Yesterday, in the case of Maracich v. Spears, the Supreme Court ruled that the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) prohibits trial lawyers from accessing names and contact information from states’ drivers license databases with the intention of soliciting potential clients for litigation. Under DPPA, the general rule is that states must keep the information in such databases private; there is a “litigation exception” for queries intended to investigate or prepare for legal proceedings, but the Court ruled that soliciting clients was not part of its scope. As I argue in a new post at Cato at Liberty, the dispute brought about a curious reversal in the polarities displayed in the case of Maryland v. King earlier this month: the pro-privacy justices in that case were more likely to be willing to dispense with privacy this time, and vice versa.
The underlying lawsuit (Kevin Russell at SCOTUSBlog and background here, here) also involves a bit of a reversal: class action lawyers are themselves being sued in a class action. The majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy sketches in some of the background:
In the case now before the Court, petitioners are South Carolina residents whose personal information was obtained by respondents from the South Carolina DMV and used without their consent to send solicitation letters asking them to join the lawsuits against the car dealerships. Petitioner Edward Maracich received one of the letters in March 2007. While his personal information had been disclosed to respondents because he was one of many buyers from a particular dealership, Maracich also happened to be the dealership’s director of sales and marketing. Petitioners Martha Weeks and John Tanner received letters from respondents in May 2007. In response to the letter, Tanner called Richard Harpootlian, one of the respondent attorneys listed on the letter. According to Tanner, Harpootlian made an aggressive sales pitch to sign Tanner as a client for the lawsuit without asking about the circumstances of his purchase.
Some of these points may be relevant on remand, because the court will be asked to consider whether the original solicitation letter (marked “SOLICITATION”) had the predominant purpose of investigating the developing lawsuit, or of attracting clients for it. And this leads to the third turnabout. In the second class action, the one over privacy and the lawyers’ use of the DMV database, petitioners are seeking specified statutory damages of $2,500 for each person whose privacy was breached, which could add up to an “astronomical” (as Justice Ginsburg put it in her dissent) sum of hundreds of millions of dollars in all. Indeed, the majority opinion as well as the dissent signaled disquiet at a possible assessment of damages so far out of proportion to any actual harm done — a phenomenon we have seen again and again in statutory class or group damages cases in the past. Some trial lawyers have in the past pooh-poohed, as the griping of sore losers, complaints about mechanical multiplication of statutory damages into huge sums (e.g. FACTA, junk faxes, song piracy, California Labor Code). In this case, such multiplication could pose a threat to the fiscal well-being of some of their own number. (& welcome TortsProf, Legal Ethics Forum, SCOTUSBlog, JOLT Digest (Harvard Journal of Law and Technology) readers)
A South Carolina jury awarded the default judgment against a now-defunct property management firm that had called with an eviction threat over two-months’-behind rent; the tenant in a deposition “said she had asked the manager to refrain from speaking with her mother because of her fragile health.” [Charleston Post and Courier]
I much enjoyed my trip there last week, sponsored by the Federalist Society chapter and with Prof. Jacqueline Fox providing a spirited counterpoint to my remarks on Schools for Misrule. The school has posted a Facebook photo album of the event.
I’ll be speaking at these five law schools in October, sponsored by the Federalist Society and at lunchtime unless otherwise specified:
Oct. 2, Lewis and Clark, Portland, Ore., debating Prof. Henry Drummonds, on federal quotas on disabled hiring (more).
Oct. 3, University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore., on tort law and the “invisible fist” theory (U of O calendar).
Oct. 9, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C., on Schools for Misrule, debating Prof. Jacqueline Fox (Facebook event page, FedSoc).
Oct. 29, Boston University, Boston, Mass., topic to be announced.
Oct. 30, New England School of Law, on tobacco litigation, debating Ilana Knopf.
To inquire about having me speak to your group, email editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com.
I’m set to speak in October in Boston, South Carolina, and Oregon. If you want to add on a speaking stop for me in one of these places or someplace nearby, let me know quickly before I buy air tickets. And if you’d like to book me to speak to your group, drop me a line at editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com.
“A South Carolina woman is suing the bar that served her alcohol as a minor the night she had a car accident that left her paralyzed. Chelsea Hess, 22, is also suing the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the town of Bluffton and Beaufort County for negligence for allegedly not maintaining the road shoulder she drove her car over in her accident.” [ABC via @amyalkon]
Today I’m talking to state legislators courtesy of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Next week I head off for luncheon talks about my new book Schools for Misrule before Federalist Society lawyers’ chapters in Greenville, S.C. on Wed. Dec. 7, and Charlotte, N.C. on Thurs. Dec. 8. And then the following week I keynote the annual luncheon of the Colorado Civil Justice League Dec. 13 in Denver. If you’re in the audience, do introduce yourself!
I’m currently planning speaking trips that will take me to Chicago Nov. 7-8, Greenville, S.C. Dec. 7, Denver Dec. 13, and possibly Phoenix Dec. 1. If you’ve got a speaker’s series or organization that’s in one of these places or an easy travel jump away, consider saving on travel expenses by booking me for a talk around these dates. You can contact me directly at editor – [at] – overlawyered – dot – com or Diane Morris at the Cato Institute: dmorris – [at] – cato – dot – org.
Following murmurs about pay-to-play, South Carolina has turned down offers from local powerhouse Motley Rice and from Labaton Sucharow, whose attorneys had donated $12,000 to Attorney General Alan Wilson. [The State]
More developments in “the case of the dangerously defective bra.” [Kevin Couch, Abnormal Use]
“A golfer whose arm was torn off by an alligator during a round of golf in South Carolina has sued the course’s owner under the novel theory that the design of the course created an alligator hazard.” [OnPoint News]
ABA Journal: “A South Carolina lawyer known for his TV commercials and billboards has turned over $994,000 in cash kept in a closet of his Myrtle Beach law office after a court-appointed bankruptcy investigator stressed the importance of disclosing his assets.” In initial filings, attorney Pavilack said he owed an estimated $72,500,000 to creditors and had $50,000 in assets; two months later he revised the asset disclosure upward to $8.9 million. A bankruptcy examiner says Pavilack’s financial affairs are in disarray and that it may be impossible to disentangle what he owns or where money went given a pattern of unexplained money transfers among a maze of business accounts. [Myrtle Beach Sun-News via Lowering the Bar]