It may be worse than before class action lawyers got involved, argues Ted Frank [Point of Law]
Ted’s successful 7th Circuit objection in June in a Sears shareholder class action (Easterbrook: “The only goal of this suit appears to be fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers”), which raised widespread discussion, is just one in a string of wins for his Center for Class Action Fairness in recent months. In a settlement involving complaints against Classmates.com, the judge agreed with the arguments of CCAF client (and George Mason lawprof) Michael Krauss, rapped class counsel’s knuckles with a $100,000 sanction for discovery tactics that amounted to harassment (see section III-D), and ordered a better deal for class members [PoL] And in yet another noteworthy case: “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a settlement of a class action over potentially leaky Volkswagen sunroofs that would have paid the lawyers who negotiated it $9.2 million in fees and the majority of car owners nothing.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Ted at PoL, earlier]
Ted makes it big with a profile that focuses on his class-action objection work (as opposed to his stellar blogging at this site). More: Larry Ribstein.
Ted Frank’s class action settlement reform group, the Center for Class Action Fairness, has announced “multiple victories” in ongoing cases arising from settlements by Apple, Classmates.com, Toyota, HP, and gasoline retailers. Among the topics addressed in objection: exaggeration of benefits supposedly provided for the class, excessive attorney fees, and diversion of proceeds to groups unrelated to the class. Details here.
“A defense lawyer’s fleeting reference to the ‘uniquely iconic’ McDonald’s coffee case was enough for the Utah Supreme Court to order a new trial in a pedestrian accident lawsuit and allow the plaintiff to seek a larger damages award.” [Matthew Heller/OnPoint News; Jodie Hill/Downtown Lawyer] And Abnormal Use is out with a new interview of Ted Frank, who has written frequently on the hot-coffee case for this site, and who says:
The Stella Liebeck case was exactly the sort of thing that turns into an urban legend, and there are certainly a lot of inaccuracies that crept into the story as it went viral. The Liebeck case got politicized, however: it was an outrageous result and picked up as a poster child for tort reform, and, fascinatingly, the trial lawyer lobby, instead of reasonably saying “Look: the justice system is never going to be 100 percent correct, there have been a dozen hot coffee cases before this one where the courts got it right and threw it out, and you can’t make public policy based on a single anecdote just because the judge made a mistake here” decided to engage in a misinformation campaign to argue that the Liebeck case was both correct and an aspirational result for our tort system – and a disturbing number of law professors joined that cause. If you Google for the case, the vast majority of results are trial-lawyer sites filled with misstatements of the facts and laws. It’s gotten to the point that, in the majority of tort reform debates I participate in, it’s the trial lawyer who is the first to introduce the subject. I’ve been following the case and rebutting the misinformation on both sides since it first made the news, and it just so happens that the majority of misinformation is coming from the plaintiffs’ lawyer side these days. One of these days, I’ll lock myself in a room for a couple of weeks and write a law review article on the subject so there can be a one stop place for truthful information and arguments about the case.
I, too, gave a lot of thought to writing up the long controversy over the Liebeck case in my latest book, precisely because academic sources, and not just trial-lawyer publicists, persistently spread distortions and misconceptions about the case. Eventually it seemed like too wide a digression from the book’s main themes — but someone still needs to write up that story.
Ted Frank, who’s challenging the Cobell (Indian trust) class action fees as part of his work with the Center for Class Action Fairness, catches out a lawyer who claims to have worked for more than nine hours a day on the case for 14 years, including a 7-year stretch in which he purportedly worked “an average of eleven hours a day, every day seven days a week without a single day off.” [Above the Law, earlier]
The problem, Ted writes in the Examiner, isn’t that the class action is “too large” — even very large classes can sometimes fit the law’s requirements that each claim be identical in nature and capable of standing or falling together.
But the theory of the Dukes lawsuit is exactly the opposite: the plaintiffs claimed that Wal-Mart’s central office did not exercise enough authority over each of its 3,400 stores; each of the individual managers’ discretionary employment or promotion decisions–whether made by male or female managers–was, on average, discriminatory; and thus Wal-Mart was responsible for a policy that “fosters or facilitates” discrimination. …
The discrimination laws permit Wal-Mart to defend itself by demonstrating that the challenged job decision was made for a reason other than gender. For example, looking at Betty Dukes, the named plaintiff, alone, we learn that she had a female manager and that she was repeatedly disciplined for returning late from lunch breaks. …Wal-Mart is stripped of its defense because the individualized defense would be inconvenient to trying the case as a class action. …
If the Supreme Court rules in Wal-Mart’s favor later this year, it will not be to protect business, but to protect due process.