One of the most significant changes happening at the moment in the ideological complexion of the courts is not related to the federal courts at all. The Florida Supreme Court, for many years firmly in the hands of a liberal majority of justices, is likely to take a new turn with three appointments from new governor Ron DeSantis, a conservative Republican who campaigned against what he called judicial activism. The previous court is remembered especially for holding the national stage during the 2000 Bush v. Gore controversy. Among its other hits, it killed a school voucher program and liberalized tort law in such areas as premises, municipal, recreational, and rental-equipment liability. It also repeatedly struck down legislation aimed at reining in litigious excess in such areas as medical liability and expert testimony. [David Freddoso, Washington Examiner]
Of most interest for our purposes for the criminal-law consequences: “’Classic resolution of a lawsuit before it’s filed,’ he told the jury. But the argument didn’t fly: in the end, the jury returned with a unanimous verdict … of extortion.” [Mark Seal, Vanity Fair]
- Legislative relief finally in sight in Florida’s assignment of benefits mess? [Michael Moline, Florida Politics, Insurance Journal on this Insurance Information Institute white paper, Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida and more, Rocco English, Florida Daily, earlier]
- Update on 2018 developments in civil justice [Mark Behrens and Christopher Appel, Federalist Society] “Costs and Compensation of the U.S. Tort System” for 2016 [U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
- In first case to reach trial blaming Monster energy drink for heart attack, jury deliberates 15 minutes and reaches defense verdict [Jessi Devenyns, FoodDive]
- Contributing to judges’ election funds taints a verdict? Can both sides play? [Jim Beck, ADA Journal on State Farm Illinois settlement]
- “The Rise of the Freedom To Arbitrate” [John McGinnis, Law and Liberty] “Trial Lawyers Find Unusual Allies In Fight Against Arbitration: Conservative State Treasurers” [Daniel Fisher, Legal NewsLine/Forbes]
- Accessibility complainant who turned out to be ambulatory without wheelchair drops two lawsuits after Post exposé [Julia Marsh, New York Post]
- Big win for scientific rigor in the courts as New Jersey joins 40 other states in adopting Daubert standards for expert testimony, in In re Accutane Litigation [Washington Legal Foundation: Evan Tager and Surya Kundu, Joe Hollingsworth and Robert Johnston] With the long domination of the Florida Supreme Court by its liberal bloc soon to end, is it too much to hope that Florida joins the national trend too? [Evan Tager and Matthew Waring, WLF]
- California lawyers sue electric scooter companies and manufacturers after users run into pedestrians on street, park improperly in handicapped spaces, and leave them in places where they can be tripped over [Cyrus Farivar, ArsTechnica]
- Defendants obtain fees and costs in suit against siren maker over firefighter hearing loss [Stephen McConnell, Drug and Device Law]
- Some safety advocates’ flip-flops on autonomous vehicle legislation in Congress might relate to trial lawyers’ agenda of the moment [Marc Scribner, CEI, more]
- “Labaton Sucharow agrees to return $4.8M in attorney fees after attorney finder fee is revealed” [ABA Journal, earlier on State Street/Arkansas Teacher Retirement System case here, etc.]
- MGM, Fox settle class action claiming that box set of “all” James Bond films lacked two made outside the franchise [Eriq Gardner/Hollywood Reporter, earlier]
- Antitrust legislation once targeted the unstoppable rise of chain stores A&P and Sears, both now bankrupt [my new Cato post, quoting Joe Nocera, Bloomberg (“The next time you hear somebody say that the dominance of Walmart or Amazon or Facebook can never end, think about Sears. It can — and it probably will.”)]
- When you wish upon a suit: visitor grabs Disney cast member and screams at her after she asks him to move out of parade route, later pleads no contest to disorderly conduct, now wants $15,000 [Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel]
- Tomorrow (Thurs.) at noon Eastern, watch a Cato panel on “Coercive Plea Bargaining” with Scott Hechinger of Brooklyn Defender Services, Bonnie Hoffman of the NACDL, and Somil Trivedi of the ACLU, moderated by Cato’s Clark Neily. Could you resist taking a plea bargain if faced with a false accusation? [Marc John Randazza, ABA Journal]
- “I am a Democrat. But this may be the dumbest thing I have seen…. the Speech or Debate Clause makes about as clear as anything in the Constitution that a court cannot enjoin legislative officials from taking a fundamental legislative action such as a vote.” [Howard Wasserman on suit by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) asking court to, among other things, order delay of Senate vote on Kavanaugh nomination]
- An ideological screen for CLE? Following demands from tribal attorneys, Minnesota bar authorities order shelving of continuing legal education class on Indian Child Welfare Act developments taught by attorney Mark Fiddler, who often handles ICWA cases on side adverse to tribes [Timothy Sandefur]
- Left-leaning Florida Supreme Court nixes plan to let incumbent Gov. Rick Scott fill vacancies, entrenching its leftward lean for a while at least depending on outcome of governor’s race [Spectrum News 9]
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.
- After parking lot shooting Pinellas County, Florida sheriff “claim[ed] his hands were tied by Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But that is not true” [Jacob Sullum, Reason, more; David French, NRO]
- Major USA Today story on origins of Baltimore’s devastating crime and murder wave [Brad Heath; Jonathan Blanks, Cato]
- Related: in Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force police scandal, plea bargains punished the innocent [Capital News Service investigation by Angela Roberts, Lindsay Huth, Alex Mann, Tom Hart and James Whitlow: first, second, third parts]
- California Senate votes 26 to 11 to abolish felony murder rule, under which participants in some serious crimes face murder rap if others’ actions result in death [ABA Journal, bill]
- New Jersey’s reforms curtailing cash bail, unlike Maryland’s, seem to be working reasonably well [Scott Shackford; longer Shackford article on bail in Reason; earlier here, here, etc.]
- “Miami Police Union Says Head-Kicking Cop ‘Used Great Restraint,’ Shouldn’t Be Charged” [Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times]
- Wrong on many other issues, the American Medical Association is right to resist an artificial 3-day limit on opiate prescriptions [Jeffrey Singer, Cato; Jacob Sullum]
- “Does Ride-Sharing Substitute for Ambulances?” [Leon S. Moskatel and David J. G. Slusky, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 114]
- Fourth Circuit tosses Maryland law banning “price gouging” of “essential” generic drugs, finding that state violates Dormant Commerce Clause by presuming to control transactions entirely outside its boundaries [Zack Buck, Bill of Health; Stephen McConnell, Drug and Device Law]
- President Trump signs “right to try” legislation expanding right of terminally ill patients to enter unapproved therapies; squaring this with existing FDA regulation may present knotty problems [Michael Cannon, Cato; Michael Maharrey (“In fact, victories in 40 state legislatures preceded Trump’s signing ceremony”); earlier here, here, and at Cato Unbound last year] More cautions from Jim Beck on liability angle [Drug and Device Law]
- Florida, departing from other states’ practice, caps its outside lawyers’ recovery at $50 million: “Latest Wave Of State Opioid Lawsuits Shows Diverging Strategies And Lawyer Pay Scales” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
- In medical innovation, “equality is a mediocre goal. Aim for progress.” [Tyler Cowen]
A big piece by Mike Spies in the New Yorker on the history of Florida as a battlefield on gun issues asserts that 1) Florida enacted the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law in the early 2000s, and broadly hints that 2) the law resulted in a jury’s 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Is that so? Though both points are often claimed, as we’ve pointed out in the past, neither stands up to scrutiny. As Peter Jamison of the Tampa Bay Times noted in this 2014 piece, the “truth is that Florida did not pioneer the controversial rules” abolishing duty-to-retreat in favor of Stand Your Ground; many states had long since done so through case law development. Much more on the legal background in Ilya Shapiro’s 2013 Senate testimony, which points, for example, to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1895. (Florida’s statute did introduce new procedural protections at the charge stage for defendants, which is a different matter.)
Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s acquittal came after his lawyers advanced a conventional self-defense theory as opposed to one rooted in Stand Your Ground.
The magazine’s celebrated fact-checking system does not seem to have functioned well in this case.