An 85-year-old driver crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer, both vehicles traveling at relatively low speed, and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. A Michigan appeals court agreed that a jury could hear an expert witness’s theory, dismissed by a cardiologist as “silly,” that Abdulla Kassem had suffered a heart attack that “could have been caused by a ‘fear of impending doom,’ just before the 2008 crash in Dearborn. There was no autopsy.” An insurance company has now paid $300,000 to settle the case. [AP/WDIV]
- Kip Viscusi: current structure of tort law gives firms like General Motors reason not to investigate risks/benefits of their designs [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
- California woman in trouble after allegedly sending “faked treatment documents and burn photos from a hospital website” to bolster hot coffee spill claim against McDonald’s [ABA Journal]
- Despite Kumho Tire, Joiner, and amendments to evidence rules in 2000, Eighth Circuit cuts its own liberal path on expert witness admissibility [Bernstein]
- “In the BP case, the rule of law is on trial” [Lester Brickman, The Hill, on cert petition]
- “Fighting and Winning Against Pit Bull Defense Lawyers” [Ronald Miller]
- Business groups savor victory in racketeering suit over concocted asbestos claims [Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week]
- Peter Spiro adds another favorable review of Paul Barrett’s Chevron/ Ecuador book Law of the Jungle [Opinio Juris]
- How procedural improvements could help curb speculative and abusive lawsuits [Stuart Taylor, Jr., American Spectator, recommending Prof. Donald Elliott’s plan for judicial pre-screening of complaints; Richard Reinsch]
- Proposed revisions to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would curtail depositions, interrogatories [ABA Journal, more; Wajert] Better use of incentives could reduce costs of discovery [Rebecca Womeldorf, WLF]
- “The ‘e’ in e-mail might as well stand for evidence” — Bloomberg’s Norm Pearlstine at Google Big Tent DC [@jeffjohnroberts]
- Contracting around litigation rules: “Why Is Privatized Procedure So Rare?” [Dave Hoffman]
- Walden v. Fiore: “Cert grant for civ pro buffs” [Ann Althouse; more on constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction from Stephen Sachs via Linda Mullenix, Jotwell via Will Baude]
- California, Wisconsin toughen up lax rules on expert witness admissibility [Bernstein, more] Florida moves to adopt Daubert gatekeeping standard [Maggie Tamburro, Bullseye, William Bissett/Lauren Soble]
- Lawyer disciplinary proceedings make good occasion for noticing that vague notice pleading can trample defendants’ due process interest, but will anyone apply the lesson beyond lawyers? [John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum]
- Arkansas: “‘Corruption of Blood’ Amendment Withdrawn After House Supporter Is Reminded What Century It Is” [Above the Law]
- George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case heads for trial [TalkLeft, Doug Mataconis, and Richard Hornsby via Megan McArdle on evidentiary standards, earlier]
- Is New Hampshire citizens’ group harassing town parking meter enforcers, or monitoring their work? [Union Leader, ABA Journal, Reason]
- New York politicos quarrel over Hank Greenberg suit, overbroad Martin Act is to blame [Bainbridge]
- Enforcement grabs higher-ups in Ralph Lauren Argentine customs bribery case [FCPA Professor, earlier]
- Who stole the tarts? “Mom has son arrested for stealing Pop-Tarts” [Lowering the Bar; Charlotte, N.C.] Tip from Georgia cops: avoid situations where you might have to cling to hood of moving car [same]
- “Omaha officers told: Don’t interfere with citizens’ right to record police activity” [Omaha World-Herald via @radleybalko (“Good work, Omaha.”)]
For many years, under a widespread interpretation of a 1974 Supreme Court case called Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, many courts believed that in deciding whether to certify a lawsuit as a class action they were not authorized to look ahead to the suit’s merits, even if the evidence at hand suggested those merits to be fatally flawed. In its landmark decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, however, the Court made clear that determining whether the prerequisites for class handling have been satisfied will frequently call on courts to consider and resolve questions that overlap the merits. But the exact application of Dukes has yet to be worked out, and lower courts are generating inconsistent results.
The Court has agreed to take up these questions again in a case called Comcast v. Behrend. The Third Circuit, considering an antitrust case challenging Comcast’s business practices in communities around Philadelphia as anticompetitive, upheld certification despite Comcast’s argument that some members of the plaintiff class could not have suffered injury; in particular, it rejected Comcast’s argument that the judge should subject the views of the plaintiff’s expert on damages to Daubert scrutiny to determine whether those views were based on principles accepted by the relevant scientific community.
urging the Court to clarify that what it meant in Dukes was that a full inquiry into the reliability and admissibility of expert testimony (a so-called Daubert inquiry) is required at the class-certification stage. A lower standard would obviously prejudice defendants because class certification “magnifies and strengthens the number of unmeritorious claims” and creates “insurmountable pressure on defendants to settle.” But it would also prejudice absent class members because certification based on inadmissible evidence may distort their perception of the likelihood of success and encourage the members to stay in the class. Since all class members who don’t opt out of the class are ultimately bound by a class action judgment, there’s a large potential for harm to these potentially valid claims as well.
For more background on the facts and legal implications of Comcast v. Behrend, see the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage, Paul Karlsgodt, and Sean Wajert and, on the related case of Gates v. Rohm & Haas, Andrew Trask.
- “Fan sues Insane Clown Posse after injury at Illinois concert” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch] “As Insanity is not a defense to the claim, the Clowns are now adding litigation counsel to their Posse.” [@colinsamuels]
- Suit on behalf of school-cheat son “wouldn’t have been much of a story” if dad had left argument to hired gun [Mark Bennett, earlier]
- If you can’t buy a Coke with your debit card any more, this may be why [Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason] Related: “a ‘do-nothing Congress’ is sort of like a ‘do-nothing arsonist.'” [IowaHawk]
- L.A. judge reverses much-publicized Honda small claims award [CBS Local, earlier]
- Harris County judge deems pig “common, traditional” pet in homeowner association suit [Houston Chronicle]
- Plaintiffs, not just defendants, can use Daubert to exclude opponents’ scientific theories that fall short of general acceptance by the relevant scientific community. Why is this news when it was clearly part of the intended and expected effect of Daubert from day one? [guestposter Mark Bower at Turkewitz]
- “The unfair attack on ALEC” [Ted Frank and Jim Copland at PoL] More: Wendy Gramm and Brooke Rollins, WSJ.
- Popular proposal to curb Congressional insider trading (“STOCK Act”) could have disturbing unintended consequences [John Berlau, CEI “Open Market”] A contrary view: Bainbridge.
- Here’s Joe’s number, he’ll do a good job of suing us: “Some Maryland hospitals recommend lawyers to patients” [Baltimore Sun, Ron Miller]
- Bribing the states to spend: follies of our fiscal federalism, and other themes from Michael Greve’s new book The Upside-Down Constitution [LLL, more, yet more] “Atlas Croaks, Supreme Court Shrugs” [Greve, Charleston Law Review; related, Ted Frank]
- “… Daubert Relevancy is the Sentry That Guards Against the Tyranny of Experts” [David Oliver on new First Circuit opinion or scroll to Jan. 23]
- Goodbye old political tweets, Eric Turkewitz is off to trial;
- State laws squelch election speech, and political class shrugs (or secretly smiles) [George Will]
- Too bad Carlyle Group got scared off promising experiment to revamp corporate governance to curb role of litigation [Ted Frank, Gordon Smith] AAJ should try harder to use people’s quotes in context [Bainbridge]
…Garza v. Merck, ends with a whimper as the Texas Supreme Court unanimously throws it out. Ted has more at PoL.
Welcome to Blawg Review #220, rounding up some highlights of the past week from around the legal blogosphere. It’s my second time hosting it here at Overlawyered, a blog that as its name implies maintains a certain critical distance from many of the doings of the legal profession. Despite (or because of?) that, lawyers make up a large share of our most loyal and valued readers. Overlawyered just celebrated its tenth anniversary, which so far as I know (though someone may come along to prove me wrong) makes it the oldest blog about law.
In addition to being a blogger, I’m an author of books (The Litigation Explosion, The Excuse Factory, The Rule of Lawyers) as well as many articles and shorter pieces, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the think tank in New York City. Joining me in occasional posts is American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Ted Frank (who’s just launched a promising new venture called the Center for Class Action Fairness; his objection in a Bluetooth class action settlement won coverage in the NLJ on Friday) and even more occasionally by David Nieporent. Ted contributes a portion of this Blawg Review which is indented below.
Torts, Liability and Trial Practice
The week’s most widely blogged story, well documented by Above the Law, is a South Florida lawyer’s “Motion to Compel Defense Counsel To Wear Appropriate Shoes” at a personal injury trial, from fear that his opponent would employ a certain pair of hole-worn loafers to practice the arts of aw-shucksery on the jury. A mistrial resulted after press coverage of the motion came to the attention of jurors.
In other news, the Wall Street Journal law blog reported on the New York Yankees’ settlement with a fan who sued over not being allowed to get up and move about during the performance of “God Bless America”. Kevin Underhill at Lowering the Bar has the story of a Pomona juror who was really eager for deliberations to finish up so he could attend the Michael Jackson memorial, and wonders if the case was resolved unusually speedily that day.
On the plaintiff’s side, Steve Gursten of Michigan Auto Lawyers charges that the city of Detroit discourages the issuance of traffic tickets to its bus drivers as one way of dodging liability in subsequent accident cases where the driver’s record of violations could be used against the city. John Hochfelder at New York Injury Cases Blog says a lawsuit against the city subway system on behalf of a grossly drunk patron who tried to board between train cars is the sort of action that brings litigation into public disapprobation and might even fuel interest in relatively far-reaching reforms, like loser-pays. And Tennessee’s John Day catches a noteworthy automotive preemption case: “The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has ruled that a products liability claim was preempted by FMVSS 205, a safety standard that it says permits vehicle manufacturers to make a choice between tempered glass and laminated glass in side windows. … The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reached the opposite result in O’Hara v. General Motors Corp., 508 F.3d 753 (5th Cir. 2007).”
At Citizen Media Law, Andrew Moshirnia reports on a defamation lawsuit filed by a northern Illinois newspaper against a blogger: “That’s right, a newspaper (the Jeffersonian protectors of democracy) and a blogger (saving the world one lolcat at a time) are duking it out, each trying to out chill the other’s speech.”
The defense-side post of the week comes from the Beck & Herrmann team at Drug & Device Law. Mark Herrmann takes a big-picture look at how pharmaceutical product liability law has evolved over the past quarter century, and in particular how well it has done in pursuing the goal of appropriately screening out meritless cases. He gives the law a grade of “A” or thereabouts in tackling dubious expert testimony (with the Daubert revolution), in preventing the unwarranted extension of class action concepts from financial-injury cases to the realm of personal injury, and — a much newer development — in introducing serious scrutiny of claims at the pleading stage through the Supreme Court’s recent Twombly and Iqbal decisions. He is also relatively pleased with trends on preemption (despite the widespread view that defendants have suffered a decisive rebuke on that front) and on resistance to novel theories of action. On the other hand, he gives the courts a “D” on their handling of discovery and its burdens, and a grade of “F” when it comes to their overall inability to reduce the amount of litigation.
Emergency room doc/blogger White Coat has been serializing a first-person account of his malpractice trial; you can read parts eleven and twelve, bearing in mind that you’re coming in partway through the story. (The trial has concluded, but he’s not yet revealing how it ended.)
Stephanie West Allen at Idealawg, picking up on a discussion in Plaintiff magazine, says to watch out for how the other side is likely to retell your story: that way you won’t be surprised when the other side’s lawyer gets up at trial to claim the wolf was framed while portraying the scarlet-clad Miss Hood as the most heartless femme fatale since Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. And if you’re headed for alternative dispute resolution, Nancy Hudgins can tell you “A secret about mediators“.
In the News
Alas, in today’s wounded economy bankruptcy law is a standout practice area. In the case of General Motors, however, the process has gone far more quickly than most expected. John Wallbillich at Wired GC reflects on the giant automaker’s egg-timer reorganization: “The joke around Detroit is that GM went through bankruptcy in less time than it took outsiders pre-filing to get a response to voicemails and schedule a meeting.” On the consumer side, BankruptcyProf Blog (via Carolyn Elefant, Legal Blog Watch) reports that bankruptcy filings in the Central District of California have risen sharply over the year, up more than fifty percent from 5,999 in January to 9,578 in June. The year-over-year increase since the first half of 2008 is 45 percent.
Disgraced lawyer Marc Dreier is due to be sentenced this week for some of the worst defalcations laid to the account of an American lawyer in many a year; Peter Henning has commentary at the WSJ Law Blog. At a newly launched blog called Unsilent Partners, two well-known figures in the blogosphere, Colin Samuels of Infamy and Praise and Mike Semple Pigott of Charon QC, discuss recent white-collar criminal sentencing, the point of departure being federal judge Denny Chin’s sentencing of Bernard Madoff to a 150-year term.
The week’s biggest upcoming legal story is likely to be the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and I’ll turn the floor over to colleague Ted Frank for some remarks on that:
The Sotomayor nomination continued to be a notable topic in the legal blogosphere this week. Jennifer Rubin noted that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, sharing Judge Sotomayor’s position favoring race-based preferences, had thrown his support behind her nomination. Meanwhile, Eric Turkewitz’s previous investigation of the judge’s “Sotomayor and Associates” law practice and the ethical implications of her choice of firm name was picked up by the New York Times, albeit (as he and Scott Greenfield both noted) without any recognition of Turkewitz’ key role in bringing this issue to light. Greenfield criticized the Times: “make no mistake about it. [Turkewitz] is the source of the New York Times story, and the absence of his name, and his blawg, in the piece is a shoddy reflection of its journalistic integrity. Don’t ask the blawgosphere to love you when you won’t love us back, boys.” But Windy Pundit defended the Times. Turkewitz found the Administration’s explanations and justifications of Sotomayor’s choice to be unpersuasive; some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee may as well, and they’ve been in contact with Turkewitz. Beldar’s reaction to the Associates flap: Meh. The WSJ Law Blog looks at the “meticulousness” characterization of Sotomayor. Stuart Taylor has a must-read blog post on how the Sotomayor panel almost succeeded in burying the Ricci case through its summary order; having failed to bury the case, Sotomayor’s supporters are making personal attacks on Ricci, who will be testifying at Sotomayor’s hearing, himself. Heather Mac Donald calls for tough questioning of Sotomayor about Ricci. If you plan on attending the hearing, watch what you wear. The Federalist Society is sponsoring an on-line debate on the nomination that includes lawyer-bloggers Tom Goldstein and Ed Whelan. And Jonathan Adler asks questions about that 1100-professor-petition in favor of Sotomayor’s nomination.
Allegations of egregious racial discrimination at the swimming pool of a northeast Philadelphia club are making news and seem likely to break out before long as a national story. Max Kennerly of The Beasley Firm tells the story and analyzes its legal implications here and here, while Jon Hyman recalls memories of growing up near the club.
Finally, the Scruggs judicial scandals may have faded from the national headlines in the past year but in Mississippi they’re still very much an unfolding story. Tom Freeland at North Mississippi Commentor continues to track developments.
Advice for clients
Week in and week out, one of the functions legal blogs fulfill is to advise clients and prospective clients on when to use lawyers and what to expect when using them. Thus Hingham-based Danielle Van Ess explains what estate planning does and who needs it at her blog on Massachusetts wills, trusts and estates law. At South Carolina Family Law, Ben Stevens offers a list of Facebook “don’ts” for divorcing couples, which might usefully be read in conjunction with Lawyerist’s advice on how to subpoena Facebook pages. Of course cutting through the hype is important, which is why potential clients susceptible to being impressed by “Super-Duper-Lawyer” awards and commendations might want to check out Brian Tannebaum’s amusing discovery that “in Gainesville, Florida, apparently two Super criminal defense lawyers are prosecutors”. Whoops!
Perhaps the week’s most buzzed-about employment law case came from Hartford where veteran political reporter Shelly Sindland filed a sex and age bias complaint against Tribune Co.’s Fox 61, charging that execs at the TV station rewarded female on-air talent on the basis of bodily attractiveness rather than conventional journalistic criteria. Daniel Schwartz at his Connecticut employment law blog took a relatively sober look (and followup), but given its mature content this was a story destined to wind up at Above the Law, which gave it the full treatment.
Employees’ sometimes-imprudent talk both on the job and off continues to provide steady fodder for employment law decisions and controversies. Doug Cornelius discussed a New Jersey decision on whether and when an employer can read an employee’s email to her lawyer sent from a company-owned laptop. At Employee Rights Post, Ellen Simon discussed a recent Ninth Circuit case in which a school employee got in trouble for inflammatory online remarks. And Jon Hyman at Ohio Employer’s Law wonders how employers are supposed to avoid what has been called a “sexualized work environment” offensive to some employees when the popular culture seeping in to the workplace from all sides is often itself highly sexualized, a topic that has come up in these columns as well.
Commercial, business and tax law
Unincorporated Business Law Blog brings word of a bill being introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to crack down on state-incorporated “shell” corporations. Corporate law specialist Larry Ribstein of the University of Illinois writes, “The motivation for this piece of legislative detritus seems to be that since a tiny percentage of LLCs are being used for criminal activity let’s wreck LLCs for all firms. Hey, sounds sensible to me.”
In other news, Peter Pappas awarded his “Rick Moranis Awards” for the best tax nerd blogs. Kevin LaCroix at D & O Diary has an update on the rising tide of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement activity. Charon QC conveys a bit of gossip about the questionable contract terms prescribed by a well-known U.K.-based real estate firm. And Ken Adams at Adams Drafting advises that if contract-drafting seems like a boring and unrewarding part of your work day, you’re probably not doing it right.
Finally, this unsettling observation from Dan Harris at China Law Blog: “If you owe money to a Chinese company for product and you cannot pay all of your creditors, skip out on the Chinese company. Near as I can tell, there is nearly a 100% chance they will never sue you to recover.”
Intellectual property law
The Pope issued an encyclical earlier this month which, notes Cal Law Legal Pad, included the following statement: “On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.” If the pontiff wasn’t upset by the story of the Mexican yellow bean patent recounted by Patently-O, it’s probably because he hadn’t heard of it. Speaking of moral authority, The Prior Art takes GOOD magazine to task for according a glowing profile to a systematic asserter of patent license rights whom some might belittle as Totally Reliant On Litigation Leverage, and suggests the magazine missed a chance to evaluate the gap between what might be remunerative legal-business strategy and what is beneficial to society. For a more upbeat view of the value of patents in spurring innovation since colonial days, Gary Odom at Patent Hawk offers a short history of patents in America.
Finally, I blogged last week about the lawsuit filed by Pez against a Pez museum that some fans had set up in California’s San Mateo County, but Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Confusion was funnier about it.
Legal issues of new media
Remember the unsuccessful suits by companies upset to discover that when Google users searched on their firm’s name, AdWords would serve them an ad for some competitor? Ryan Gile at Vegas Trademark Attorney thinks Mary Kay Cosmetics faces an “uphill battle” in a new suit against Yahoo (over mouseover search popups in email) that raises some similar issues. And Venkat Balasubramani raises the question whether Twitter has been lax, or clever, or both, in letting various other entities use Twitter-related words and phrases in their own names and promotions.
At gamelaw blog Law of the Level, Shawn Foust discussed how online games can protect the integrity of their online currencies from thefts, at least until a corps of “Space Prosecutors” can be formed. And Eugene Volokh brings news from Michigan of one of the first, if not the first, libel lawsuits arising from Wikipedia edits. It seems to raise garden-variety rather than novel issues, though, and is not filed against Wikipedia itself.
In the U.K., Justice Minister Jack Straw has announced a second round of family-court reforms. Lucy Reed at Pink Tape is anything but enthusiastic about some of the “de-lawyerizing” aspects of the proposals. John Bolch at Family Lore comments as well, and separately notes “that Conservative think tank the Centre for Social Justice will recommend that there be a compulsory three-month ‘cooling off’ period before divorce proceedings can be commenced, one of a number of proposals contained in a report Every Family Matters, to be published [July 13].” Presumably coincidentally, here in the U.S., Solangel Maldonado at Concurring Opinions considers whether current divorce laws unduly steer couples toward ending marriages rather than working through difficulties: “Given society’s interest in marriage and all of the negative consequences of divorce, should law incentivize couples to repair the marriage after infidelity? … many couples do reconcile after separation. Maybe they would not have done so had they been able to seek a divorce immediately.”
“Father Shall Not Use Profanity or Racial Epithets in the Boys’ Presence or Within Their Earshot”. Eugene Volokh wonders about the free speech implications.
It being July, law schools are relatively quiet on the student front, but certainly not on the faculty front. Hackles have been rising over the NYU law school’s selection of Li-Ann Thio for a visiting spot in human rights law, given that in her native Singapore Thio crusaded against rights for gays. [Above the Law]. Jane Genova at Law and More covers a judge’s threatened sanctions against Harvard lawprof Charles Nesson for posting deposition excerpts online from a case in progress in which he is helping defend music downloaders. And although Ave Maria Law School is not a part of the Roman Catholic Church, it is asserting church autonomy as a defense to a suit filed by several former faculty members; Howard Wasserman at Prawfsblawg and Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice discuss.
Many would have nominated law schools as a nearly recession-proof sector of the economy, but that’s turned out to be wrong, what with bleak prospects for many new graduates and sometimes plunging endowments at parent institutions. Famed UCLA lawprof Stephen Bainbridge asks “Is Law a Mature Industry?” and examines the implications for legal education (do we really need at least ten new law schools, as are on the drawing board now?), while the Canadian site Law21.ca wonders whether the demographics of an aging world mean that we can “say goodbye to a lot of law schools“.
State of the blawgosphere
There’s nothing like a discussion of the state of blogs to get people going. At Crime and Federalism, Mike Cernovich thinks legal blogs have gone downhill since he got online: things have grown cliquish, and the “biggest – and worst – change to the legal blogosphere has been the Rise of the Marketers,” the ones who are intent on promoting their firms and practices but don’t have anything in particular to say. If bloggers get cliquish, notes Robert Ambrogi, it’s only human nature: “With too many blogs to choose from, we tend to stick with those we know and find comfort with.”
Have you ever considered turning the best bits of your blog into a book? Join the club. Evan Schaeffer at Legal Underground shows how to make a convincing case for that kind of transformation.
Finally, if you’re looking for an old-fashioned blogger dustup complete with asperity and risk of hurt feelings, Scott Greenfield is feeling snappish toward Adrian Dayton and several others on a variety of topics that include Generation Y, social media and work/life balance (Greenfield’s basically against the latter: “When the going gets tough, no one needs a lawyer who leaves the office whenever they have something more fun to do.”) Diane Levin suggests room for accommodation, which however is not forthcoming.
Need a break from contentiousness? Check out Scott Kreppein’s pictures of the Bronx County courthouse, a building that boasts marmoreal, heroic bas-relief sculptures in what I believe is the early-FDR-period style referred to as “Greco-Deco“.
For a view of American law from Central and Eastern Europe, Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. interviews Tomasz Wardynski of a large Warsaw law firm. At Arbitration Forum, Kenneth Cloke tells “Why We Need to Mediate [International] Environmental Conflicts“. Cynthia Alkon at ADR Prof brings word that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the African nation of Liberia released its report this week. Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris reports on the possible disintegration of Belgium (Flanders is thinking of pulling out). Is the EU actually going to hasten the breakup of some of its ethnically diverse member states? Charon QC decides to find out how easy it is to pry information out of private British law schools. And proving that the U.S. is not always in the forefront of colorful litigation, a Polish mother has sued saying that her 13-year-old daughter came back pregnant from an Egyptian resort because of, er, male-related contamination of the hotel’s swimming pool. Michael Krauss has the story at the Manhattan Institute law blog Point of Law (disclosure: I’m its editor and also blog there).
Many thanks to Colin Samuels and Victoria Pynchon for their helpful suggestions on links to use. H. Scott Leviant will be hosting Blawg Review #221 at The Complex Litigator next week. Blawg Review has information about that, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues. [Edited 1 pm Monday to remove one link at the request of its site]
In Mississippi Litigation Review blog, Philip Thomas argues that Kim Strassel’s article (which we discussed Sunday) overemphasizes the role played by U.S. Silica’s CEO. I think that’s more the doing of the WSJ headline writers (which do pitch the story of one guy standing alone against the plaintiffs’ bar) than Strassel; as Thomas himself acknowledges, Ulizio doesn’t try to take undue credit, and Strassel merely (and correctly) notes that lawyers alone couldn’t defeat the silica lawsuits without the support of the business community willing to stand up against the tort bar.
Thomas also objects to Ulizio’s characterization of the victory as “luck,” but luck definitely played a huge role. The scandal came to light solely because Judge Janis Jack held mass Daubert hearings at an abnormally early stage in the litigation. In fact (and I seem to be the only person who has ever made this point), Jack’s ruling was especially abnormal, because she made the Daubert ruling before she made a jurisdictional ruling—and her jurisdictional ruling found that 99% of the cases in front of her lacked complete diversity and needed to be remanded. In other words, Judge Jack’s famous condemnation of plaintiffs’ experts was largely an ultra vires advisory opinion (which is why her sanctions order was for only a couple of thousand dollars).
The luck of the MDL draw had everything to do with that result. Another judge might not have held Daubert hearings at such an early stage; another judge might not have actually applied Daubert even if she had held the hearings; another judge might have preferred to empty her docket immediately, rather than stalling on the eventual remand.
And these aren’t purely hypothetical musings: in the welding fumes MDL in Ohio, there has been plenty of evidence of mass tort fraud, yet the judge has refused to throw out cases, so they slowly continue to proceed to trial.
In that sense, Ulizio is absolutely right: “When you have an entire system that condones these lawsuits, that does nothing to police its own, where there are no consequences, right or wrong has nothing to do with it. It’s a coin flip.” The lawyers who brought these fraudulent cases are still practicing law; thousands of fraudulent mass tort lawsuits continue to be brought since Judge Jack’s ruling without consequence to the unethical lawyers who bring them.