Vanderbilt Law Review


John E. Kennedy

First Page



Around the year 1200, in the ecclesiastical court, Martin, a rector,sued "the parishioners of Nuthamstead." In 1315, in the exchequer court, two individuals sued "'the rich burgesses'" of Scarborough "'for themselves and the rest of the middling and poor burgesses'" of that town.' Are there any connections between these examples of medieval group litigation and modern American class actions?

In answering "yes" to this question, Stephen Yeazell has given the legal community a book of substantial significance. By exploring English history from the beginning, he has rediscovered missing links in the ancestral chain of litigation prototypes. Yeazell's discovery is impressive, given that other legal historians have scoured the same ground before but have not seen what Yeazell sees. The analogy comes to mind of early archaeologists screening and sifting the artifacts from village sites. Under new probing by a cultural anthropologist, the artifacts reveal a new dimension of man. Similarly, Yeazell reinterprets the known historical cases involving medieval and later group litigation by using modern scholarship to recreate the economic, political, and social con-text in which the group litigations arose. More importantly, Yeazell asserts original theories of evolutionary linkage for explaining the anomalies of modern class actions and for attempting to justify them interms of social organization, community conflict, and peaceful judicial resolution of power struggles in different and evolving cultures.

Yeazell asserts theses in many fields, including constitutional law,procedure, legal history, jurisprudence, and political theory. Some of his theses are valid, some stretched, and some far fetched. Yeazell's implied thesis, however, reduced to simplest terms, is that group representational litigation has been a continuous thread in the Anglo-American legal system for 800 years. In contrast, the prevailing view of adjudication emphasizes individual, adversarial rights, and considers the modern class action as an exception to the norm. Under the conventional view, therefore, the class action requires special jurisprudential justification.

Included in

Litigation Commons