The Supreme Court of the Lone Star State doesn't often make rulings that favor class action treatment of claims. But last week it did.
The case arose in Williamson County — home of a District Attorney who fought DNA testing for an innocent man who spent 25 years in prison for killing his wife. The petition charged the County with violating the constitutional rights of poor people who face charges of minor crimes (1) to legal counsel at the County's expense, (2) to represent themselves, and (3) to "open courts". It also sought class treatment of the claims.
The district court denied the County's plea to the jurisdiction (a Texas-style motion to dismiss), but the court of appeals reversed. The latter held that, because none of the plaintiffs alleged all three claims, none of them had standing to bring the case on a class-action basis.
The Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling and sent the case back. In doing so, the 9-0 Court cut through a slew of complaints about why the case didn't belong in a civil court. These included the gripe that each plaintiff in a class action must have standing to bring all claims in the petition — a problem that the Court resolved by saying the trial court could create a subclass for each claim or group of claims. Blawgletter will allow you, Gentle Reader, to sort out the other details. Heckman v. Williamson County, No. 10-0671 (Tex. June 8, 2012).
We mention the case mainly because it might, just might, mark a small start of a modest turn a little bit towards a rediscovery of the important role class actions can play in civil disputes.
The District Attorney, by the way, lost his bid for re-election in the May primary, which the County's County Attorney won.