“The Social Security Administration, which announced in April that it would stop trying to collect debts from the children of people who were allegedly overpaid benefits decades ago, has continued to demand such payments and now defends that practice in court documents.” Robert Vogel, an attorney for clients whose refunds were seized, charges: “Their intention was to get the press off their backs and then go back to collecting their money. It’s just shocking that they believe that when someone turns 18, they automatically assume a crushing debt that was incurred by someone else.” [Marc Fisher, Washington Post; earlier here and here]
The R.T. Davis Milling Co.’s Aunt Jemima brand of self-rising pancake mix was a big hit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, thanks in part to the efforts of Nancy Green, the first of a series of women hired (after auditions) to promote the established brand, which had been named after a vaudeville tune of the day. (It is now owned by Pepsico’s Quaker Oats subsidiary.) Green’s popularity in the role won her a lifetime contract with the company which ended with her death in 1923, but now, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal]:
a lawsuit claims that Green’s heirs as well as the descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima deserve $2 billion and a share of future revenue from sales of the popular brand.
If courts are to take statutes of limitation seriously, it is hard to see why such a suit does not deserve sanctions. If on the other hand courts are to begin ignoring statutes of limitation, Quaker might want to check into the packaging on its round box of breakfast oats, lest the heirs of William Penn (1644-1718) get any ideas. (& Debbi Baker, San Diego Union-Tribune; Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess)
Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wants to abolish the statute of limitations on sex assault charges [Scott Greenfield, Dallas News, Houston Chronicle]
Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)
The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.
And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!
More: Ed Morrissey, Megan McArdle. And here’s a Cato podcast just out on the subject in which Caleb Brown interviews me on the topic:
If you’re the federal government, one thing it’s good for is to turn a losing claim — losing because filed too late — into a possible winner. It works through something called the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), enacted by Congress in 1942 as the U.S. entered World War Two, and I explain it in this guest column for Jurist.
I’ve now done a second post in Common Good’s symposium on education and fear of liability. Among the topics I discuss: assumption of risk, statutes of limitations, sovereign immunity, and the need for some more organized way of advocating the interests of public service entities against excessive or impractical liability demands. You can read it here.
In the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Ivey DeJesus trumpets the views of a “leading legal expert,” specifically “one of the country’s leading church and state scholars” who says, contrary to a state lawmaker’s assertions, that there’s no constitutional problem with reopening lapsed statutes of limitations so as to enable child-abuse lawsuits by now-grown-up complainants. Prof. Marci Hamilton is indeed a well-known church-state scholar, and there is indeed precedent for the (perhaps strange) idea that courts will not necessarily strike down retroactive legislation as unconstitutional so long as its impacts are civil rather than criminal. But it’s not until paragraph 18 that DeJesus, after introducing the expert at length by way of her academic affiliations, bothers to add a perhaps equally relevant element of her biography: she has “represented scores of victims in the Philadelphia Archdiocese clergy sex abuse case.” Why bring that up?
Yesterday by a 9-0 vote the Supreme Court agreed with a Cato amicus brief that the Securities and Exchange Commission has no power to seek fines or penalties after the statute of limitations has expired on challenged conduct by arguing that it did not discover the conduct until recently. I’ve got a discussion at Cato at Liberty. (& SCOTUSBlog, which also hosts this opinion analysis by Jonathan Macey)
The French town of Angers might be 500 or so years too late, though. It asks a bit hopefully for the British crown jewels as compensation. [Lowering the Bar]
After we passed along a recent report that Beaumont, Texas lawyers had filed 59 lawsuits the day before the state’s new “loser-pays” package of litigation reforms was to take effect, Texas attorney Brooks Schuelke responded on Twitter as follows (re-formatted and edited for clarity), saying that the issue wasn’t the loser-pays provision, but a separate “responsible third party” provision that set a malpractice trap for lawyers that delayed: “The responsible third party provisions allowed a defendant to name a party, and then plaintiff could join them even if the statute of limitations had expired. The law was changed to remove the ability to sue regardless of the statute of limitations. But defendant can’t name a party not disclosed in discovery. The amendment means we have to file suit long before the statute of limitations expires to send discovery asking defendant to name who it might name. So many cases nearing the statute of limitations had to be filed before the effective date of the change or else they could be victim to the amendment.”
White Coat sums up a recent jury verdict: “Obstetrician ordered to pay $3 million to patient born with cerebral palsy … 18 years ago.” The doctor, from Glens Falls, N.Y., “has $2 million in insurance coverage and may have to cover $1 million of the verdict himself,” according to the story. Statutes of limitations in medical malpractice actions are often “tolled” (suspended) until a child reaches the age of majority, so that it is by no means unheard-of for families to file suit a decade and a half after a medical occurrence.
There’s no statute of limitations on child support, and Rosemary Douglas says she’s still owed the money for the birth of a son during the Truman Administration. [Houston Chronicle]
Correction/update: Commenter Patrick points out that this is an enforcement-of-judgment matter rather than a suit, and offers a reading of Texas law likely to be of interest to the alleged dad in the case.