Group proceedings, as compared to standard civil proceedings, can be distinguished by the specific phases (stages) of the proceedings that are characteristic only for a class action. The stages are as follows:
At this stage the court decides whether the preconditions for the examination of the case under group proceedings are met (see: When are group proceedings allowed?). In case of a positive decision in that respect, the court issues the decision on examining the case as a class action. Whereas in case of a negative verification – the court rejects the action. After Amendment no. 1 of 2019, before the adjudication on the admissibility of group proceedings, there is no need to conduct the court hearing, the court is obligated to hear the parties – which can take place through the submission of a letter, or the establishment during the hearing. At this stage, the court does not yet examine the subject matter of the case (it does not assess whether the initiated action is legitimate or not), but only limits itself to examining the prerequisites for hearing a given case in group proceedings.
This stage lasts from the moment of the effective commencement of the group proceedings until the aforementioned decision of the court on the admissibility of the group proceedings becomes final and binding. Parties can challenge the decision, so it becomes final either only after the lapse of the period prescribed for filing of the appeal or when the court of second instance dismisses the appeal filed. After the decision on hearing the case in group proceedings, the admissibility of prosecuting the case as a class action is not re-examined.
After the decision on the admissibility of the group proceedings becomes final, the court issues an order on publication of announcement on commencement of group proceedings in the manner most appropriate for a given case, facilitating the dissemination of the announcement on commencement of the proceedings among all people potentially interested in joining the group. In particular, the announcement may be published on the pages of the Public Information Bulletin (BIP) of the competent court, on websites of the parties or their representatives, or in widely-read local or national press. The announcement contains the basic information regarding the case and information on the possibility to join the group.
Within the term indicated in the announcement (no longer than three months), the persons who have not joined the group at the earlier stage and who fulfil the conditions to become group members (i.e. their claim is of the same type as those already pursued in group proceedings) can join the group. Joining the group is performed by submitting an appropriate written declaration to the group representative. The representative may obligate a group member to present additional evidence and explanations within the set time. Joining the group after the expiry of the time indicated in the announcement is inadmissible.
The declaration on joining the group should specify the claims of group members (more precisely – potential group members), contain an indication of circumstances substantiating group membership and present factual circumstances along with the evidence supporting the raised claims. Next, based on the submitted declarations, the group representative draws up a list of all those who joined the group at this stage and submits it to the court. The defendant is entitled to raise charges concerning group or subgroup membership of particular persons within the time limit set by the chairperson (not shorter than one month). Finally, the court decides on the composition of the group by passing a decision in which particular group members are named by their first name and surname (or a corporate name, depending on their legal status). The decision on the group’s composition may be challenged, but such a challenge does not prevent examination of the case as to its merits. When the decision on the composition of the group becomes final and binding, leaving the group is impossible (see: What is the status of a group member?).
Upon the decision on the composition of the group, the court assesses the claims filed within the group proceedings in terms of their legitimacy through conducting single evidentiary proceedings for all pursued claims. This stage ends with a judgement in which – on a general basis – the court, allowing the claim filed by the group, decides in line with the claim or dismisses the claim in full or in part, stating that the asserted claims are not legitimate (do not have a legal basis or, relatively, existence of their prerequisites in a given case has not been proven).
The further course of the proceedings depends on the type of a pursued claim (for performance, for adjudication, for establishment of defendant’s liability, or the shaping of a legal relationship or right) (see: What can you pursue under group proceedings?).
If the court is awarding money (e.g. relevant amounts of damages), each group member is entitled to institute enforcement proceedings on the basis of an extract from the judgment or the judgment along with a copy of the list of group members constituting an attachment to the judgement – indicating the performance amount payable to them.
Whereas the enforcement of a non-pecuniary performance (e.g. an obligation to return a particular thing) awarded under the judgment is different. In principle, it is solely the representative of the group who is entitled to file a request to initiate the enforcement of such a pecuniary performance. Each group member acquires this right (title) only if, firstly, the defendant does not voluntarily comply with the court judgment within six months counting from the time when the judgement became final and binding and, secondly, when the group representative does file a motion for commencement of the enforcement within this time (i.e. within the above-mentioned six month period) .
A judgment establishing (on general principles) a right or a legal relationship is of a declaratory nature, i.e. it only confirms the existence of such a right or relationship. Such a judgment is not enforceable.
Where a judgment establishing a defendant’s liability is issued (a possibility of pursuing such a demand constitutes a solution characteristic of group proceedings), the judgment shall only constitute a prejudicate in individual proceedings for awarding a group member a specific cash amount. It is worth emphasizing however that seeking the establishment of a defendant’s liability (on behalf of group members), the claimant (group representative) is currently, i.e. after Amendment no. 1 of 2017, obligated to indicate in the statement of claims the cash claims the pursuit of which the declaratory judgment sought for is to serve (without the need to indicate the amount of these claims). Based on the judgment establishing defendant’s liability, in separate litigation, group members will be able to seek the award of specific cash amounts only on the grounds invoked in the statement of claims including the demand for the establishment of defendant’s liability.
A judgment of a shaping character is of a constitutive nature, and for this reason it bears effects in the sphere of rights and obligations of group members at the very moment it becomes final and binding. This judgment is not enforceable.