After viewing my receipts I noticed a company is charging it’s customers for extra items I assume by “accident”. When I go back the next day to confront them they apologize and are gracious enough to give a credit for the full ticket price. During one of these returns I watched 5 others that were there for the exact same thing I was and considering it wasn’t the first time for me I assume this must be happening a lot. What I didn’t realize until my third trip is I wasn’t receiving the full amount back I had paid tax on the initial purchases but I was only receiving the price of the item. Technically it wasn’t a return because I hadn’t received the item but I still paid tax on it. Based on the number of people I’ve seen this has happened to I can assume the actual amount people is much larger as I am not their very often and even though the amount is small for each person the sum would probably be much higher for the company. Is this a class action or just wrong.

  • The (good) answer from A.fm. below is based on typical U.S. law, but the jurisdiction where this happens is critically important. Many countries don't have class action lawsuits at all and those that do often have very different rules related to them than the U.S. does.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 16, 2018 at 17:34
  • 1
    Also, as A.fm.'s answer explains, the seriousness of the wrong has nothing to do with whether or not you can bring a class action suit. Typically class action suits are filed in cases where no one person's individual damages would justify bringing a lawsuit economically, they aren't really meant for cases where every single party has big dollar damages.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 16, 2018 at 18:29

1 Answer 1


This is for educational (and fun!) purposes and is not and should not be thought of as legal advice and, if you're planning on doing something with respect to your situation described above, you should seek the counsel of an attorney in your jurisdiction.

The question:

Well, it's wrong regardless of whether it is a class action lawsuit. Now, it is not a class action because a class action is created by the determination of a judge. So, you need to know if this situation would qualify to become a class action.

Certifying the class:

The most important part is having the "class" certified. The "class" is the group of people with similar injuries sues the same person or company or several people or companies. Prior to this, a plaintiff must fill out a standard complaint filing and check the appropriate box to indicate the intention to file a class action.

State level requirements:

Requirements to become certified as a class vary by state. Most states, in general, follow broad requirements which require the plaintiff to prove:

the representative plaintiff has suffered the same alleged injuries as the proposed class. The allegations are assumed to be true

for the purposes of certification (since the trial has not started) the class can be defined clearly enough to determine who is and is not a member

the number of class members makes joining all of them to the lawsuit impractical (40 or more is almost always enough, 21 or less is almost always not enough)

a common set of facts or legal interest underlies all of the members’ alleged injuries

the representative plaintiff’s claims are so similar to the class members that litigating the representative plaintiff’s case will

adequately decide the absent class members’ cases, and

a class action is the best and most efficient way of resolving the claims, either for the plaintiffs or for the defendants.

Federal level requirements:

Similarly, there can be class actions at the federal court level, too. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 covers Class Actions.

Rule 23(a) establishes four "threshold requirements" for certification. They all must be met. They are:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of class members is impracticable (numerosity); (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class (commonality); (3) the claims or defenses of the class representatives are typical of those of the class (typicality); and (4) the class representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class (adequacy).

Additionally, the court then must find that at least one out of three more possible conditions are met. Under Rule 23(b), those requirements are:

(1) that prosecution of separate actions risks either inconsistent adjudications which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the defendant or would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of others; (2) that defendants have acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class; or (3) that there are common questions of law or fact that predominate over any individual class member’s questions and that a class action is superior to other methods of adjudication.

Burden of proof:

The burden is wholly on the plaintiff to not only plead each element that must be met, but also to prove those conditions exist. The standard of proof here is a "preponderance of the evidence," which is the one used in civil cases and is less than "beyond a reasonable doubt" required of a criminal case.

Misc. items of note:

If a class is certified, then one plaintiff participates in the litigation, while the others essentially await adjudication. There are more complexities than appropriate to delve into here. For example, you'll notice there is no number requirement; rather, numerosity with respect to the practicality of joinder of all members of the class.


However, generally, 20 and less is considered "insufficiently numerous," while 40 or more will often "satisfy the numerosity requirement."

  • 2
    Worth noting that if there is no federal law that is being enforced (as seems to be the case in this situation), there must either be complete diversity of citizenship (i.e. the defendant is organized under a law different from the state of residence of all of the class action plaintiffs) and more than $75,000 at stake, or under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 there must be $5 million+ at stake, more than 100 plaintiffs and at least one plaintiff must be from a different state than the defendant. Realistically, a class action in this kind of case would be brought in state court.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 16, 2018 at 17:31

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