to assemble the class and launch the action. In both the federal courts and the courts of Georgia, a trend towards giving more power to the named plaintiff has emerged. In Bickerstaff v. Sun Trust Bank, the Georgia Supreme Court was given an opportunity to continue this trend, and it did just that.
In Bickerstaff, the court was presented with a case of first impression as it dealt with the question of whether a party who files suit and attempts to certify a class may satisfy a contractual limitation period for "opting out" of a mandatory arbitration clause on behalf of absent class members. The court answered with a resounding "yes," and in doing so, it greatly increased the power the named representative to a class action possesses. This trend will have lasting effects, even in spite of the Supreme Court of the United States' arbitration-friendly ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, where the Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act4 preempts many state law challenges to arbitration clauses. The importance of Bickerstaff is further evidenced by SunTrust Bank's (SunTrust) unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
"The Great Escape: How One Plaintiffs Sidestep of a Mandatory Arbitration Clause Was Applied to a Class in Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 68:
2, Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol68/iss2/9