Martin v. Wilks | Class Action | Consent Decree

Intervention Case: Martin v.

Wilks (1989, US) [CB 779-784]

Facts: There was a lawsuit by the NAACP against the city of Birminghams, claiming that they are discriminating in their employment practices under Title VII, and the parties want to enter into a decree. The court has a hearing on it and gives notice of the hearing. The Birmingham Firefighters’ Association tried to intervene, but were denied as untimely, and then the consent decree was approved. Then Wilks sues the city for reverse discrimination, but its dismissed b/c the decree was already entered. Wilks argues that it wasn’t a party to the original lawsuit and wasn’t bound by it. Issue: Whether a party can be bound to a decree when they weren't part of the original lawsuit. No. Holding: Wilks not bound to the decree.

Reasoning: Joinder (as opposed to notice) is traditionally the way that parties are subjected to the jurisdiction of a court. The idea is that the parties who are already in the lawsuit have a better idea about just who they want in the lawsuit and just who they want to bind. Dissent: Says actual notice plus the opportunity to intervene means you can’t complain. There is power that comes from the preclusive effect of judgments and their binding nature that makes courts reluctant to expand it to parties who aren’t in the lawsuit. Notes • Martin v. Wilks ○ Brings together intervention and class action ○ But at the same time, it has it the tensions of class actions, and extremely controversial case politically ○ In action 1 (1975) a class action suit brought on behalf of black firefighters against city of Birmingham § Settled by consent decree - before settled was put out to public comment □ And Birmingham PD, white firefighters commented and moved to intervene ® The motion to intervene was denied as untimely □ 7 other white firefights sued for an injunction to prevent it from going into effect - and denied b/c no irreparable injury □ Then other white firefighter bring a suit for money damages for the diff b/c of the promotions they didn’t get ® City said they just did what city's decree said to do ® What does district court say here? ◊ They agreed with city - Ps lose b/c if the city was doing what decree requires, then it is doing nothing illegal ◊ On appeal, court says that's no good b/c that would mean that they would be bound by a decree of which they are not a party ► All 9 justices of supreme court agree - that you cannot be bound by a decree entered into an action to which you were not a party - its unconstitutional, against due process (everyone needs opportunity to be heard), ► furthermore, its impossible to say this new group of white firefights has been heard (b/c only the association, not a class of ppl, that were the party in the original suit).

► Argument in the supreme court is whether what has happened here is that they are being bound by the decree } Dissent: – Because of happenings in the world, what may have previously been a good legal claim, may no longer be a good claim – But here it's that a judgment has been entered by the court (that's the happening in the world), of which made legal which may have otherwise been illegal – Note 6 (last 2 sentences) ► The majority is right - they are not bound b/c not a party in original lawsuit ► But, it is a big practical problem - the proposed solution to the problem } It would be unconstitutional under the Shutts case – You are going to be bound under the decree if you have actual notice – You are bound as long as their was adequate representation – So these reasons are no good. The legislation may be unconstitutional, but there is provision D - which says that if its unconstitutional then cant be bound ► So how can we solve the practical problem? } Judge has to approve class definition } Judge has power to require joinder of absent parties who should be joined } Looking at 784 note 5, how might a judge aware of that solve this problem at the time of the original consent decree? – Wont approve the consent decree unless there is a mandatory joinder of all firefighters that will be affected. w How would you get them? ordered the joinder of a class of white firefighters, and some class to represent everyone else that may be adversely affected, then we would have achieved, consistent with due process, a decree binding on the class.

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