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.
Pro se (lawyerless) litigants in Connecticut with low income have been allowed to sue without paying the ordinary $350 filing fee, and some have made the most of the situation by filing scads of suits. In May, following publicity about the high cost and hassle imposed on targets, the state adopted a law which “allows judges to review the details of a lawsuit before granting a plaintiff… a waiver from filing fees.” A former courthouse employee who testified in favor of the bill was himself named in a subsequent lawsuit by a litigants whose activities he had mentioned, along with various other defendants including the New London Day and one of its reporters. [WFSB via @SickofLawsuits]
According to research by Yale law professor Donald Elliott, early American civil practice empowered judges to review the details of a lawsuit for adequacy at its outset, and before a target was faced with major costs of response. That practice — dropped later during the purported modernization of our legal system — would come in handy in screening out ill-founded or tactical suits, and not just regarding in forma pauperis (indigent-filed) cases.
“A state court judge in Madison County, Ill., [has] ordered an end to the court’s practice of allotting trial dates to local asbestos plaintiffs firms before they had filed any cases. The order was hailed by defense advocacy groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association, which have long criticized Madison County’s system on the grounds that it allowed local firms to market their trial slots to out-of-state plaintiffs.” [AmLaw Litigation Daily, sub-only; Chamber-backed Madison County Record]
Overlawyered readers are well aware of the sorry history of the fen-phen litigation; those that aren’t are advised to check out Professor Lester Brickman’s summary.
In April 2008, the Diet Drugs MDL district court awarded $567 million the class counsel in that case, basing the award in part on representations by class counsel about future class recovery. A year later, a plaintiff’s attorney requested the court reopen the question of the fee award because the class counsel had exaggerated those estimates. The district court refused, holding that the one-year delay in bringing the Rule 60(b) motion was not a “reasonable time.” There has been an appeal to the Third Circuit, and, today, the Center for Class Action Fairness filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal that itself provides a short overview of the history of the fen-phen MDL. Many thanks to Chris Arfaa for his generous help in filing the brief.
Alas, it’s closed to the press and public. [Doherty, Reason "Hit and Run"]
According to Paul Secunda at Workplace Prof Blog, a monstrously overgrown employment discrimination dispute recently ruled on by a California appellate court helps explain “why people like Walter Olson rightly believe in some cases that litigation is just plain overlawyered“.
At Point of Law, I take up a topic dear to my heart that has flared up into headlines for the first time in, well, practically forever.
This fall, I had the honor of being elected to the American Law Institute—along with Point of Law blogger Michael Krauss and CL&P blogger Brian Wolfman.
Next week, the ALI has its annual meeting in Washington. Of critical importance is the May 20 vote on amendments and the Final Draft of its Principles of the Law of Aggregate Litigation—a document that could be of great influence in the way courts think about class actions. Beck and Herrmann have a must-read post detailing the issues involved. And they note that ALI is a nose-counting organization: policy is made by those that show up. If members of your law firm or university are ALI members, please pass along the post to them.
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.
If allegations by New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo are true, one of the most fundamental elements of due process for civil defendants — notice of a pending legal action through service of process — simply gets ignored in thousands of instances. “Sewer service” was a major concern of court reformers in the 1960s; it sounds as if the problem may never actually have gone away. [Newsday, Popehat]
One can almost fill an entirely separate blog with variations on the McDonald’s hot coffee case. In Manhattan, 77-year-old Rachel Moltner ordered a hot tea from a Starbucks, but had trouble removing the tightly-secured lid, spilling the beverage all over her. (You will recall other lawsuits complaining that the Starbucks lids are not tight enough.) Moltner not only blames Starbucks for her resulting second- and third-degree burns (and recall that the raison d’être of the Stella Liebeck suit was the false claim that only McDonald’s served beverages that were hot enough to cause third-degree burns), but for the broken bones she suffered when she fell out of bed in Lenox Hill Hospital while being treated for burns. Moltner’s asking for $3 million.
Press coverage in the NY Post (h/t P.G.) is short on legal details (though one is encouraged to see Starbucks publicly defending themselves, an apparent change in policy). But I’ve downloaded and uploaded the complaint, which was filed in state court and removed to federal court. The kitchen-sink allegations include a defective cup, defectively hot tea, and a failure to warn. Right now the parties are haggling over federal removal jurisdiction, as Starbucks waited more than thirty days after receiving the complaint–until a formal demand for money was made–to seek removal. This is an interesting example of sandbagging; if defendants remove cases simply on the possibility that alleged damages will exceed the amount-in-controversy requirement, they may incorrectly remove cases that should remain in state court, but if they wait for the formal confirmation from the plaintiff, they may face the allegation that they’ve missed the 30-day window to remove a case–something to consider when plaintiffs’ attorneys complain that defendants reflexively remove cases to federal court that don’t belong there. Moltner has a good argument that Starbucks waited too long to remove, because alleged damages would have clearly exceeded $75,000 despite the lack of an ad damnum clause in the complaint citing a number, but the consequence of such a ruling will be that defendants will be forced to prematurely remove cases that perhaps should not be removed. (Moltner v. Starbucks Coffee Co., #: 1:08-cv-09257-LAP-AJP (S.D.N.Y.)).
Lawyer Robert Bundy, representing a key witness at the Ted Stevens trial, is said to be all “torn up” about the judge’s accusation that he was transmitting secret nods and movements to convey to his client what testimony was desirable. Eric Turkewitz says that in his experience coaching during testimony takes three forms: “speaking objections”, nods and head movements (which may be unconscious), and deliberate signaling. (Oct. 7; AP/Google).
If it’s going to put me in danger of removal from state to federal court, I guess it must have just been a typo. An Arkansas federal court bought the argument. (CAFA Law Blog, Sept. 18).