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Judges Already Citing Wal-Mart Ruling in Environmental Cases

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A major Supreme Court ruling from last year that is widely predicted to reduce the number of successful class-action claims against big companies is already being cited in environmental cases.

In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the court ruled that a massive class action of 1.5 million women employees at big-box retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who said they were discriminated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should not be certified.

Class certification is granted when a judge is persuaded that large numbers of related claims against a single defendant can be handled as a single case. It is a type of litigation that can lead to sizable judgments and big pay days for trial lawyers.

Although the court was unanimous in holding that the class should not be certified in the Wal-Mart case, Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion -- to which four other justices joined -- went further, shutting down the case and making it clear that it will be harder in the future for plaintiffs' attorneys to make huge class actions against big companies work.

Scalia stressed the need for "commonality" of claims. In other words, the bigger the company, the more delegation of authority, the more individual workplaces, the harder it will become to certify a class-action suit.

The case has been seized upon by corporate defendants in a wide range of class-action cases, including those involving environmental claims. Although the Wal-Mart case was in federal court, it is being mentioned both in federal and state court rulings.

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