Posts tagged as:

pleading

Some lawyers have filed attempted mass suits (earlier here, here, etc. on Mohawk Industries case) claiming that by hiring undocumented workers employers have engaged in “racketeering” for which they should owe money under the RICO law to other workers, above and beyond whatever wages were agreed to at the time or prescribed by statute. It was always a strained theory, and now is said to be encountering tougher going because courts are being more particular about requiring that plaintiffs’ pleadings spell out plausible theories of proximate cause, injury and damages, under the Twombly/Iqbal standard by which the U.S. Supreme Court has toughened early scrutiny of lawsuits. If that’s so, chalk up one more Twiqbal victory for common sense and restraint in litigation. [Workplace Prof, from the Spring]

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Eleventh Circuit federal judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat has long been a critic of “shotgun pleadings,” which have been defined as pleadings that make it “virtually impossible to know which allegations of fact are intended to support which claim(s) for relief,” as when every succeeding count indiscriminately incorporates the allegations of all previous counts. He’s back at it in a decision last month [Paylor v. Hartford Fire Insurance, PDF; South Florida Lawyers]:

We add, as a final note, that the attorneys in this case could have saved themselves, their clients, and the courts considerable time, expense, and heartache had they only paused to better identify the issues before diving into discovery. . . .

That such a straightforward dispute metastasized into the years-long discovery sinkhole before us on appeal is just the latest instantiation of the “shotgun pleading” problem.

After describing a vague complaint brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):

Defense attorneys, of course, are not helpless in the face of shotgun pleadings—even though, inexplicably, they often behave as though they are. A defendant served with a shotgun complaint should move the district court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)3 or for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e)4 on the ground that the complaint provides it with insufficient notice to enable it to file an answer.

That not having happened, and the judge not having sua sponte instructed the plaintiff’s lawyer to file a more definite statement of claim,

the District Court tossed the case overboard to a Magistrate Judge for discovery.

At that point it was too late: the discovery goat rodeo had begun.

Result: a voluminous and contentious discovery record much of which bore on points irrelevant to the actual resolution of the case.

The persistence of the shotgun pleading problem is particularly frustrating because the relevant actors all have it within their power to avoid it. Nothing is stopping plaintiffs from refraining from writing shotgun pleadings. Certainly nothing is stopping defense lawyers from asking for a more definite statement; indeed, their clients would be well-served by efforts to resolve, upfront, the specific contours of the dispute, thereby lessening or even eliminating the need for costly discovery. And nothing should stop District Courts from demanding, on their own initiative, that the parties replead the case.

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2014

  • By convention the business/defense side isn’t fond of jury trial while plaintiff’s side sings its praises, but Louisiana fight might turn that image on its head [Hayride, sequel at TortsProf (measure fails)]
  • Generous tort law, modern industrial economy, doing away with principle of limited liability: pick (at most) two of three [Megan McArdle]
  • Fallacies about Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case go on and on, which means correctives need to keep coming too [Jim Dedman, DRI]
  • Interaction of products liability with workplace injury often provides multiple bites at compensation apple, overdue for reform [Michael Krauss]
  • Ford Motor is among most recent seeking to pull back the curtain on asbestos bankruptcy shenanigans [Daniel Fisher; related, Washington Examiner] “Page after page he sits on the straw man’s chest, punching him in the face” [David Oliver on expert affidavit in asbestos case]
  • Kansas moves to raise med-mal caps as directed by state supreme court, rebuffs business requests for collateral source rule reform [Kansas Medical Society]
  • Let’s hope so: “More stringent pleading for class actions?” [Matthew J.B. Lawrence via Andrew Trask, Class Strategist]

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.

Procedure roundup

by Walter Olson on September 12, 2013

Left-leaning lawprofs like Erwin Chemerinsky and Arthur Miller regularly flog the idea that decisions they disagree with — such as Twombly and Iqbal on pleading, AT&T v. Concepcion and AmEx v. Italian Colors on arbitration, and Vance v. Ball State and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire on workplace liability — show the Supreme Court to be biased in favor of business defendants. Richard Epstein rebuts.

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The ACLU’s lawsuit over the NSA surveillance program, or Larry Klayman’s? And which has more grandstanding? If you have to ask… [Howard Wasserman, Prawfs]

July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2012

  • Does new Obama directive gut 1996 welfare reform law? [Mickey Kaus ("in 2008, Barack Obama didn’t dare suggest that he wanted to do what he has done today"), Bader]
  • Ringling Bros. v. animal rights activists: court throws out champerty claim, allows racketeering claim to proceed [BLT]
  • Iqbal, Twombly, and Lance Armstrong [DeadSpin, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs and more]
  • Abuse claims: “Retain the statute of limitations” [New Jersey Law Journal editorial] Insurance costs squeeze NYC social services working with kids, elderly [NYDN]
  • Court upholds sanctions vs. “staggering chutzpah” copyright lawyer Evan Stone [Paul Alan Levy, Eugene Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • Court says board members of NYC apartment co-ops can be sued personally over alleged bias [Reuters]
  • “FASB retreats from disastrous litigation disclosure requirement proposal” [Alison Frankel, Reuters via PoL, earlier]

Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on May 21, 2012

  • Government’s hospital care guidelines may be fueling dangerous overuse of antibiotics [White Coat] FDA says fewer drugs are in shortage [Reuters, earlier here, etc.]
  • “Post-tort-reform Texas doctor supply” [Ted Frank/PoL and commenters] “Change in Procedures Lets Medical Malpractice [Insurance] Industry Thrive” [PC 360]
  • Forcing companies to make politicized disclosures to customers implicates First Amendment [Hans Bader on HHS "must credit ObamaCare" reg]
  • Iqbal and Twombly SCOTUS decisions on pleading have helped protect pharmaceutical defendants from flimsily based suits [James Beck, who has changed law firms to Reed Smith]
  • How accurate is hospital data coding? Ask thousands of pregnant British men [Nigel Hawkes via Flowing Data]
  • Class-action-fed boom in Medicaid dentistry + “let’s put docs in schools” idea = scope for horrific abuse, no matter how it’s financed [Bloomberg via Jesse Walker]
  • Suits blaming obstetricians for cerebral palsy rack up $78 million win in Philadelphia, $74 million in California [Legal Intelligencer, Cal Coast News]
  • Ninth Circuit: on reflection, let’s not seize control of VA mental health programs [AP, earlier here, etc.]

March 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 27, 2012

  • NYC: “Lawsuit Blames Apple’s Glass Doors for Plaintiff’s Broken Nose” [Lowering the Bar, CBS New York]
  • Some who pushed enhanced punishment for Dharun Ravi may now be doubting they really want it [Scott Greenfield, earlier here, etc.]
  • NYT editorial on FMLA state immunity is as bad as anyone had a right to expect [Whelan]
  • “Pleading, Discovery, and the Federal Rules: Exploring the Foundations of Modern Procedure” [Martin Redish, FedSoc "Engage"] Summary of important ’09 Redish book Wholesale Justice calling into question constitutionality of class actions [Trask]
  • Would trial-by-DVD be so very wrong? [James Grimmelmann, Prawfs]
  • Contested memorabilia: lawsuits filed over estate of gay rights pioneer Franklin Kameny [MetroWeekly]
  • Feds’ “distracted driving” guidance could impair usefulness of car navigation systems [Cunningham/CNet, earlier]

January 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 9, 2012

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October 13 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 13, 2011

  • Behind the antitrust assault on Google [Jerry Brito, Josh Wright, more]
  • Rapid rise of lawsuit lenders [WSJ] And a Searle Civil Justice Institute conference on third party financing of litigation;
  • More law firms muscle into class action against e-book publishers [PaidContent] Fifth Circuit questions cy pres [Trask] And a new edition of the Federalist Society’s Class Action Watch is out;
  • When the house painters announce they’re not leaving: “Britain plans to tighten anti-squatter laws” [NYT]
  • “Courts Call Out Copyright Trolls’ Coercive Business Model, Threaten Sanctions” [EFF] “Righthaven’s Copyright Trolling is a Bankrupt Idea” [Cit Media Law] More: Vegas Inc.
  • “Twombly is the Logical Extension of the Mathews v. Eldridge Test to Discovery” [Andrew Blair-Stanek via Volokh, Frank] “Four more reasons to love TwIqbal” [Beck] “O’Scannlain says 9th Circ has adopted ‘Iqbal lite’ pleading standard, ‘Same insufficient complaints, fewer dismissals!'” [@ScottKGraham on dissent in Starr v. County of Los Angeles, PDF]
  • Florida farms sell raw milk as (wink) “pet food” [Sun-Sentinel]

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The Supreme Court’s admirable Twombly and Iqbal precedents give a federal district court the means to turn back a shotgun lawsuit against a horde of undifferentiated defendants [McFarland v. APP Pharmaceuticals LLC, slip op., 2011 WL 2413797 (W.D. Wash. June 13, 2011) via Beck, Drug and Device Law]. Quoting the court:

[A]lleging that 93 defendants all manufactured, distributed, and/or sold all of the products that caused all of plaintiff’s injuries is not plausible. In addition, plaintiff’s allegations are internally inconsistent. The complaint alleges that “each” of the defendants manufactured the heparin that caused her injuries, but also alleges that each of the 93 defendants “separately manufactured, marketed, distributed, wholesaled, and/or sold” heparin. The inconsistencies between those allegations, which are not pled in the alternative, further highlight the implausibility of plaintiff’s allegations.

James Beck writes, “Basically, the plaintiffs in McFarland didn’t want to do even the most basic spadework of identifying the correct defendants before bringing suit, so they threw in the kitchen sink in the hope that the defendants would end up having to spend the time and effort to figure things out.” After Twombly and Iqbal, that’s become a less effective legal tactic — one of many reasons to resist the Litigation Lobby drive to get Congress to overturn the two pleading decisions.

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April 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 19, 2011

  • Environmental milestone? “Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans.” [JoNova via Coyote]
  • Add another to the list of judges who file suits over critical discussion of their rulings, in this case by the losing party, a newspaper [ABA Journal]
  • “Obama on presidential signing statements then … and now” [Bainbridge, Outside the Beltway]
  • “The never-ending stream of futile petitions suggests that habeas corpus is a wasteful nuisance.” [Joseph Hoffmann and Nancy King, NYT, via Lat, Frank] A different view: Scott Greenfield, The Briefcase.
  • Global warming suits “a misuse of the judiciary branch” [Laurence Tribe, Boston Globe via WLF]
  • Competing for the HuffPo reader? On link between chemical exposures and cancer, Salon.com perpetrates “utter nonsense” [Orac, Respectful Insolence]
  • Iqbal/Twombly: “Reports of pleading’s demise may have been exaggerated” [Wasserman, Prawfs]

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The Federalist Society has posted numerous videos from its recent National Lawyers’ Convention, including sessions on the aggressive regulatory stance of today’s Environmental Protection Agency, the constitutionality of Obamacare, anonymity and the First Amendment in media and campaign-regulation law, NYU’s Richard Epstein debating Yale’s Bill Eskridge on the court battle over California’s Prop 8, recusal and campaign rules for judges, Dodd-Frank, and the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez case on accreditation of student groups, among other topics. And civil procedure/Iqbal-Twombly buffs may be interested in a luncheon panel held just yesterday in D.C. (I was in the audience) in which four law professors (Don Elliott of Yale, Martin Redish and Ronald Allen of Northwestern, and Rick Esenberg of Marquette) outlined ideas for reforming the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to reduce discovery costs and improve screening of cases in the earliest stages of filing.

The video above is of the Society’s 10th annual Barbara Olson Memorial Lecture, in which Second Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs provocatively criticizes legal academia and other precincts of influential legal thinking for misunderstanding the role of the military and its relation to the law.

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October 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 19, 2010

Yielding to the Litigation Lobby’s push to overturn the two landmark Supreme Court decisions “would be the real revolution in pleading,” notes Verizon’s John Thorne at Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, and would come at a time when the rulings are showing signs of real promise in weeding down some busy areas of speculative litigation.

June 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 21, 2010

  • After Mohawk Industries settlement, many employers could be sitting ducks for suits claiming that hiring illegal workers is RICO violation [Helman, Forbes, earlier]
  • Teen tries to help child lost in store, winds up facing felony rap of false imprisonment [Greenfield]
  • Federal magistrate in debt collection case: letter on law firm letterhead implies threat to sue [Legal Intelligencer]
  • On “professional” class action objectors [Ted at PoL]
  • Coal company claims ventilation system ordered by government regulators might have been a cause of deadly April mine explosion [WSJ]
  • Senate committee approves judicial nomination of John (“Jack”) McConnell, impresario of Rhode Island lead-paint litigation; William Jacobson explains critics’ charges regarding couching of legal fee as purported hospital donation [Legal Insurrection]
  • Hey, stop siphoning that oil slick, we haven’t checked your life jackets and extinguishers [GatewayPundit] Gulf oil rig registered for purposes of regulation in remote Pacific island chain [Legal Blog Watch] Richard Epstein on oil spill liability [WSJ] BP will never pay full price of accident [Popehat] Check back in 2031 to see how the litigation went [Alex Beam, Boston Globe]
  • American Constitution Society holds panel discussion on Iqbal and Twombly [BLT] “Is It Too Much to Ask That a Lawsuit Be ‘Plausible’?” [Richard Samp, WLF Legal Pulse]

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