18,000 Facebook shares later: a tale of legal misinformation

How efficient is social media in spreading viral-junk misinformation about the law? Well, the following post about Tuesday’s two-page Supreme Court ruling in Brakebill v. Jaeger, a case about voting procedures in North Dakota, has gotten more than 18,000 shares as of this morning:

screen capture of Facebook post
Let’s take a look at its errors, or at least the first four biggies:

1. Brakebill was not Justice Kavanaugh’s first ruling. If you so much as glance at the Court’s opinion, it’s hard to miss its second sentence: “JUSTICE KAVANAUGH took no part in the consideration or decision of this application.”

2. There is no indication that the vote was 5 to 4. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer did not join the dissent.*

3. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent contains no language even remotely like that put within quotation marks here. Her tone is technical rather than indignant, and she does not challenge anyone’s motives as illegitimate.

4. The Court did not issue a decision upholding the laws. It was a denial of an application to vacate a stay, not a ruling on the merits.

And we haven’t even gotten to the merits! Three and a half days after posting, its author has not seen fit to correct any of his errors.

Here’s a rule of thumb about social media: the more anger, the less accuracy. More on viral junk and thinking before you share here.

* A reader on Twitter points out that in the absence of a signed majority opinion, we can’t know for sure that the vote against vacating the stay necessarily came out 6-2; we know only that if there were other Justices who wanted to vacate the stay, they declined to join the Ginsburg-Kagan dissent. I’ve corrected the text above accordingly.

Banking and finance roundup

The Fourth Amendment and food trucks

Chicago has enacted a law requiring food trucks to install GPS trackers reporting their location at all times, and the Fourth Amendment might have something to say about that [Ilya Shapiro and Aaron Barnes on Cato brief in Illinois Supreme Court case of LMP Services v. Chicago; Timothy Snowball, Pacific Legal Foundation; Foodservice Equipment Reports]

Plus: “The Fourth Amendment in the Digital Age,” conversation with Julian Sanchez, Matthew Feeney, and Caleb Brown for the Cato Daily Podcast.

October 10 roundup

  • “Heisman Trophy People Sue HeismanWatch For Using Images Of The Trophy And Stating Its Name” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
  • At elite law schools, the days when a centrist liberal like Elena Kagan could offer a welcome to Federalist Society types are fast drawing to a close, writes Reihan Salam [The Atlantic]
  • Being able to link to federal court cases and legal materials would be huge: legislation from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) “would require that the courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge” [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
  • “UPDATE: Judge Rules Province Has No Duty to Recognize Bigfoot” [Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • First state with such a law: “California governor signs bill banning sale of animal-tested cosmetics” [John Bowden, The Hill]
  • North Carolina bar says lawyer “defrauded, deceived and embezzled funds from two mentally disabled clients who were declared innocent after spending 31 years in prison” [Joseph Neff, Marshall Project]

Lawyers milk Florida accident-bill law for one-way fee entitlements

A Florida law allows persons who have undergone treatment after auto mishaps to sign over to the medical provider their right to sue their insurer under so-called PIP (personal injury protection) auto coverage. Under the provisions of this assignment of benefits (AOB) law, when the medical provider sues, it is entitled to one-way attorney’s fees (payable if it prevails, but not if it loses). These attorneys’ fees can dwarf the underlying sums being sued over — amounting to about $40,000 following a $790 win in one extreme case.

Now Florida attorneys are rolling out tens of thousands of AOB suits, many of small enough quantum that they can be filed in small claims court, even if the fee entitlement thereby triggered is not so small. In Volusia County, where small claims filings more than doubled to over 12,000 cases in 2017, “a single local law firm accounted for all of that increase — and then some — by filing 8,400 cases that year…. In one example, Advantacare of Florida, represented by Kimberly Simoes, filed a lawsuit against State Farm saying the company had not paid it for services it rendered to Stephen Smith. Advantacare was awarded $789.62 according to court files. Simoes was awarded $39,985 in attorney’s fees. Attorney Mark Cederberg was awarded $3,500 for his expert testimony regarding whether Simoes’ fees were reasonable. About a month after the attorney’s fees were awarded, Advantacare dismissed the lawsuit.” [Frank Fernandez, Daytona Beach News-Journal; earlier here and here]

As I have written elsewhere, the true two-way loser-pays systems that operate in most other legal systems take care to avoid the fee-escalation incentives that typify many one-way fee entitlement laws in the U.S. In particular, they tend to hold fee recoveries below actual outlays, and often decline to reimburse fees unnecessarily expended.

Federal judge strikes down much of Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) as unconstitutional

Our September 20 Cato legal panel on the Indian Child Welfare Act (more) was more timely than I could have imagined. In the federal case of Brackeen v. Zinke, discussed on the panel, Judge Ryan O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas on October 4 declared major provisions of ICWA unconstitutional on multiple grounds including equal protection and anti-commandeering doctrine. More: Timothy Sandefur; Matthew Fletcher, TurtleTalk; Emma Platoff, Texas Tribune; John Kelly, Chronicle of Social Change.

Appeal is likely. Just before the decision, the public-radio-associated program Native America Calling had a program showcasing tribal advocates’ views. I’ve written about the Act, including its constitutional and moral infirmities, here and, as part of a Cato Unbound symposium, here.

Class action roundup

  • “For instance, linalool, which is cited as a cockroach insecticide by the law firm, is found in plants like mints and scented herbs. While it’s also used in insecticides, it’s not poisonous for humans…” [Aimee Picchi, CBS News on suit claiming that LaCroix flavored water wrongly claims “all natural” status]
  • “Appeals Court Strikes $8.7M in Legal Fees Based on Coupons in Class Action Settlement” [Ted Frank objection in ProFlowers and RedEnvelope class action; Amanda Bronstad, The Recorder] “Judge: Lawyers must justify fee requests for investor suits withdrawn vs Akorn over proxy disclosures” [Ted Frank objection in investor class action against Akorn Inc.; Jonathan Bilyk, Cook County Record]
  • Study: class action lawsuits hit innovative companies the hardest [Alex Verkhivker, Chicago Booth on study by Elisabeth Kempf of Chicago Booth and Oliver Spalt of Tilburg University]
  • “It’s Possible Woman Suing Over Sugar In ONE Protein Bars Never Actually Ate One” [Mary Ann Magnell, Legal NewsLine] And it is surprising how many reports continue to indulge the notion that typical consumer class actions spring from consumer grievance as opposed to lawyers’ entrepreneurial spotting of chances [ABA Journal on slack-fill suits]
  • “DOJ Tells Court: Class Lawyers Already Got $60M in Fees. Now They Want More? [Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal on Native American farmer case] “noting that it was difficult for him to believe the few boilerplate documents entered into the record took hundreds of hours to create. ” [D.M. Herra, Cook County Record; Western Union text messages]
  • “State Street settlement fiasco has Arkansas lawmakers questioning state’s role in class actions” [John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine, earlier here, etc.]

“Consumers are misled by some mass tort drug injury ads: new academic study”

Tort reform groups have warned for a while that trial lawyer ads hyping side effects from commonly prescribed drugs might lead some patients to go off prescribed medication regimens. Now “a new paper co-authored by University of Oregon law professor Elizabeth Tippett, a key witness at last year’s congressional hearing [raising the issue], offers some empirical evidence that drug injury ads by trial lawyers and legal marketing firms do, in fact, mislead some consumers. And when those ads are deceptively framed as health warnings, Tippett and her co-author found, patients are less likely to refill or renew prescriptions.” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]

Brett Kavanaugh confirmed by Senate, sworn in as Justice

The vote was 50-48, along party lines except for one Republican and one Democrat. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) explained her vote in a widely noted speech [video and transcript]

Commentary: Politico symposium with Ilya Shapiro, Ilya Somin, and others; David French (pro) and Benjamin Wittes (con) views of confirmation; point-counterpoint on Kavanaugh’s final hearing testimony from David Post (critical of nominee), Eugene Volokh response, David Post rejoinder. Those intent on defeating Kavanaugh pushed too far and he pushed back, galvanizing conservatives, writes John Podhoretz [Commentary] And a completely different view of judicial temperament [Noah Feldman on cantankerous Court personalities]

Motivated reasoning? Yes, a lot of that going around [Ilya Somin on “the extremely high correlation between what people think of the allegations and whether they believe Kavanaugh should be confirmed aside from them.”] “On the Fallibility of Memory and the Importance of Evidence” [Tyler Watkins, Quillette] “It’s important to listen to those who come forward—and also to those accused.” [Emily Yoffe, The Atlantic]

P.S. And not to forget that the bulk of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing discussed issues of jurisprudence; Randy Barnett sums up discussions of originalism, colloquy with Senator Kennedy, unenumerated rights and more, on stare decisis and following precedents, and on the Fourth Amendment.