Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

January 15 roundup

  • Client’s suit against Houston tort lawyer George Fleming alleges that cost of echocardiograms done on other prospective clients was deducted as expenses from her fen-phen settlement [Texas Lawyer]
  • Preparing to administer bar exam, New York Board of Law Examiners isn’t taking any chances, will require hopefuls to sign liability waivers [ABA Journal]
  • Thanks to Steven Erickson for guestblogging last week, check out his blogging elsewhere [Crime & Consequences, e.g.]
  • “Freedom of speech” regarded as Yankee concept at Canadian tribunal? [Steyn @ NRO Corner; reactions]
  • Court rules Dan Rather suit against CBS can go to discovery [NYMag; earlier here, here]
  • Served seventeen years in prison on conviction for murdering his parents, till doubts on his guilt grew too loud to ignore [Martin Tankleff case]
  • Orin Kerr and commenters discuss Gomez v. Pueblo County, the recent case where inmate sued jail for (among other things) making it too easy for him to escape [Volokh]
  • New at Point of Law: Cleveland’s suit against subprime lending is even worse than Baltimore’s; Massachusetts takes our advice and adopts payee notification; law firm websites often promote medical misinformation; lawyer for skier suing 8-year-old boy wants court to stop family from talking to the press; Ted rounds up developments in Vioxx litigation once and then again; guess where you’ll find a handsome statue of Adam Smith; and much more;
  • Good news for “resourceful cuckolds” as courts let stand $750,000 alienation of affection award to wronged Mississippi husband [The Line Is Here;]
  • Kimball County, Nebraska cops don’t know whether that $69,040 in cash they seized from a car is going to be traceable to drug traffickers, but plan to keep it in any case [Omaha World-Herald via The Line Is Here]
  • Hunter falls out of tree, and Geoffrey Fieger finds someone for him to sue [seven years ago on Overlawyered]

Racially “targeting” predatory subprime loans? The NAACP and Baltimore suits

Cross-posted from Point of Law.

Says the NAACP complaint: “In 2004, African-American homeowners who received subprime mortgage loans from Defendants were over 30% more likely to be issued a higher-rate loan than Caucasian borrowers with the same qualifications.” (¶ 1.) Thus, it concludes, the disparity “result[s] from a systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans.” (¶ 6.)

Similarly, Baltimore’s suit argues that Wells Fargo is more likely to foreclose in African-American neighborhoods—and that suit does not even attempt to adjust for similar qualifications or finances, just alleging racial disparity.

Of course, there is a difference between being targeted for a subprime mortgage loan and accepting a subprime mortgage loan. And I don’t believe that African-American homeowners were targeted for subprime mortgage loans because they were African-American. They were targeted because they were homeowners.

Between 2001 and 2005, I was a law-firm associate, high-income, making multiples of what I make today at a thinktank. And, like I am today, I was also white. And the minute my adjustable-rate mortgage was registered in the title books in 2001, I got several solicitations a week in the mail from fly-by-night mortgage brokers offering to refinance my mortgage with ludicrous financial products. (And when I made the mistake of investigating on-line options for switching to a fixed-rate mortgage in 2004, I also got several e-mails a day and phone-calls a month on the same basis to the point that I switched e-mail providers.)

Somehow, I resisted refinancing with a mortgage that was not favorable to me in the long run—I took a 5.25% fixed-rate instead. But I sure was targeted with subprime opportunities, especially as the real-estate prices in my neighborhood skyrocketed about 10% a year. And if, with my skin-color, income, education-level, and impeccable credit-score, I was targeted, so was every homeowner and their grandmother.

To the extent a statistical study says minorities were, ceteris paribus, more likely to receive unfavorable mortgages than whites, the study reflects a specification error, perhaps in failing to account for different levels of consumer education. Another possibility: there is a lot of state-by-state regulation of the mortgage industry. Are subprime mortgages more likely in states with high minority populations, for example? Are subprime mortgage brokers more likely to be aggressive in urban areas in states on the coasts where real estate prices were increasing faster than average, and those states correspond to states with high minority populations?

Note that the CRL study that has been driving the debate and highlighted in the NAACP suit finds that for many types of loans, whites were “disadvantaged” relative to Hispanics, which would seem to count against a racial explanation (unless one believes that bankers hold a racial animus against whites and towards Hispanics) and more towards a geographic explanation.

Note also the irony that these same defendants were accused of failing to offer loans to African-Americans just a few years ago. (See also Apr. 1.)

Finally, note that the NAACP complaint is legally frivolous in at least one respect because of the lack of standing in a federal court. Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470 (2006) (no § 1981 standing for third parties). (Baltimore brings no § 1981 claim.) Fair Housing Act standing is questionable, too, given the lack of allegation of injury to NAACP in particular, though that could be fairly easily rectified by an amended complaint, especially in the Ninth Circuit. Cf. Spann v. Colonial Vill., Inc., 899 F.2d 24 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (“[a]n organization cannot, of course, manufacture the injury necessary to maintain a suit from its expenditure of resources on that very suit”) (R. Bader Ginsburg, J.); Fair Housing of Marin v. Combs, 285 F.3d 899, 902 (9th Cir. 2002). N.B. that there is an amended version of the NAACP complaint that may already fix these issues. NAACP v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., No. 8:07-cv-00794-AG-AN (C.D. Cal.). For some reason, this is not available on PACER, so I haven’t seen it.

Related: Jan. 8 (Krauss on Baltimore suit); Apr. 25 (me on third-party liability for subprime lending).

(Disclosure: I own less than $15,000 in stock in Citigroup, one of the defendants in the case.)

Even more on autism and thimerosal

Ronald Bailey at Reason’s blog Hit & Run discusses a recent article by Stephanie Desmon in the Baltimore Sun on the topic. Ron rightly mentions the end result of all the fuss over thimerosal in vaccines: worried parents, unvaccinated kids and more expensive vaccines. As I mentioned earlier this week, a recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry also cast doubt on the supposed link.

The right to be injured, redux?

Power tools manufacturer Black & Decker Corp. rejected Victor Breehne for a ”highly wrist-sensitive job” at a Tennessee plant after medical tests suggested that Breehne was vulnerable to carpal-tunnel syndrome. Now he’s suing, charging that the rejection violates the Americans with Disabilities Act:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has challenged the use of such tests, which aren’t uncommon in manufacturing settings, on ADA grounds. But it lost a federal lawsuit in 2001 against Rockwell Automation Inc. after that company denied jobs to 72 applicants at an Illinois plant.

(Allison Connolly, “B&D sued after it rescinds job offer”, Baltimore Sun, Oct. 16; “Man sues after job offer rescinded over carpal tunnel test”, Reliable Plant, Oct. 17). For the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Echabazal v. Chevron, in which the Court (over vociferous protests from some disabled-rights advocates) unanimously ruled that an employer was not obliged to hire a disabled applicant who was at greater risk of injury and death than other workers, see Mar. 1-3, 2002 and links from there.

August 27 roundup

Particles in power steering fluid not responsible for crash

Many of the frivolous suits we cover here on Overlawyered are laugh-out-loud outrageous; but (as the plaintiff’s bar will trumpet in self-defense) these represent only a small fraction of lawsuits. (Of course, even at a small percentage, there’s enough of them for us to blog about them nearly every day.) Most of the suits that make up the “high cost of our legal system” are much more mundane — though not necessarily any less legally ridiculous or less costly. Take a decision handed down last month by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a lawsuit against Nissan. (PDF)

In August 1997 — note the date here — a bunch of high school kids were driving around after school in a 1987 Nissan Sentra. The driver, who may or may not have been “speeding and driving recklessly,” depending on who you believe, lost control of the car. The car flipped over, and one of the passengers, Troy Boss (who, by the way, wasn’t wearing a seat belt), ended up paralyzed.

Thus endeth the tragic story, and thus beginneth Boss’s quest for deep pockets. (Which was also tragic, but only for Boss’s victims.) First, Boss settled his claims against the person actually responsible for the accident — Stacy Harmon, the driver of the car. Then, hunting around, Boss and his attorney decided that the only truly deep pocket they could find was Nissan, which somehow was responsible for a teenager crashing a 10-year old car. So, in February 2002 — five years after the accident — he filed a $50 million suit in Baltimore against Nissan, Jiffy Lube (which had done an oil change on the car), a company called Eberle Enterprises (which had done the state auto inspection when Harmon bought the car), and a woman named Elizabeth Aldridge (who had sold the used car to Harmon several months earlier for $750). The theory that Boss came up with? That Nissan manufactured the car defectively, in such a way that “particles” in the power steering fluid mysteriously jammed the steering mechanism in some way, causing the car to swerve.

But if that was Boss’s theory, you might wonder why Boss sued all those other defendants. What does an oil change have to do with power steering fluid? What does the prior owner of the car have to do with power steering fluid? What does a routine car inspection — which does not, by state law, involve power steering fluid — have to do with anything? The answer to all three questions? Nothing at all. So why were they in the case? One reason, and one reason only: by fraudulently joining them as defendants, Boss hoped to keep the case in state court, to destroy diversity. Under federal law, once the case has been in state court for a year, regardless of how fraudulent the reasons are, the case can’t be removed to federal court — and there was testimony in the case that Boss’s attorney had admitted he was deliberately stalling to get beyond the one year mark.

Read On…

Guess what it isn’t about?

Last month, Mohammed A. Hussain went to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore for a medical procedure. Before it began, he wanted to pray; he alleges he was mistreated by a hospital security guard, who “proceeded to manhandle him, yell racial epithets at him, push him down the corridor and order him to exit the hospital.”

So, on Friday Hussain filed a $30 million lawsuit, alleging assault, battery and the ubiquitous emotional distress. But (you guessed) it:

Hussain’s attorney, David Ellin, said his client sued the hospital because he did not think executives were taking his case seriously enough.

“He felt the only way to get their attention and make any changes was to really put their feet to the fire and file a lawsuit,” Ellin said.

Ellin said Hussain’s aim with the suit is not to win compensation but to raise awareness about Islam and religious prejudices.

“This is really done to try to educate people on the religion of Islam and make people more tolerant and just educate them on different religious backgrounds,” Ellin said.

And if he happens to also get $30 million for it, hey, so much the better.

The concealed-carry bogeyman

“Lots of kids, when very young, worry about monsters under the bed. Even when Mom or Dad comes in to reassure them, the kids may still worry. But as they get older, they begin to check under the bed themselves. And eventually, after many monster-free nights, they figure out that the danger is purely imaginary and they stop worrying. You would think by now that gun-control supporters would have made the same progress on one of their most fearsome demons: the licensing of citizens to carry concealed firearms. But they seem to be trapped in a recurring nightmare that exists only in their minds.” (Steve Chapman, “Concealed weapons a threat – to ignorance”, syndicated/Baltimore Sun, Nov. 29).

$217M stroke verdict on the radio

Some time after 1PM Eastern, I’ll be on “The Buzz” on WBAL-1090-AM (Baltimore), discussing the $217M stroke verdict (covered Oct. 5 and Oct. 7).

Update: Well, I was told we were going to be talking about the stroke verdict, but the host wanted to argue about the McDonald’s coffee case instead. Chip Franklin could not be dissuaded from the idea that coffee “should not” cause third-degree burns, and that McDonald’s must have done something wrong, but courts note that even coffee served below the optimum temperature are capable of such burns.