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:
Lowering the Bar has a closer look at the medical basis of that $862,000 judgment on Long Island. “Did the judge add a zero by mistake?”
Before you surrender entirely to schadenfreude, reflect that the payout will come at the expense of other taxpayers. [Home Maxwell; Kay Bell, Don't Mess With Taxes] More: Lowering the Bar.
Many — most? — Des Moines taxpayers probably don’t care all that deeply whether the city extracts taxes via one broad-based method or another. But due to class-action procedure and the barriers it erects to opting out, they all get to be plaintiffs in the resulting suit, and the lawyers (self-) appointed to bring the case are expecting to pocket 37 percent, or $15 million, of the $40 million changing hands, a sum that could amount to $1,400 an hour. [Ryan Koopmans (On Brief blog), Des Moines Register, earlier]
“…Because it’s leverage in negotiating a more favorable sex-harassment settlement.” [Tim Noah] More: Ken at Popehat.
Megan McArdle says the judge seems to have dreaded only Type A and not Type B error when it comes to compensating discriminated-against farmers, and quotes more from the great Times piece:
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.” …
Accusations of unfair treatment could be checked against department files if claimants had previously received loans. But four-fifths of successful claimants had never done so. For them, “there was no way to refute what they said,” said Sandy Grammer, a former program analyst from Indiana who reviewed claims for three years. “Basically, it was a rip-off of the American taxpayers.” …
In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.
At Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz notes that legal scholars active in areas like reparations and discrimination law have up to now said little or nothing about the high quantum of fraud in the much-publicized Pigford settlements and asks (perhaps a bit rhetorically?) whether they will soon be taking note of the “public interest graft” revealed in the Times piece. And Hans Bader wonders whether the Obama administration might have avoided going down the embarrassing settlement route had it taken more seriously the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval. More: Ted Frank, Point of Law; Daniel Foster, NRO. Joel Pollak: “Even the Kinko’s guy knows about Pigford.” Earlier here, etc.
“Localities in the state spend at least $1 billion a year on judgments and other costs of lawsuits, according to preliminary data from Rockefeller College.” [Albany Times-Union]
“The Cook County Board on Tuesday agreed to pay more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle a federal lawsuit brought by female County Jail inmates who said their civil rights were violated during repeated weekend lockdowns at the massive detention facility. The bulk of the settlement — $850,000 — will go to attorneys who represented the four inmates in the nine-year court case. Two inmates won federal judgments totaling $143,000, and the county opted to pay two others $5,000 to end the suit. … In addition to the $1 million settlement, the county spent at least $732,144 over the years to pay an outside firm to defend it against the suit, according to county records.” The plaintiffs had failed in a bid for class action status. [Chicago Tribune]
“Washington [the state] is getting hit with so many lawsuits over budget cuts that it’s not clear at times who controls the state’s purse strings: lawmakers or the court system. … Overall, the state has been sued more than a dozen times because of cuts lawmakers made in recent years to curtail state spending and balance the budget.” A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the groups suing the state over cuts, describes program cuts as “violating people’s rights” and says the state should raise revenue if it doesn’t want to be sued. [Seattle Times] (& Bainbridge).
Ocean City, N.J., a municipality of 12,000 residents, has recently been coping with nine lawsuits filed by municipal workers. Among them: lifeguards aged 66 and 68 who alleged employment discrimination against them based on their age. [Douglas Bergen, Ocean City Patch via AnnMarie McDonald, New Jersey Lawsuit Abuse Watch; Press of Atlantic City].
Following the horrific murder-suicide of a woman who intentionally drowned herself and three of her four children, the woman’s estranged boyfriend is suing the city of Newburgh, N.Y. and its surrounding county for failing to prevent the crime. Joint and several liability reform would help, if only Albany were more sympathetic to the cause. [Thomas Stebbins, Poughkeepsie Journal; Daily News]
I’ve got a new blog post up at Cato on the article in yesterday’s New York Times tracing how unsustainable police and fire contracts — the product, more specifically, of a pro-union state law imposing binding arbitration on municipalities — have driven the city of Central Falls to the brink of bankruptcy. Read it here. Matt Welch discusses the same article at Reason “Hit and Run.”
San Francisco’s public contracting requirements could drive both taxpayers and vendors batty: “[C]ity purchasing policies, if followed, would mean paying about $240 for getting a copy of a key that actually cost a worker $1.35 to get done at a hardware store on his break,” according to one whistleblowing employee. [SF Chronicle via Matt Welch]
“The city of Lodi ended a long legal battle over groundwater contamination earlier this month,” accepting $6.3 million from insurers for local businesses. [Lodi News-Sentinel] We covered the convoluted litigation, in which the California city sued numerous local businesses, in reports here and here.