On October 1, 2014, the French accredited consumer association
UFC–Que Choisir filed the first class action (action de
groupe) in France. This action was filed against FONCIA, a
company specialized in residential property management and real
estate services, on the same day class action lawsuits became legal
in France. As a reminder, Decree n°2014-1081, dated September
24, 2014 and related to class actions, came into force on October
UFC–Que Choisir summoned FONCIA to appear before the District Court of Nanterre on behalf of tenants over the allegedly illegal fees it charges renters. UFC–Que Choisir argues that FONCIA has collected €44 million in illicit charges over the past five years, according to a press release issued by UFC–Que Choisir on October 1, 2014.
The scope of the current law is a more limited version of class action litigation than is found in the United States since it allows only 16 consumer groups in France to file class actions on behalf of consumers.
Who Is Entitled to Act on Behalf of Consumers?
Only duly authorized associations for the defense of consumers, which are recognized as being representative at a national level, are entitled to bring class actions in France. French lawyers are not entitled to bring such action on behalf of consumers since they are not recognized as being representative of consumers' interests.
What Is the Purpose of a Class Action?
A class action may be instituted in the case of breach by a company to comply with its obligations, whether legal or contractual, either in the context of a sale of goods or supply of services, or with respect to anticompetitive practices.
What Are the Remedies Under French Law?
As it stands, corporal and moral damages are excluded. In other words, consumers are allowed to request only compensation for damage to economic interests.
What Is the Procedural Path a Consumer Association Has to Follow?
The current law provides a two-step procedure.
First, the court has to check that the requirements to file a class action are met and has to decide whether the summoned company should be held liable.
Should the summoned company be held liable, the court will determine the loss suffered by each consumer and set the means by which the consumers who may have suffered a loss will be informed.
The second step will be dedicated to the identification of the concerned consumers and the collection of damages. The French class action system is an opt-in system, meaning that consumers willing to take part in the class action have to name themselves.
The consumers willing to take part in the class action will have to give their names to the accredited consumer association, and the latter will collect the damages for them.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.