Class action lawsuits, although a relatively recent legal proceeding in the United States, evolved from a medieval legal concept called group litigation which emerged in England in approximately 1200AD. Group litigations involved groups of people, usually towns, villages, parishes or guilds, suing another, or being sued in common law actions. In these actions, the English courts did not question the right of an individual to bring suit on behalf of a larger group, giving rise to attorneys like Dan Chammas of Venable LLP today as legal representatives and advocates defending against class action suits. These group litigations of medieval England were originally an accepted and common practice in the common law courts of the era.
Although relatively common in medieval England in the 12th and 13th centuries, group litigation became rarer in England after 1400AD as wealth and power concentrated behind the corporate model of business, leading to suspicion and mistrust of the unincorporated legal entity. England’s common law courts experienced periods of suspension due to chaotic wars such as the Wars of the Roses, and out of this the Court of Chancery was given exclusive sway over group litigations. Nonetheless, statutes which came into being from individual group litigation decisions removed possibilities for success. The Judicature Acts of 1874 and 1975 put the death knell to equity pleading in England after 1850. Attorney Dan Chammas of the Venable LLP law firm in California continues to litigate offspring of the group litigation, the class action lawsuit, which is alive and well in the 21st century in the United States.