Twenty years after the multistate tobacco settlement, cigarette companies are mostly not facing suits in the U.S. for damages to individual smokers’ health — except in Florida, with its Engle line of cases. [Fair Warning/Industrial Safety and Hygiene News; earlier here, here, and more]
Federal judges have fined the Jacksonville law firm of Farah & Farah $9.1 million over improperly handled claims against a fund set up after litigation to compensate smokers in the state of Florida [WTLV/First Coast News]:
The judges’ order states 1,250 frivolous tobacco claims were filed by Farah & Farah and the Wilner Firm against the Engle Trust Fund….
…cases filed collectively by Jacksonville attorneys Charlie Farah and Norwood Wilner prompted a U.S. Attorney Special Master seven month investigation into possible misconduct in 2012.
The investigation revealed some cases filed by the attorneys were for deceased clients, non-smokers, those who did not suffer from one of the required diseases, and 572 that did not authorize the attorneys to file lawsuits on their behalf.
More: Glenn Lammi.
The Florida Supreme Court has backed an appeals court’s dismissal of the absurd $145 billion verdict against cigarette makers in the Engle case. The court’s opinion is split in complicated ways, but the defeat for attorney Stanley Rosenblatt is unmistakable. (Daniel Pimlott, “$145bn award against tobacco giants goes up in smoke”, Financial Times/MSNBC, Jul. 6). The opinion is here (PDF)(via Bashman). I’ve written extensively about the Engle case at earlier stages, including op-eds for the Wall Street Journal Jul. 12, 1999, Jul. 18, 2000 and May 23, 2003. Much more background here.
One more try to keep the circus going, from Miami lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt and friends. If the Florida Supreme Court doesn’t agree with them, it’s all over. (Paul Curcio, “Fla. Justices Asked to Reinstate $145 Billion Award in Tobacco Suit”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 4). See May 15 and links from there.
The “Florida Supreme Court has agreed to review last year’s Miami appellate court decision that vacated a record-setting $145 billion punitive damage verdict against the nation’s largest cigarette companies.” We’ve had a lot to say over the years about the travesty that is the Engle case: see Jul. 12, 1999; Jul. 18, 2000; Mar. 23, Jun. 24 and Aug. 3, 2003; other posts on this site. (Laurie Cunningham, “Fla. High Court to Review $145 Billion Tobacco Case”, Miami Daily Business Review, May 13).
To no one’s surprise, plaintiff’s lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt are seeking en banc review by an 11-member Florida appeals court of the demise of their $145 billion verdict against the tobacco industry in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds. (“Florida smokers to appeal $145 billion lawsuit”, Reuters/Forbes.com, Jul. 16). Perhaps hinting at desperation, their banner argument is that the appeals panel engaged in “judicial plagiarism” because it adopted wholesale in its opinion vast tracts of language from defense briefs — even though this particular form of supposed plagiarism is entirely routine in court opinions when judges consider one side’s briefs convincing and do not expect that they will be able to improve on the style of the briefs’ presentation (Siobhan Morrissey, “A Case of Judicial Plagiarism?”, ABA Journal E-Report, Aug. 1). More: Gary Young, “Plagiarism Charges Plague Tobacco Decision”, National Law Journal, Aug. 21. Update May 15, 2004: Fla. Supreme Court agrees to hear case.
Assuming the $145 billion punitive damages verdict in the Florida tobacco class action is not revived by the state’s supreme court, one major loose end remains, but it’s a really big one. Three tobacco companies agreed to fork over $710 million in exchange for class counsel’s agreeing “not to challenge a new state law, passed at the behest of the cigarette makers, capping appeals bonds at $100 million.” The enormous sum was placed in escrow for the class, but now the class does not exist since it’s been decertified. Does the class somehow get reconstituted for purposes of dividing the booty? Does it go back to the defendants? To some worthy cause? And how much of it, if any, are plaintiff’s lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt going to be allowed to grab for themselves? The agreement between the Rosenblatts and the three companies says nothing about decertification. (Matthew Haggman, “The $710 Million Question”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jun. 19).
For a lawyer to do that once might seem bad luck, to do it 588 times seems rather like carelessness. [Beck on Eleventh Circuit review of Engle tobacco cases in Florida] Excerpt:
The district court displayed the patience of Job – for a long time it tried to get the plaintiffs to do after filing, what Rule 11 requires them to do beforehand, that is, to perform basic investigation of their cases. …
The court held, with remarkable restraint, that counsel’s inability to track down its own clients before the Engel filing deadline “was at least partially a problem of its own making” because they “signed up so many clients.” …
Maybe Engle Cases is an extreme example, but the problem this litigation exemplifies – massive solicitation of would-be plaintiffs, combined with utter disregard of pre-filing obligations such as Rule 11 – is present in just about every mass tort. In Engle Cases, out of the “4500 cases” originally filed, in the end “we are dealing with 29 ? and heading to 26.” The dirty little not-so-secret of mass tort practice is that the great majority (here it looks like more than 99%) of the cases clogging up the courts would be thrown out with little or no discovery if brought individually.
- Willingness of Connecticut courts to order accommodation of mental disorders is not limitless, as in case of “dazed and confused” teacher who “frequently reported to the wrong school or for the wrong class” [Chris Engler at Dan Schwartz’s Connecticut Employment Law Blog; Langello v. West Haven Board of Education]
- “‘Seinfeld’ diner sued for not being handicap-friendly” [NY Post] Florida lawyers descend on New Jersey to file ADA suits [N.J. Civil Justice Institute]
- “Plaintiffs want to expand lawsuit against Disney for how it treats guests with autism” [Orlando Sentinel]
- It’s “sad that we need a federal appellate court to remind us” that ADA’s protection of alcoholism does not actually immunize worker fired after repeatedly driving municipal employer’s vehicles drunk [Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer Law Blog]
- “Employers beware: EEOC appears to be stepping up disability discrimination enforcement” [Hyman] EEOC sues Wal-Mart over firing of intellectually disabled employee [Rockford Register-Star, EEOC]
- Nice crowd your ADA racket attracts, California [Modesto Bee]
- Argument: Employers that use “emotional intelligence” measurement in evaluating job applicants may be violating ADA rights of those with autism [Michael John Carley, HuffPo]