Zahn v. International Paper Company

RESPONDENT: International Paper Company
LOCATION: North DeKalb Shopping Mall

DOCKET NO.: 72-888
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 414 US 291 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1973
DECIDED: Dec 17, 1973

Peter F. Langrock - for petitioners
Taggart Whipple - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Zahn v. International Paper Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1973 in Zahn v. International Paper Company

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in number 72-888, Zahn against the International Paper Company.

Mr. Langrock, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Peter F. Langrock:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an action that was initiated in the United States District Court, from the District of Vermont on behalf of the Zahns and the leaser and other personnel similarly situated.

It was brought against International Paper Company and the facts of the matter alleged certain problems with the pollution of Lake Champlain as affecting the plaintiffs and the class.

The particular mill about in Ticonderoga is also the subject of another matter before this Court, which has been referred to a Master in Chancery.

The District judge on a motion to dismiss the class action aspects of the case took the matter under advisement.

He appeared before him and after a period of time, he dismissed the class action aspects of the case with and I quote from his opinion “great reluctance”.

The matter was then appealed to the Second Circuit of Court of Appeals, an interlocutory appeal, permission being granted by the Circuit as well as asked for by the District Court.

There they have divided opinion, it was affirmed the en banc proceedings was rather complicated with four of the active judges of seven boarding for en banc, but failing to en banc because of a failure to achieve the majority of five, and, certiorari was granted to this Court.

The basic issue presented is rather a narrow one, and that is whether a United States District Court judge is prohibited from taking jurisdiction of a class action where one on one members of the class might not reach the jurisdictional amount.

In looking at the rule, this is a 23 (b) (3) proceeding and the rule initially requires before any Court can take jurisdiction of the class, a finding that the class is superior to other available methods to the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

The first proposition that I put to the Court is that one can really reduce this case to a mathematical formula, that if we assume that a case on all effects can be efficient, in the Court when it isn’t sufficient.

We then, if it is not efficient, the Court is prohibited the District Court from taking jurisdiction.

If it is efficient then we have two choices, either the Court may take jurisdiction as a class or it is prohibited.

Under this ruling it is prohibited from taking jurisdiction, and so --

I’m trying to understand.

Levit is ruling Mr. Langrock.

He simply held that in his view of the law, that each of the plaintiffs having to have $10,000 as a matter in controversy.

It was not efficient to maintain it as a class action.

I didn’t get the feeling in from his ruling that he felt that he was absolutely debarred, had he reached another result as to the practicality thing in view of his view of the law.

Peter F. Langrock:

I have to disagree with that, sir.

The opinion I think states quite clearly that it was dismissed solely on the prohibitation of Snyder versus Harris, and that it was dismissed with great reluctance, and that is his words.

Yes, but interpreting Snyder against Harris as he did, he then went on to conclude that there would be such serious complications in delay in determining who was bound and who wasn’t.

That this was not maintainable as a class action.

Peter F. Langrock:

Assuming that only members of the class had reached the jurisdictional amount, in other words, if you define your class at 10,000.

Then, he would say, that would be impossible, and therefore, he refused to redefine the class excluding members who would have less in the jurisdictional amount of the 10,000.

The question that -- the policy question here, I think, in so much before the Court and in class actions is the question of judicial efficiency.

I would promote that this type of class action.

Now, this is not a -- I consider unmanageable class action, this is not a manufactured one.