The Litigation Lobby’s “frivolous” bait-and-switch: the Judge Roy Pearson pants-suit

by Ted Frank on June 17, 2007

Second Milberg Weiss Justice Fellow, same as the first? Bizarro-Overlawyered twists itself into contortions over the infamous $54 million Judge Pearson pants-suit. Cyrus Dugger’s replacement as Milberg Weiss Justice Fellow, Kia Franklin, recognizes that the anti-reform cause can’t be seen endorsing the patently-ridiculous lawsuit that is the laughingstock of the world. So, she dances over the issue: yes, this case is frivolous, but frivolous cases are rare, so there are no lessons to learn from the fact that a small business was forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars litigating an overbroad consumer-fraud claim, to the point that it was willing to pay $12,000 over a pair of pants to make the lawsuit go away and stop the financial bleeding.

Her evidence is a Public Citizen study—but she ignores our 2006 post noting that Public Citizen got its math wrong, and even distorts the distorted statistic beyond what Public Citizen claimed. (Public Citizen gerrymandered its claim to falsely say businesses were 69% more likely to be sanctioned for frivolousness than individual tort plaintiffs, but Franklin misreads that to say individuals, which is false even by Public Citizen’s numbers, which found by its own measure that individuals were sanctioned for frivolousness 86% more often than corporations. Note also the difference between the inaccurate “more likely” and “more often.”)

The really funny thing is that, under the Public Citizen narrow definition of “frivolous lawsuit” used in its study, Judge Pearson’s suit is not frivolous! When politicians speak of “frivolous” cases, they use it in the everyday English sense of “silly”: they mean the meritless cases, where, because of far-fetched legal theories, junk science, or overbroad liability rules, plaintiffs seek or realize recovery far beyond what makes good social policy—cases like Roy Pearson’s. Public Citizen’s study, however, in a typical litigation-lobby bait-and-switch (see, e.g., the Kerry/Edwards malpractice reform plan), defines “frivolous” with the narrow technical legal definition so that it can conclude (like Franklin) that frivolous litigation is “rare” and thus not a problem. (Amazing how many problems disappear when you assume them away.) The definition is so narrow that Pearson’s suit is outside of it: Pearson defeated motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, and received a $12,000 offer of judgment. (Pearson is apparently sufficiently emotionally troubled that he thinks he has a better shot seeking tens of millions from a couple of immigrant Korean dry cleaners than the thousands of dollars offered in settlement for a pair of pants, even though the judge who will be ruling on his case has given him plenty of hints that he has no hope of success.) The Pearson suit would have been excluded from Public Citizen’s count of frivolous suits for a second reason: Public Citizen ignored pro se lawsuits brought by attorneys like Pearson in its count of frivolous suits, as it had to to deflate the number of sanctions issued against individual tort plaintiffs and falsely claim that corporations are sanctioned more often.

We’re excited to see Franklin join the world of reformers and recognize that many more lawsuits are frivolous than what Public Citizen recognizes. We encourage her to read the data and arguments of those she mistakenly claims to oppose, and to scrutinize those she mistakenly thinks are her allies a bit more closely. Why is it alright for wealthy white trial lawyers to extort billions from big business using the same ad terrorem tactics (and even the same consumer-protection laws!) as a poor African-American pro se did to extort $12,000 from a small business? We encourage Franklin to examine the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s racial double-standard.

And since Franklin agrees that the Pearson lawsuit is frivolous, we are eager to hear how she would define a frivolous lawsuit, and hope that she uses that definition consistently for both the Milberg Weisses of the world as well as African-American city employees.

{ 4 comments }

1 Kia 06.19.07 at 10:03 am

Please feel free to read my response to this if you’d like. Thanks.

2 Ted 06.19.07 at 11:02 am
3 ohwilleke 06.19.07 at 2:49 pm

Was there either a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment? Were the orders from those rulings?

I’ve heard no mention of them in this high profile case and have assumed that none were filed because they were not available in this particular municipal court.

4 E-Bell 06.20.07 at 5:43 pm

ohwilleke, that’s a good question.

D.C. Superior Court is not really a “municipal court.” It’s more akin to a state court of general jurisdiction. It hears all kinds of civil and criminal cases.

As for the Pearson docket, look no further than the court’s own online records.

It appears as though the defense filed one – it was granted in part and denied in part on May 16, 2006. The plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment with regard to the Consumer Protection Act was denied.

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