- U.S. Chamber’s annual lawsuit climate survey ranks Illinois as nation’s worst this year [Institute for Legal Reform]
- Withholding material helpful to the defense: “Time for a Brady-type disclosure requirement for federal government in False Claims Act litigation” [Stephen A. Wood, Washington Legal Foundation]
- “Both sides need to learn that frequently the best response to immature behavior is to ignore it. Don’t react, don’t sink to the other side’s level, don’t try to fight fire with fire.” Advice from a federal judge to the lawyers in a Florida case [Eugene Volokh; Doscher v. Apologetics Afield, Inc.]
- Expert witness follies: litigation funders are filling the old tort lawyer role of bankrolling dodgy research on which future litigation campaigns can be based [Jim Beck]
- Back in July I linked a grim assessment of Pennsylvania’s Oberdorf v. Amazon decision expanding product liability for retail platforms. Here’s a less grim one that came out around the same time [Gus Hurwitz, Truth on the Market]
- By South Florida standards, those $1 million lawsuit fraud charges against an ADA lawyer the other day aren’t especially big; last year feds shut down an auto-claims ring they said cleared $23 million and involved “chiropractors, attorneys, clinic owners and tow-truck drivers.” [Paula McMahon, South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame]
In something of a convergence, anti-tech themes have become common both among the cultural critics of the social justice Left and the populist moralists of the Right. [Corbin Barthold, Truth on the Market]
As for the stuff the industry does make, [Republican Missouri Senator Josh] Hawley wants it changed. He has introduced a bill to ban infinite scrolling, music and video autoplay, and the use of “badges and other awards” (gamification) on social media. The bill also requires defaults that limit a user’s time on a platform to 30 minutes a day. A user could opt out of this restriction, but only for a month at a stretch.
The available evidence does not bear out the notion that highbrow magazines, let alone Josh Hawley, should redesign tech products and police how people use their time. You’d probably have to pay someone around $500 to stay off Facebook for a year. Getting her to forego using Amazon would cost even more. And Google is worth more still—perhaps thousands of dollars per user per year. These figures are of course quite rough, but that just proves the point: the consumer surplus created by the internet is inestimable.
It’s priggish, but enduringly popular, to see one’s fellow humans as being merely entrapped by the temptation to use new technology in frivolous or destructive ways, incapable of turning them to solid benefit. “When a lantern inventor obtained a patent to light London, observed Macaulay, ‘the cause of darkness was not left undefended.'”
I join Cato colleagues Ryan Bourne and Caleb Brown to discuss the rise and fall of tech monopolies over the years. Related here.
- Hearse driver in HOV lane to highway patrol: you mean I can’t count the corpse as a passenger? [Michelle Lou, CNN]
- “Caterpillar Now Going After All The Cats For Trademark Cancellations” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt, earlier]
- Before trying to open a storefront business in San Francisco you might look to this advice from commercial real estate brokers about the city’s zoning and permit hurdles, and please quit using words like “bonkers” or “flabbergasting” [Robert Fruchtman Twitter thread]
- “Lawyer engaged in ‘sustained campaign of unfounded litigation,’ disbarment recommendation says” [ABA Journal; Waukegan, Illinois]
- Breaking from two other federal appeals courts, Third Circuit rules that Amazon as a platform can be sued under strict liability principles over defective items sold by third-party vendors on its site [Brendan Pierson, Reuters] Should the ruling stand, implications for online marketplaces are dire [Eric Goldman]
- New challenges for Mathew Higbee, high volume copyright enforcement lawyer, and his clients [Paul Alan Levy, more, earlier]
- “The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation” [Matthew Lesh, Quillette] New Congressional Research Service report on free speech and the regulation of social media content [Valerie C. Brannon, Congressional Research Service]
- “A social media campaign from the French government has been blocked by Twitter – because of the government’s own anti-fake-news law” [BBC via Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- European authorities misidentify many pages on Internet Archive as “terrorist,” demand takedown [Mike Masnick, Techdirt]
- Armslist case is one in which Section 230 protected Second Amendment rights (that’s not a misprint for First) [John Samples, Cato; Eugene Volokh]
- Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)’s bill to require the largest social media firms to obtain certification of their political balance from the FTC, on pain of making them liable for all content posted by users, met with hail of dead cats from knowledgeable observers [Elliot Harmon/EFF, John Samples/Cato and more, Cathy Gellis, Joshua Wright thread, Eric Goldman, Raffi Malkonian on retroactivity and more, Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason] Related: Daphne Keller (“Build Your Own Intermediary Liability Law: A Kit for Policy Wonks of All Ages”);
- “We sympathize with Plaintiffs — they suffered through one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. ‘But not everything is redressable in a court.'” [Sixth Circuit, Crosby v. Twitter, affirming dismissal of lawsuits seeking to hold Twitter, Facebook, and Google liable under Anti-Terrorism Act for abetting self-radicalization of perpetrator of Orlando Pulse attack]
- Not headed to Gotham after all: “The RWDSU union was interested in organizing the Whole Foods grocery store workers, a subsidiary owned by Amazon, and they deployed several ‘community based organizations’ (which RWDSU funds) to oppose the Amazon transaction as negotiation leverage. It backfired.” [Alex Tabarrok]
- “NLRB reverses course and restores some sense to its concerted activity rules” [Jon Hyman, earlier]
- Among papers at the Hoover Institution’s conference last summer on “Land, Labor, and the Rule of Law”: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, “Executive Branch Overreach in Labor Regulation” discusses persuader, fiduciary, overtime, joint employer, independent contractor, federal contract blacklist, campus recruitment as age discrimination, and more; Price Fishback, “Rule of Law in Labor Relations, 1898-1940” on how reducing violence was a key objective of pro-union laws, anti-union laws, and arbitration laws; and related video; Christos Andreas Makridis, “Do Right-to-Work Laws Work? Evidence from Individual Well-being and Economic Sentiment” (“Contrary to conventional wisdom, RTW laws raise employee well-being and sentiment by improving workplace conditions and culture”) and related video;
- Relief coming on NLRB’s Browning-Ferris joint employer initiative? [Federalist Society panel video with Richard Epstein, Richard F. Griffin, Jr., Philip Miscimarra, moderated by Judge Timothy Tymkovich; Philip Rosen et al., Jackson Lewis; earlier]
- “Production company hires union labor after Boston officials allegedly threaten to withhold permits for music festivals. District court: Can’t try the officials for extortion because they didn’t obtain any personal benefit; the alleged benefits went to the union. First Circuit: The indictment should not have been dismissed.” [John K. Ross, IJ “Short Circuit,” on U.S. v. Brissette, earlier]
- In 1922 a brutal mob attack resulted in the slaughter of 23 strikebreakers in Herrin, Illinois. Maybe something that should be taught in schools? [Robby Soave, Reason]
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), along with similarly heavy-handed regimes such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act, entrenches established platforms that have the resources to meet their onerous compliance requirements. Since the GDPR’s implementation in May, the rank and market share of small- and medium-sized ad tech companies has declined by 18 to 32 percent in the EU, while these measures have increased for Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Via Alex Stamos thread on Twitter (“Anybody wonder why the big tech companies didn’t really fight that hard against GDPR? It isn’t due to a newfound love of regulation”) by way of James Pethokoukis; more, Antonio García Martínez.
Which means you can’t sue Amazon if your hoverboard burns your house down [Ari Levy, CNBC]
Data portability mandates on tech companies like Facebook are sometimes conceived as a way to bring about more competitive market structures pleasing to antitrust enforcers by engineering a less “sticky” consumer experience. But is it really much of a solution to anything? [Alex Tabarrok citing Will Rinehart, American Action Forum; more, Tyler Cowen]
As we mentioned in a brief earlier item, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has “directed the Department of Financial Services to urge insurance companies, New York State-chartered banks, and other financial services companies licensed in New York to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety.” [Cuomo press release] Maria T. Vullo, Superintendent of Financial Services for the state of New York, issued a guidance memorandum. In language not altogether typical of safety-and-soundness financial regulation, Vullo wrote:
While the social backlash against the National Rifle Association (the “NRA”) and similar organizations that promote guns that lead to senseless violence has in the past been strong, the nature and the intensity of the voices now speaking out, including the voices of the passionate, courageous, and articulate young people who have experienced this recent horror first hand, is a strong reminder that such voices can no longer be ignored and that society, as a whole, has a responsibility to act and is no longer willing to stand by and wait and witness more tragedies caused by gun violence, but instead is demanding change now.
Brian Knight writes at FinRegRag:
This request could easily be construed is a thinly veiled threat. While the NYDFS statement does not explicitly say that NY FIs (financial institutions) that may face regulatory sanction for failing to cut ties with the NRA, it doesn’t rule out the possibility either. If the NYDFS had no intention of threatening regulatory sanctions, they could clearly have added language taking the threat of enforcement off of the table. They didn’t, which indicates they want NY FIs to think there is a potential the government will come after them if they don’t end their relationships with groups like the NRA.
These instructions to NY FIs could also be seen as an attempt to suppress political speech that some New York policy makers disagree with. Whatever one thinks of the NRA, it is an organization engaged in legal political speech and advocacy. Cutting off the NRA’s access to financial services could change the political debate by reducing opposition to political efforts to tighten gun laws. The NYDFS release says, “This is not just a matter of reputation, it is a matter of public safety, and working together, we can put an end to gun violence in New York once and for all.” Given that the NRA does not make a product that could pose a direct risk to public safety, this release is clearly referencing the NRA’s political advocacy.
Knight compares the initiative to the Operation Choke Point episode, in which federal regulators steered banks away from dealing with various controversial but lawful lines of business, including some that were politically fraught. But in that episode, at least, the target enterprises were primarily engaged in the sale of goods and services and thus might in principle have faced financial risks related by fraud or unfulfillable obligations to customers.
The NYDFS order appears to be inherently about political speech. After all, there is no allegation that the NRA is committing fraud against its members. Rather, the argument is that the NRA’s positions are so dangerous that they are harmful to the community and pose a risk to the reputation of any FI that works with them. This could fairly be seen as an attempt to restrict the NRA’s ability to operate in the political arena and marketplace of ideals.
The guidance memorandum might thus accomplish by indirection what it would be plainly improper for the state to attempt directly:
There is no law that says a FI (financial institution) cannot do business with a gun rights group and such a law would almost assuredly be unconstitutional. However if the regulator declares that such an affiliation poses a reputational risk to the FI (that the regulator, not the market, determined existed), it has leverage to force the FI to comply.
The NRA has filed a suit against the governor and New York officials saying the program amounts to “coercion” aimed at depriving the association and its constituents of First Amendment rights. More: Scott Greenfield.
Meanwhile, in other news of regulatory retaliation — see also our tag on that — U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly urged the U.S. Postal Service to double its rates for handling packages shipped by Amazon.com, linked in his mind through founder Jeff Bezos with his journalistic nemesis the Washington Post. Postmaster General Megan Brennan is said to have “resisted Trump’s suggestion in private conversations in 2017 and 2018, telling him that package delivery rates are set by contract and reviewed by an independent commission” and that the Postal Service does not get a bad deal from its arrangements with Amazon and other e-commerce firms. [Reuters]