“In a blistering ruling against Cal Fire, a judge in Plumas County has found the agency guilty of ‘egregious and reprehensible conduct’ in its response to the 2007 Moonlight fire and ordered it to pay more than $30 million in penalties, legal fees and costs to Sierra Pacific Industries and others accused in a Cal Fire lawsuit of causing the fire. … Sierra Pacific, the largest private landowner in California, was blamed by state and federal officials for the blaze, with a key report finding it was started by a spark from the blade of a bulldozer belonging to a company working under contract for Sierra Pacific.” The company has contended that the cause determination was reached in haste and pursued with an eye to extracting legal proceeds for an agency-run settlement fund later found to be illegal. [Sacramento Bee; Robert Hilson, Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists]
“Microsoft is legally obligated to store an average of 60 million pages of documents for every lawsuit brought against it, even though only 88 of those will end up being used in court.” [Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge] The company is one of many that has announced its support for a change in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, proposed in August by the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, which would narrow the scope of obligatory discovery. The burden of discovery “deters companies from defending themselves against meritless suits and slows the process of dispute resolution,” writes Jon Palmer, Microsoft’s assistant general counsel. The proposal would also lay forth clearer standards on document retention so as to curb proliferating litigation over charges of spoliation.
The Washington Legal Foundation likes the proposals too, as does James Beck at Drug and Device Law. Not happy about it: the litigation lobby and some Senate Democrats friendly to their cause. The Judicial Conference is holding hearings that are likely to be more balanced. Comments with the Advisory Committee are due by February 15, 2014.
The vote was 325 to 91, with Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) leading the opposition. Timothy Lee discusses in the Washington Post. While I haven’t tried to get into the details, the general drift looks quite good to me. One major provision requires those filing suits to plead with some specificity what the infringement is; another provides for losing parties to compensate prevailing parties toward the cost of the litigation in more cases; yet another attempts to forestall expensive discovery in cases destined to fail on other grounds. Readers who recall my first book, The Litigation Explosion, will recall that I recommended procedural reform as the most promising way to address the incentives to overlitigiousness in our legal system and in particular identified lack of fee shifting, anything-goes pleadings, and wide-open discovery as among the system’s key deficits. So, yes, developments like this make me feel I was on the right track.
Equal time dept.: Richard Epstein takes a different view.
– against patent trolls. But Kevin O’Connor, CEO of a startup named FindTheBest, went ahead and did so [Joe Mullin, Ars Technica] Exploding and escalating-on-response demands, threats of criminal prosecution, demands for “sequestration” (removal from service) of his company’s computers to prevent evidence spoliation, and promises of burdensome discovery are all part of the story.
The deposition-extracted tidbits were enough to bring down Deen’s culinary empire, but that doesn’t mean they were actually relevant to anyone’s legal case against her: “U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled Monday that [Lisa] Jackson, who is white, has no standing to sue them [Deen and her brother] for race discrimination.” [USA Today]
More coverage for the Frank Buckley-edited new book on overlegalization, The American Disease [Richard Reinsch/Library of Law and Liberty, Alejandro Chafuen/Forbes] Here’s Buckley in the National Post:
If litigation rates are four times smaller in Canada than the United States, this should not occasion surprise: Subsidize something and you get more of it; penalize it and you get less of it.
Differences in legal ethics matter, too. In America, more than elsewhere, lawyers are encouraged to advance their client’s interests without regard to the interests of justice in the particular case or broader social concerns. American lawyers’ professional culture is unique in permitting and implicitly encouraging them to assert novel theories of recovery, coach witnesses, and wear down their opponents through burdensome pretrial discovery.
“…for evidence in murder, divorce cases.” [Bob Sullivan, NBC News]
Ted’s successful 7th Circuit objection in June in a Sears shareholder class action (Easterbrook: “The only goal of this suit appears to be fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers”), which raised widespread discussion, is just one in a string of wins for his Center for Class Action Fairness in recent months. In a settlement involving complaints against Classmates.com, the judge agreed with the arguments of CCAF client (and George Mason lawprof) Michael Krauss, rapped class counsel’s knuckles with a $100,000 sanction for discovery tactics that amounted to harassment (see section III-D), and ordered a better deal for class members [PoL] And in yet another noteworthy case: “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a settlement of a class action over potentially leaky Volkswagen sunroofs that would have paid the lawyers who negotiated it $9.2 million in fees and the majority of car owners nothing.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Ted at PoL, earlier]
Famed Texas lawyer Stephen Susman has a bunch of ideas. [Dan Fisher, Forbes](& Miller)