Another unanimous loss for Obama, another trip to the dunking booth for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: my new Cato post on last week’s Supreme Court decision on the proper standard for awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing defendants in Title VII employment discrimination cases. Justice Thomas has it right in his concurrence: the ruling at hand is all well and good, but the Court needs to go further and rethink precedents that bend over backward to give prevailing employment plaintiffs a set of fee entitlements that it does not allow to prevailing defendants (& welcome SCOTUSBlog readers).
And so it goes: three former line cooks will get $3,540, their lawyer $15,700 as chef Bryan Voltaggio and business partner Hilda Staples (whose Volt and Family Meal restaurants are among my favorites) settle overtime claims [Frederick News-Post]
A familiar roster of plaintiff’s firms keep grabbing profitable lead positions in mass litigations that begin with multiple filings in different states. Judges and critics suspect that committees are often overstaffed to set up a likelihood of higher fees, and that cozy mutual backscratching helps allocate lucrative positions to repeat players in the club. [Amanda Bronstad, National Law Journal]
Cato’s Caleb Brown talks with attorney J. Cabou about the legal fight over Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture law, which authorizes “one-way” fees to be made available to prevailing law enforcement, but not to prevailing citizens. Note, by the way, that the (very real) due process objections to one-way fee-shifting are in many ways equally applicable to one-way fee-shift provisions found in numerous other areas of law, including discrimination and environmental statutes.
Shot: Jury awards Colorado discrimination plaintiff $19,000.
Chaser: “Then, her lawyers filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs. They requested $575,683.83.”
To learn how it all turned out, follow the link. [Eric B. Meyer, Employer Handbook]
“Only two of the estimated 232,000 class members claimed the coupons” in a class action led by Edelson McGuire LLP. Defendant Dick’s Sporting Goods “agreed not to oppose the plaintiff’s request for $210,000 in attorney fees and costs and a $3,500 incentive award,” but an Orange County, Calif. judge took away a large chunk of that sum because… why? Because some of the lawyers angling for it had not been admitted to practice in California, that’s why. [Kenneth Ofgang, Metropolitan News-Enterprise; Golba v. Dick’s Sporting Goods, unpublished]
- One Oklahoma official used asset forfeiture to pay back his student loans, another lived rent-free in a confiscated house [Robby Soave, Reason]
- Per ACLU, Arizona has a one-way legal fee rule in forfeiture cases, with prevailing police allowed to collect from property owner but not vice versa [Jacob Sullum]
- From Michael Greve, some thoughts on prosecution for profit and where money from public fines should go [Liberty and Law]
- About the Benjamins: Philadelphia mayor-to-be cites revenue as reason to let parking officers ticket sidewalk users [Ed Krayewski, Reason]
- Captive market: with wardens’ and sheriffs’ connivance, prison phone companies squeeze hapless families [Eric Markowitz, IB Times]
- Former red light camera CEO pleads guilty to bribery, fraud in Ohio [Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica]
- Taxpayers lose as Maine counties jail indigents over unpaid fines [Portland Press-Herald]
- “St. Louis County towns continue to treat residents like ATMs” [Radley Balko]
A San Francisco jury has found no improper gender discrimination or retaliation by Kleiner Perkins and returned a defense verdict in Ellen Pao’s high-profile lawsuit [Mashable, Roger Parloff/Fortune (noting judge’s evidentiary rulings favorable to Pao)] Pao’s “lawyers also missed out on a payday that could have reached into the millions of dollars.” In particular, “had Pao won on any of her claims, under California law her legal team, led by longtime San Francisco employment lawyers Alan Exelrod and Therese Lawless, could have sought all its fees from Kleiner.” [Reuters] One-way fee-shifting rules like those in discrimination law, especially with the further “win on any claim, collect all legal fees including those spent pursuing losing claims” refinement, diverge sharply from the principles of two-way loser pays followed in other advanced nations, but have the result (and the intent) of strongly incentivizing speculative litigation. The only real way to go further would be to order defendants to pay both sides’ fees even when the defendants win outright, as Kleiner did; but as of yet even California law does not go that far.
P.S. Apparently even a lost case counts as valuable promotion for the California plaintiff’s employment bar [Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg, auto-plays]
- Bi-counsel-ar? “Lawyer Defending Congressman’s Wife in Bigamy Case Accuses Client of Having a Second Lawyer” [Slate]
- “Why tort liability for data breaches won’t improve cybersecurity” [Stewart Baker]
- Pennsylvania passes a new gun law, and suddenly liberal standing with attorney fee shifting stops being the progressive position [Harrisburg Patriot-News]
- “Letting a case die like a pet rat forgotten in the garage” [Ken at Popehat on Todd Kincannon challenge to South Carolina state bar discipline threats]
- Getting to it late: hour-long Cato podcast with Randy Barnett on his book Structure of Liberty including Aaron Ross Powell, Trevor Burrus;
- Once a fun party town, New Orleans now will ban vaping in private clubs and while waiting in line at drive-throughs [Christopher Fountain, Ronald Bailey on vaping bans and public health] More: Bailey on exaggeration of risks, Jacob Sullum on California proposal;
- Colorado legislature looks serious about tackling liability reform [Denver Business Journal]
The nonprofit Citizens Awareness Foundation was founded to “empower citizens to exercise their right to know,” according to its mission statement. The South Florida millionaire backing the foundation hired one of the state’s most prominent public records activists to run it, rented office space, and pledged to pay the legal fees to make sure people had access to government records.
But a review of court records and internal communications obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the foundation is less interested in obtaining records and educating the public than in working with a partner law firm to collect cash settlements from every lawsuit filed….
The O’Boyle law firm has filed more than 140 requests on behalf of the foundation and a related group this year, including barrages of requests against engineers and road builders. The general counsel of the Florida Engineering Federation wrote in May that it was “debatable whether they are truly seeking records or just attempting to obtain legal fees for a violation,” a concern shared elsewhere:
“It’s a sad game of ‘gotcha,’ the only purpose of which is to generate an attorney fee claim rather than obtain any actual public records,” said Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association.
A former executive director of the foundation has resigned, citing ethical concerns. Among numerous small government contractors targeted by the demands are charities and social service providers; an environmental remediation firm says the law firm included a nondisclosure demand that would prevent it from comparing notes with others to receive the fee demands. Ten years ago we reported on a practice in California in which bounty-hunting requesters aimed public records requests at school districts in early summer, then followed with legal fee requests based on the districts’ having missed the short deadline for responding.