Taking up an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has never pronounced on — whether or not the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to corporations as well as to individuals — the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that it does. Cato, together with the Independence Institute, had filed an amicus brief in the case [Eugene Volokh; Jodee R. Rankin, Washington Legal Foundation; decision in Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Workers’ Compensation v. Dami Hospitality, LLC; earlier]
- Housing authority in Meeker, Colorado, population 2,250, will pay nearly $1 million to settle suit over limits on emotional support animals [Niki Turner, Rio Blanco Herald-Times, Kathleen Foody, Associated Press/Colorado Sun, Stina Sieg, Colorado Public Radio]
- Volume of web-accessibility suits continues to climb [Seyfarth Shaw; John Breslin, Florida Record] More on growth of this litigation [podcast with Karen Harned, NFIB, for Federalist Society Regulatory Transparency Project (earlier on pool lifts)] “DOJ Says Failure to Comply With Web Accessibility Guidelines is Not Necessarily a Violation of the ADA” [Minh Vu, Seyfarth Shaw, from last October] Second Circuit dismissal of web-access complaint in Diaz v. Apple, Inc. could be helpful to defendants [Joshua Stein and Shira Blank, National Law Review]
- Report on ADA filing mills in Rochester and vicinity [Berkeley Brean, WHEC: first, second, third (colleges), fourth, fifth]
- And more on New York mass filing operations: Inveterate suer of restaurants reaches Staten Island [Pamela Silvestri, SI Live] Finger Lakes wineries targeted [Jane Flasch/WHAM in February; Michael J. Fitzgerald, Finger Lakes Times] “Finkelstein has gone on a lawsuit-filing spree since getting his law license back in New York state in 2016,” and among his 50 ADA suits are some the named plaintiff says he didn’t know about [Julia Marsh, New York Post]
- In EEOC-land no one can hear you honk [press release on EEOC lawsuit against limo service that declined to hire deaf driver]
- “Washington Supreme Court Says Obesity Is a Disability” [Ben McDonald, and thanks for quote; earlier]
- Auto fuel economy standards: “The indirect CAFE program costs the economy at least six times as much as a carbon tax that reduces emissions equivalently.” [Peter Van Doren and Randal O’Toole, Cato]
- Whether grounded in official discretion or legislation, cash exactions levied on land development should still need to meet constitutional standards [Ilya Shapiro and Reilly Stephens on Cato Institute certiorari amicus brief in Dabbs v. Anne Arundel County]
- A stumbling block for Boulder: “With Two High-Profile Losses, When Do Climate Plaintiffs Start Worrying About Sanctions?” [Daniel Fisher; John O’Brien (views of former Colorado AG Gale Norton and current Colorado AG Cynthia Coffman); Adam Morey, New York Post] Issue isn’t whether climate change should be addressed, but what the Constitution and prudence tell us about whose job that is [Donald Kochan, L.A. Times] And a Federalist Society podcast with Kochan on municipal climate lawsuits;
- “Contract Dispute Cracks the ‘Thin Green Line’ Activists Are Drawing to Stop U.S. Fossil Fuel Exports” [Greg Herbers, Washington Legal Foundation, earlier]
- Neigh-ligence: latest effort to get courts to create standing for non-human plaintiffs is suit on behalf of neglected horse [Karin Brulliard, Washington Post/SFGate, earlier on animal rights]
- EPA announces intention to make regulatory science more transparent by making scientific work on which it relies open to public. Pressure groups erupt with outrage [Adam J. White, City Journal]
A federal judge in June struck down Colorado’s distinctive law (earlier) under which any private person could file charges of campaign-finance violations. “That is unconstitutional, the court held, because there is ‘nothing reasonable about outsourcing the enforcement of laws with teeth of monetary penalties to anyone who believes that those laws have been violated.'” The Institute for Justice had represented “Strasburg resident Tammy Holland, [who] challenged the system after she was twice sued by members of her local school board for running newspaper ads urging voters to educate themselves about school-board candidates. Even though Holland was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the lawsuits dragged on for months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.” [Institute for Justice press release] Following the ruling, the state quickly moved to institute a new process under which complaints will be vetted, and are subject to closer time limits. [Jesse Paul, Denver Post]
Attorney and Denver Post columnist Mario Nicolais writes that at first he thought Colorado’s privately driven system worked well, until it developed into a vehicle for volume filings settled for cash:
…several groups began filing campaign finance complaints solely to line their own pockets and intimidate political opponents. These groups comb through campaign finance filings looking for any small errors and then exploit the complaint system for their own gain. The director for one of these groups, Matt Arnold, coined his work “political guerilla legal warfare (a.k.a. Lawfare).” …
… Because of the byzantine procedure through which Colorado’s campaign finance penalties compound and accrue on a daily basis, the potential fines threatened by the group regularly reached into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even when the only errors involved a couple [of] omitted $3.00 transactions. Consequently, the group knew it could demand payments for $4,500 or $10,000. When defendants didn’t pay, the group threatened that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
- California state agency in charge of Prop 65 enforcement seeks to effectively reverse judge’s recent ruling and exempt naturally occurring acrylamide levels in coffee from need for warning [Cal Biz Lit] Prop 65 listing mechanism requires listing of substances designated by a strictly private organization, spot the problem with that [WLF brief in Monsanto Co. v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment]
- Yes, those proposals to ban plastic straws are a test run for broader plastic prohibitions [Christian Britschgi, Honolulu Star-Advertiser] Impact on disabled users, for whom metal, bamboo, and paper substitutes often don’t work as well [Allison Shoemaker, The Takeout] Surprising facts about fishing nets [Adam Minter, Bloomberg, earlier]
- “A closely watched climate case is dismissed; Will the others survive?” [Daniel Fisher on dismissal of San Francisco, Oakland cases] Rhode Island files first state lawsuit, cheered by mass tort veteran Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) [Spencer Walrath/Energy in Depth, Mike Bastasch/Daily Caller]
- Meanwhile back in Colorado: Denver Post, Gale Norton, other voices criticize Boulder, other municipal climate suits [Rebecca Simons, Energy in Depth, earlier here and here]
- Waters of the United States: time to repeal and replace this unconstitutional rule [Jonathan Wood, The Hill, earlier on WOTUS]
- “What you’re talking about is law enforcement for hire”: at least nine state AG offices “are looking to hire privately funded lawyers to work on environmental litigation through a foundation founded by” nationally ambitious billionaire and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg [Mike Bastasch]
The litigation campaign had previously recruited several California cities and New York City, and now three local governments in Colorado, the City of Boulder, Boulder County, and San Miguel County, are joining in demanding recoupment of moneys spent because of climate change. I’m quoted in Michael Sandoval’s account in Western Wire:
Walter Olson, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, told Western Wire that besides pushing for settlement, an additional objective is implementing new regulation via the courts, rather than legislation or administrative rulemaking….
The multi-state, multi-pronged approach is key, Olson said, given the differences between states on everything from recovery to discovery procedures.
“The strategy in these cases is typically to recruit as many plaintiffs as possible, with an emphasis on actions in different states. States have, e.g., different consumer laws to sue under that may allow different theories of recovery, or different procedures each of which may place the defendants at some particular kind of disadvantage,” Olson said….
“Typically the government plaintiffs are offered a deal of ‘no fee unless successful,’ just as in the ads on late-night TV,” Olson said….
Olson said that the approach in Colorado may be slightly different, given the reaction to the lawsuits filed in California and New York City that have been viewed simply as money-grabs.
“The first wave of these climate suits have gotten a reputation in the press as organized by law firms seeking contingency fees who intend to run the actions for maximum cash payout,” Olson said. “Involving EarthRights and a community like Boulder could be an effort to change this image by introducing more of an idealistic non-profit tone and maybe a suggestion that the goal isn’t just to squeeze money out in a settlement and then return to business as usual, which is basically what happened with the tobacco settlement,” he concluded.
I also mention that speculative litigation of this sort is made vastly easier by our lack of a loser-pays rule.
A very different view — and one with which, needless to say, I disagree — from the Niskanen Center, which is participating in the suits.
“Colorado’s byzantine system of campaign and political finance regulations not only [turns] a blind eye to First Amendment concerns, but actively incentivizes politically motivated, retaliatory litigation. Colorado is unique in being the only state to effectively outsource enforcement of its campaign finance regulations by allowing ‘any person who believes’ that campaign finance laws are being violated” to initiate litigation by filing a complaint. Now a court is considering an outside group’s motion to seal the records of one such case. Opening up such proceedings to public scrutiny could work to counteract abuse by documenting the law’s chilling effect and its use to squelch the speech of opponents, as in the case at issue, in which a local citizen found herself denounced to authorities after buying a newspaper ad commenting on a slate of candidates in a school board election. [Trevor Burrus and Meggan DeWitt on Cato objection, jointly with Reason Foundation, in Holland v. Williams]
Now, people who call themselves disability advocates have filed a new wave of lawsuits across the Denver metro demanding settlements and claiming businesses are inaccessible to people with disabilities. …One case in Bailey, Colorado forced a man to shut down his restaurant indefinitely.
In this latest round of litigation, a woman from Arvada has filed nearly 70 cases in less than two months. There’s evidence to show the complaints are connected to a lawsuit-filing machine across the Southwest United States….
After Denver7 approached [plaintiff Melissa] Umphenour, her attorney asked the court to seal some of her new cases. The attorney did not want them to be subject to public inspection….
H.R. 620, a bill introduced in Congress with cosponsors from both political parties, would provide that persons seeking to file accessibility lawsuits of this sort “would have to write a demand letter to a business first. They could file a lawsuit only if the business fails to respond in writing within 60 days. If the business responds, it would have 120 days to fix to compliance issues or, at the very least, show substantial progress.”
A Colorado state senator disparaged his hometown paper, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, as “fake news” (as well as “very liberal”). The publisher of the family-owned newspaper then responded with an editorial that struck a threatening tone: “see you in court.” [Corey Hutchins, Columbia Journalism Review]
More from Ken at Popehat to newspaper publisher: stop making things worse.
- “This One Simple Trick — Used by Colin Kaepernick — Will Make It Harder To Fire You” [Coyote] And on the topic of retaliation, Obama administration appointeees have been revising doctrine in a direction sharply unfavorable to employers both at the EEOC and at OSHA, the latter of which has legal authority to enforce the retaliation provisions of many laws like Dodd-Frank unrelated to conventional occupational hazard [Jon Hyman on EEOC and OSHA]
- In $5 million award, Texas jury finds SEIU playbook on janitors’ campaign encouraged lawbreaking disruption of target business and its clients [Jon Cassidy and Charles Blain, WSJ]
- Obama administration’s new blacklisting rule on labor violations gives unions a whip hand in negotiations with federal contractors, as if by design [Marc Freedman, U.S. Chamber]
- Finally, a state appellate court pokes a hole in the bizarre California Rule under which public employers may not reduce future pension benefits even when based on work not yet performed [Dan Walters/Sacramento Bee, Scott Shackford, Reason]
- Hearing over expanding employment-law damages in Colorado highlights shift in EEO law toward goal of money extraction [Merrily Archer]
- Post-Friedrichs, the future of mandatory union dues in public employment [Federalist Society podcast with Scott Kronland and William Messenger] “Big Labor Tries To Eliminate Right-To-Work By Lawsuit” [George Leef]