Absent Class Members Are Not Parties

A class action is a representative action in which the class representatives assume a fiduciary responsibility to prosecute the action on behalf of the absent parties. (Southern California Edison Co. v. Superior Court (1972) 7 Cal. 3d 832, 839-840 [103 Cal. Rptr. 709, 500 P.2d 621].) The representative parties not only make the decision to bring the case in the first place, but even after class certification and notice, they are the ones responsible for trying the case, appearing in court, and working with class counsel on behalf of absent members. The structure of the class action does not allow absent class members to become active parties, since "to the extent the absent class members are compelled to participate in the trial of the lawsuit, the effectiveness of the class action device is destroyed." (Danzig v. Superior Court (1978) 87 Cal. App. 3d 604, 612 [151 Cal. Rptr. 185] [holding that before a defendent can propound discovery to absent class members, it must be shown that such discovery is necessary to the proper trial of class issues, is not unduly burdensome to absent class members and does not have the purpose, nor will it have the effect, of reducing the class size].) The very purpose of the class action is to "relieve the absent members of the burden of participating in the action." ( Id. at p. 612.) Absent class members may be "parties" for certain purposes, but for other purposes they are not. ( In re Cement Antitrust Litigation (9th Cir. 1982) 688 F.2d 1297, 1310, affd. by an equally divided court (1983) 459 U.S. 1191 [103 S. Ct. 1173, 75 L. Ed. 2d 425].) The term "party" has been used loosely by courts such as National Solar Equipment Owners' Assn. v. Grumman Corp. (1991) 235 Cal. App. 3d 1273, 1281-1282 [1 Cal. Rptr. 2d 325] ("unnamed class members are 'parties' for purposes of discovery"). In fact, the California Supreme Court's ruling allowing limited discovery against unnamed plaintiffs was based, as in the common fund cases, on the reasoning that unnamed class members receive an "immediate benefit" from the prosecution of a class action, not on the conclusion that they are "parties" for all purposes under Code of Civil Procedure section 382. (Southern California Edison Co. v. Superior Court, supra, 7 Cal. 3d at p. 840.)