United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty,
445 U.S. 388 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388 (1980)

United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty

No. 78-572

Argued October 2, 1979

Decided March 19, 1980

445 U.S. 388


Respondent, after twice being denied parole from a federal prison, brought suit against petitioners in Federal District Court challenging the validity of the United States Parole Commission's Parole Release Guidelines. The District Court denied respondent's request for certification of the suit as a class action on behalf of a class of "all federal prisoners who are or who will become eligible for release on parole," and granted summary judgment for petitioners on the merits. Respondent was released from prison while his appeal to the Court of Appeals was pending, but that court held that this did not render the case moot, and went on to hold, with respect to the question whether the District Court had erroneously denied class certification, that class certification would not be inappropriate, since the problems of overbroad classes and of a potential conflict of interest between respondent and other members of the putative class could be remedied by the mechanism of subclasses. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the denial of class certification and remanded the case to the District Court for an initial evaluation sua sponte of the proper subclasses.

Held: An action brought on behalf of a class does not become moot upon expiration of the named plaintiff's substantive claim, even though class certification has been denied, since the proposed representative of the class retains a "personal stake" in obtaining class certification sufficient to assure that Art. III values are not undermined. If the appeal from denial of the class certification results in reversal of the denial, and a class subsequently is properly certified, the merits of the class claim then may be adjudicated pursuant to the holding in Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393, that mootness of the named plaintiff's individual claim after a class has been duly certified does not render the action moot. Pp. 445 U. S. 395-408.

(a) The fact that a named plaintiff's substantive claims are mooted due to an occurrence other than a judgment on the merits, cf. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103; Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank v. Roper, ante p. 445 U. S. 326, does not mean that all other issues in the case are mooted. A plaintiff who brings a class action presents two separate issues, one

Page 445 U. S. 389

being the claim on the merits and the other being the claim that he is entitled to represent a class. "The denial of class certification stands as an adjudication of one of the issues litigated," Roper, ante at 445 U. S. 336, and, in determining whether the plaintiff may continue to press the class certification claim after the claim on the merits "expires," the nature of the "personal stake" in the class certification claim must be examined. P. 445 U. S. 402.

(b) The imperatives of a dispute capable of judicial resolution -- sharply presented issues in a concrete factual setting and self-interested parties vigorously advocating opposing positions -- can exist with respect to the class certification issue notwithstanding that the named plaintiff's claim on the merits has expired. Such imperatives are present in this case, where the question whether class certification is appropriate remains as a concrete, sharply presented issue and respondent continues vigorously to advocate his right to have a class certified. Pp. 445 U. S. 403-404.

(c) Respondent was a proper representative for the purpose of appealing the ruling denying certification of the class that he initially defined, and hence it was not improper for the Court of Appeals to consider whether the District Court should have granted class certification. P. 445 U. S. 407.

(d) The Court of Appeals' remand of the case for consideration of subclasses was a proper disposition, except that the burden of constructing subclasses is not upon the District Court, but upon the respondent. Pp. 445 U. S. 407-408.

579 F.2d 238, vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 445 U. S. 409.

Page 445 U. S. 390

Primary Holding

Mootness does not arise in a class action when the named plaintiff's substantive claim ends, even if the class was not certified.


Geraghty sued the United States Parole Commission on the basis that its Parole Release Guidelines were invalid. He had been denied parole from a federal prison on two previous occasions. Geraghty sought to have a class certified that would consist of all federal prisoners who were or who would become eligible for release on parole. After it ruled that this class could not be certified, the lower court granted summary judgment to the Parole Commission on the merits of the case. Geraghty appealed that decision, but the case was not reviewed before he was released from prison. Eventually, the appellate court ruled that the class should have been certified and remanded the case to the district court. The Parole Commission appealed the certification grant.



  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • John Paul Stevens

A different plaintiff can substitute for the former class representative, since the basic controversy still exists and affects a substantial number of prisoners. Class certification may arise when a dispute still can be resolved in the courts, even if the named plaintiff no longer has a claim. In this case, there still are parties interested in the dispute who are advocating for opposing positions, and there is a concrete factual setting in which to examine the issues. The named plaintiff also can continue advocating for his right to have a class certified in the action, a right that does not expire because his individual substantive claim has been resolved. This provides the personal stake needed for the representative to meet the certification requirements.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Case Commentary

The Court found that the presence of class members who potentially still had claims that were ready for judicial review permitted reviewing a denial of class certification. Judicial resolution is appropriate as long as the original named plaintiff has a personal stake in the matter, even if he or she is no longer part of the putative class.

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