- Oops! “Tulane sophomore unknowingly named as plaintiff in lawsuit over college bribery scandal” [John Simerman, New Orleans Advocate] “Admissions scandal class action is ‘fascinating’ but likely doomed – experts” [Alison Frankel, Reuters] Plus advice from Ken at Popehat;
- Some problems with the idea of a sweeping presidential order to decree free speech on campus — and a promising if more modest step the White House could take instead [Donald Downs, Cato] Two more views on how universities can “fend off outside intervention and, more importantly, be true to their own mission… [by] nurturing a better free speech culture” [Keith Whittington, parts one and two; John McGinnis]
- “‘If racial preference [in college admissions] is unjust, then it doesn’t magically become just because people notice some other injustice that has different beneficiaries,’ Olson said. ‘Two things can be unjust at the same time, and two injustices do not add up to one justice.'” [John Blake, CNN, quoting me on the argument that the admissions scandal somehow proves preference advocates’ case]
- Harvard lawprof and residential dean Ronald Sullivan under fire for defending unpopular figures facing MeToo charges
[Randall Kennedy, Chronicle of Higher Education; Conor Friedersdorf (quoting HLS prof Janet Halley: “Finally, the ‘climate survey’ technique is a dangerous precedent as a matter of employment rights and as a threat to academic freedom. It’s a thinly veiled version of the heckler’s veto.”)]
- The Snuggle is real: very long list of demands by Sarah Lawrence students occupying campus building includes consistent access to detergent and fabric softener [Sarah Lawrence Phoenix; Pamela Paresky, Psychology Today] Rather more seriously, the students demand the college reconsider the tenure status of a professor who published a mildly conservative op-ed in the NYT [Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed]
- Even if occasionally subverted by dishonest actors, standardized tests remain the gold standard among transparent, objective ways to improve the accuracy of college success prediction [Jenna A. Robinson, Martin Center]
- “Illinois Supreme Court Allows No-Injury Biometric Information Privacy Act Claims in Complete Victory for Plaintiffs’ Bar” [Locke Lord] Google’s “which museum portrait is your selfie like?” an early local casualty [Illinois Policy and generally on the law]
- “Class action reform isn’t dead. It’s just not coming from Congress” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
- To get around Daimler v. Bauman line of cases, state statutes now provide that by registering to do business in the state an out-of-state business consents to general personal jurisdiction. Is that consistent with due process? [Anand Agneshwar and Paige Sharpe, WLF, and on Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway case in Pennsylvania; Beck with survey of state statutes]
- “As Pelvic Mesh Settlements Near $8 Billion, Women Question Lawyers’ Fees” [Matthew Goldstein, New York Times, earlier and more]
- More on Department of Justice crackdown on fraud and mismanagement in asbestos bankruptcy trusts [ABA Journal, AP, Alison Frankel/Reuters, Sen. Chuck Grassley statement, earlier]
- Judge: Port Authority not liable over George Washington Bridge jumpers [Julia Marsh, New York Post]
We’ve posted often about lawyer-driven slack-fill lawsuits, in which class action filers claim that food, cosmetic, and other products sold by weight have excessive empty space in their packaging. (Laws governing food packaging allow for empty space that serves a function such as protecting the product from damage or shoplifting, but there is room for much disagreement on what is or is not needed for functionality.) The suits’ outcomes can seem random if not whimsical: Ferrara Candy recently agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle claims [Douglas Yu, Confectionery News] while the makers of Fannie May and Junior Mints successfully obtained dismissal of suits against them in federal courts [Scott Holland, Cook County Record; Bloomberg]
California has been a hotspot of slack-fill litigation, but now the California legislature has passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, expanding the list of safe-harbor defenses that manufacturers (prospectively, in future suits) can assert against slack-fill claims. While the changes are limited in scope and will still allow many suits to go forward, it is noteworthy for California’s legislature to take even symbolic steps against the state’s busy class action industry. [Sarah L. Brew, Tyler A. Young, Emily R. Bodtke and Rita Mansuryan, The Recorder; Robert Niemann and Jill Mahoney, Washington Legal Foundation]
“The court slapped down a South Florida couple’s putative class action lawsuit, which sought $5 million in damages and claimed McDonald’s was wrong to force diners to pay for cheese on Quarter Pounder and Double Quarter Pounder burgers, whether or not they wanted it.” [Raychel Lean, Daily Business Review/Law.com, earlier here and here]
- “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.]
- $101 million in Texas could be biggest trucking damages award in history; crash victim had “told the responding police officer he was not injured and continued on with his journey” [John Kingston, FreightWaves]
- “Lawyers For Texas Counties In Opioid Cases May Not Have Valid Contracts” [Daniel Fisher, earlier on Texas scramble here, here, here, and especially here]
- Arbitration defended [Ross A. Marchand, Economics21]
- “Madden NFL 19 Jacksonville shooting victim sues Electronic Arts, claiming negligence” [Cyrus Farivar. ArsTechnica]
- “Prosecutors Are Said to Issue Subpoenas Over Pelvic-Mesh Surgery Financing” [Matthew Goldstein and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times, earlier and more]
- Federal courts split on whether SCOTUS’s Bristol-Myers Squibb limits on personal jurisdiction apply to class actions [Bradley, Akin Gump, Carlton Fields]
A Southern California class action firm “is accused of bribing cash-strapped 20-somethings to serve as lead plaintiffs and submit false testimony.” The firm, Newport Trial Group, is active in many categories of litigation readers of this site may find familiar, including suits over alleged food and cosmetic mislabeling, slack fill, and failure to advise customers that their phone calls were being recorded, and its founder has also been listed as counsel in multiple suits against large corporations over web accessibility and claims of patent infringement by non-practicing entities. [Jenna Greene, American Lawyer Litigation Daily courtesy Texans for Lawsuit Reform]
Ironically, the complicated and protracted litigation that led to the new setback arose not from the numerous suits the law firm or its founder filed against household-name national companies, but from one against a purveyor of nutritional items and supplements such as colloidal silver. Excerpt:
The district court judge, James Selna, explained his reasoning in a June 12 decision that does not bode well for the firm.
Natural Immunogenics, he wrote, “has put forth sufficient evidence to support its contention that defendants operated a fraudulent scheme to manufacture litigation.”
“Specifically, NIC has established that in camera review may reveal evidence that defendants have a pattern of manufacturing litigation, which involves the [Newport Trial Group] defendants identifying companies vulnerable to false advertising or wiretap litigation, recruiting individuals to serve as lead plaintiffs, instructing the individuals on exactly what steps to take to give them the appearance of having suffered actionable injuries, and concealing and misrepresenting the contrived nature of the lawsuits from the courts.”
A “web of concealment and highly questionable ethical practices by experienced attorneys who should have known better”: a court has unsealed a scathing report on the conduct in the State Street case of a leading class action firm, Labaton Sucharow, and Garrett Bradley of the Thornton Law Firm in Boston. The court took particular notice of Labaton’s connections through a Houston middleman (to whom it had agreed to pay an undisclosed $4.1 million fee) to the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, which served as institutional plaintiff [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Amanda Bronstad/NLJ] Earlier here and here.
Class action tolling means suspending time limits on future lawsuits while a class action suit is pending. This is distinct from class action trolling which is when the Ninth Circuit adopts a deliriously liberal rule and dares the Supreme Court to reverse it.
Both phenomena were involved in today’s unanimous Supreme Court opinion in China Agritech v. Resh. In the 1974 case of American Pipe & Construction v. Utah the Court had adopted a rule permitting individual claimants to file otherwise-tardy actions after a court had declined to certify a class action. The American Pipe rule is itself decidedly indulgent toward the class action device, but it took the Ninth Circuit to take a crucial extra step off the Santa Monica pier by holding that the late-arriving claimants should themselves be able to ask for certification as a class action. After all, the first try at certification might have been based on a flawed legal strategy or incomplete factual record. Why not give our friends in the bar a second bite?
Or a third bite, or an nth: in fact the case that reached the high court was the third class action in a row attempted on the same underlying facts, a securities dispute. To almost everyone but the Ninth Circuit, the resulting danger was clear enough: without any real need to accept “no” for an answer, class action lawyers could just come back again and again with new tame plaintiffs until they find a judge willing to grant certification, the step that tends to guarantee a payday in the class action business.
Today’s unanimity is significant. On procedural and jurisdictional issues, at least, today’s liberal wing on the Court has sometimes been willing to unite with the Rehnquist-Scalia-Roberts wing to recognize and rein in the dangers of lawyer-driven overlitigation, the tactical use of lawsuits as a weapon, and so forth. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote today’s opinion, has more than once joined and sometimes led such coalitions. By contrast, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has often been found alone and out on a limb in favor of a more litigation-friendly position, which happened again today: she joined in a concurrence agreeing that the Ninth Circuit had gone too far but seeking to limit the Court’s holding to securities suits governed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA).
The Senate might want to quiz future liberal nominees – yes, there will be such – on whether they more favor the Ginsburg or the Sotomayor approach to these issues.
[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]