Posts Tagged ‘legal extortion’

Tyna Marie Robertson back in the news

Readers may remember the episode in which Michael Flatley, impresario of the “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” Irish extravaganzas, was falsely accused of rape by a woman who then demanded money. After the California Supreme Court, in a pioneering ruling, found that Flatley could countersue for extortion, he obtained a large default judgment against Tyna Marie Robertson, who, as noted in a news report we quoted at the time, “had dated other wealthy and well-known men through the years — relationships that sometimes ended in litigation”.

Now Robertson is back in the news leveling bizarre charges against another of her former paramours, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. Lowering the Bar has details (Dec. 14).

A question about the AutoAdmit litigation

The WSJ Law Blog reports that the two Yale Law women suing AutoAdmit/XOXOHTH posters are “seeking to resolve their claims against these defendants” without amending the complaint to name their identities, obtained over the course of a variety of subpoenas.  Thus, the recent amended complaint named only a single AutoAdmit poster, Matthew C. Ryan, who had apparently refused to settle–perhaps because while Ryan’s comments were obnoxious, they were not legally actionable.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it historically the case that someone who says “Pay me money or I will file a lawsuit and issue press releases that reveal private facts you find to be embarrassing” guilty of blackmail or extortion in other contexts?  What distinguishes this case–especially when the underlying allegations are so legally flimsy?

Deep pocket files: The Great White shakedown winds down

Sealed Air makes polyethylene foam for packaging material. The Great White plaintiffs allege that polyethylene foam in the soundproofing was part of the reason the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire spread so fast, killing 100–though they have no evidence that Sealed Air manufactured the foam in the club, not to mention the fact that the packing foam was never intended to be used as building material. Not to worry: with joint and several liability in Rhode Island, Sealed Air faced billions of dollars of potential liability because all of the other deep pockets (dozens of defendants ranging from a radio station to four other foam manufacturers to Anheuser-Busch to the bus that transported the band to the concert to a television station that covered the fire) have settled, Sealed Air couldn’t risk being held even 1% liable, especially given that at a trial plaintiffs would have no incentive to blame empty-chair or empty-pocket or settling defendants. Sealed Air will pay $25 million in protection money. (AP; Providence Journal; TortsProf). The miscarriage of justice continues, but the remaining defendants are apparently judgment-proof.

Grand Theft Auto: Class Action – The Frank Brief

Full proof that I don’t think all pro se representation is a bad thing: Following up our previous discussion of the GTA class action settlement and my objection: This morning, Friday, June 6, I filed this brief (which unlike the previous brief, I wrote myself), in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motions for court approval of the settlement and attorneys’ fees, in the Southern District of New York and served it upon counsel. With luck, I didn’t file the wrong brief.

Read On…

New York court: proof of insurance fraud doesn’t entitle insurance companies to summary judgment

If you wonder why insurance fraud and insurance expense are so high in New York state it’s because of opinions like AA Acupuncture Service v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company. (The fact that the plaintiff is a quack-upuncturist immediately suggests problems, no?) Civil Court Judge Arlene P. Bluth agreed that there was “uncontradicted, overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that an accident had been faked. But State Farm was still not entitled to summary judgment on the litigation of bad-faith claims by three medical providers who insisted that State Farm was liable as the insurer of the woman who claimed to have been injured in the accident. (Plaintiffs deny fraud, though apparently wasn’t able to rebut the evidence of fraud at the motion stage.)

Read On…

Breaking: Merck wins two more Vioxx cases on appeal

AP reports a Texas court has thrown out the infamous Ernst $26 million judgment; a New Jersey court has tossed $9 million of the judgment in McDarby. More details on Point of Law as available.

Ernst was the first Vioxx suit to go to trial. A jury awarded $253 million. Mark Lanier waited months before asking for a final judgment; at the time, I suggested that this was because he knew the case would be reversed on appeal, and did not want the bad publicity. Indeed, the appellate decision perhaps comes too late for Merck: the number of lawsuits increased from 6000 to 60000 in the months following publicity over the jury verdict, costing Merck billions of dollars in the later extortionate settlement.

With these two decisions, only three plaintiffs’ verdicts in favor of Merck remain.

Update: I still haven’t seen the McDarby decision, but an updated AP story indicates that it upheld the compensatory damages of $4.5 million, overturned the $9 million punitive damages verdict, and overturned the consumer-fraud judgment (which also saves Merck millions of dollars in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees).

February 23 roundup

  • Easterbrook: “One who misuses litigation to obtain money to which he is not entitled is hardly in a position to insist that the court now proceed to address his legitimate claims, if any there are…. Plaintiffs have behaved like a pack of weasels and can’t expect any part of their tale be believed.” [Ridge Chrysler v. Daimler Chrysler via Decision of the Day]
  • Retail stores and their lawyers find sending scare letters with implausible threats of litigation against accused shoplifters mildly profitable. [WSJ]
  • Kentucky exploring ways to reform mass-tort litigation in wake of fen-phen scandal. [Mass Tort Prof; Torts Prof; AP/Herald-Dispatch; earlier: Frank @ American]
  • After Posner opinion, expert should be looking for other lines of work. [Kirkendall; Emerald Investments v. Allmerica Financial Life Insurance & Annuity]
  • Judge reduces jury verdict in Premarin & Prempro case to “only” $58 million. And I still haven’t seen anyone explain why it makes sense for a judge to decide damages awards were “the result of passion and prejudice,” but uphold a liability finding from the same impassioned and prejudiced jury. Wyeth will appeal. [W$J via Burch; AP/Business Week]
  • Judge lets lawyers get to private MySpace and Facebook postings. [OnPoint; also Feb. 19]
  • Nanny staters’ implausible case for regulating salt. [Sara Wexler @ American; earlier: Nov. 2002]
  • Doctor: usually it’s cheaper to pay than to go to court. [GNIF BrainBlogger]
  • Trial lawyers in Colorado move to eviscerate non-economic damages cap in malpractice cases [Rocky Mountain News]
  • Bonin: don’t regulate free speech on the Internet in the name of “campaign finance” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
  • “Executives face greater risks—but investors are no safer.” [City Journal]
  • Professors discuss adverse ripple effects from law school affirmative action without mentioning affirmative action. Paging Richard Sander. Note also the absence of “disparate impact” from the discussion. [PrawfsBlawg; Blackprof]
  • ATL commenters debate my American piece on Edwards. [Above the Law]

The Patent Reform Act of 2007

My latest Liability Outlook is on the Patent Reform Act of 2007:

Despite some in the media calling patent reform dead, on January 24, 2008, the Senate placed S. 1145, the Patent Reform Act of 2007, on the general calendar. The next few weeks will be critical to the legislation, which the House passed in September. Although much of the discussion has focused on the different perspectives and concerns that the high tech and the biotech/pharma industries have about the legislation, the fact remains that the patent litigation system is broken. Congress should make every effort to fix it by writing into this legislation reasonable formulas for damage awards and venue rules that discourage forum-shopping. …

Affiliates of Erich Spangenberg’s Plutus IP have sued 476 different defendants in 42 lawsuits. The vast majority of those lawsuits allege infringements of patents that Plutus IP purchased for $1,000. The use of invalid patents in litigation is more than theoretical. Philip Jackson sued his attorneys, Chicago plaintiffs firm Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro, for malpractice after his $12.1 million jury verdict against Glenayre Electronics Inc. was reduced to under $3 million; Niro challenged the malpractice suit by claiming that th e patent Jackson had successfully enforced was invalid. In 2006, approximately 6,000 defendants were sued in 2,800 patent cases; in 2007, the six thousand mark was reached in early October, implying a 30 percent increase in patent litigation in a single year. Such litigation stifles substantial technological innovation. Patent trolls claim to block entire fields, and one cannot hope to innovate in these areas without the financial capital to handle the threat of patent litigation. IBM has 370 corporate patent attorneys, not just to avoid the pitfalls of infringement, but to create a patent portfolio that can provide counterclaims (or cross-licensing opportunities) if a commercial entity were to sue them for infringement. Since the late 1990s, patent litigation costs have outstripped patent profits.