Recent Changes to Parens Patriae Suits

The Supreme Court ruled in early 2014 that parens patriae suits initiated by state attorneys general did not count as “mass actions” and could not be taken out of state courts and moved into federal courts under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The ruling was issued in response to a case brought by the state of Mississippi against manufacturers of liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels. It served to clarify federal law after several circuit courts split over whether such lawsuits could be removed to federal jurisdiction under the law.

The term “parens patriae,” which means “parent of the country,” originated in English common law under which certain powers and obligations belonged to the king as the “father of the country.” In the United States today, the government has adapted the doctrine for several purposes. It is most commonly used to assert the government’s role in protecting children and people with mental illnesses, but it also permits state attorneys general to litigate on behalf of the residents of their states.