Legal Entities That Can Be Parties
Only an actual legal entity may initiate a lawsuit. A natural person is a legal entity, for example, and any number of people can be parties on either side of a lawsuit. A corporation is endowed by its charter with existence as a separate legal entity. A business partnership is usually not considered a legal entity, but generally it can sue or be sued in the partnership name or in the names of the individual partners.
Many states permit lawsuits under a common name. This arrangement allows a business to be sued in the commonly used business name if it is clear who the owner or owners are. A lawsuit against Family Dry Cleaners, for example, may entitle the plaintiff to collect a judgment out of the value of the business property. The plaintiff will not be able to touch property that belongs to the owner or owners personally, however, unless they have also been named defendants in the action.
When a group of persons wishes to start a lawsuit, the group has several options. If, for example, a group of residential property owners wants to contest the construction of a toxic waste disposal site in its community, it can file a lawsuit listing each property owner as a plaintiff. The group could also select an association name that the court accepts (Citizens Against Toxic Waste) to represent those individuals. A more expensive alternative would be to incorporate the group and file the suit under the corporation's name.
The CLASS ACTION provides another option for bringing parties into a large-scale civil lawsuit. In a class action lawsuit, thousands and even millions of persons can be parties. To obtain a class action designation, the plaintiffs must convince the court that many persons possess similar interests in the subject matter of the lawsuit and that the plaintiffs can act on the group's behalf without specifically identifying every individual member of the group as a party to the litigation. The class action lawsuit can be an economical method of resolving civil claims that involve large numbers of persons with common interests, especially when the amount of each individual claim is too small to warrant independent legal actions by the claimants.
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