- House passes Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2016 [James DeLong, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Republican Policy Committee, earlier]
- “Enough is enough”: judge in surgical-mesh case decries tactical angling in multidistrict litigation (MDL) process, reminds lawyers of sanctions authority [Glenn Lammi, Washington Legal Foundation] Related: “Repeat Players in Multidistrict Litigation” [Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Mass Tort Prof]
- E-mail scanning: “So-called ‘privacy lawsuits’ that essentially enrich a cottage industry of plaintiffs’ lawyers…” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica]
- GM, 3-for-3 at winning ignition-switch trials, settles a couple of bellwether cases [Margaret Cronin Fisk and Laurel Brubaker Calkins, AP/Walla Walla, Wash. Union-Bulletin, CarScoops]
- New Jersey judge disallows plaintiff’s experts’ “made for litigation” methods in talcum powder case [Michele Barnes and Clifton Hutchinson, K&L Gates]
- “Lawyers Suing Lawyers: Texas mass tort attorney sues other mass tort attorney over robocall recruitment tactic” [U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
A witness stepped forward with a story to tell about changed numbers on a check stub, and what followed was something of a “wow” moment as modern litigation goes [Erik Larson and Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg]:
Dramatic revelations are unusual in U.S. litigation these days, when reams of evidence and testimony are reviewed before the trial begins, making Kleven’s appearance on the scene a rare “Perry Mason” moment, said Leonard Niehoff, a law professor at the University of Michigan.
“The typical television scenario where a witness comes out of nowhere in a trial doesn’t actually happen much.”
- Fee-vergnügen: John Edwards, who knows a thing or two about tactical concealment, seeks to rep Volkswagen owners in mass litigation [Grist, Politico]
- Speaking of auto litigation: first General Motors ignition case goes to trial, automaker charges fraud, plaintiffs hire criminal counsel [Bloomberg, more]
- The Maryland redistricting project I was involved in this past fall has now resulted in a bill filed with the legislature by Gov. Larry Hogan [Danielle Gaines/Frederick News-Post, WBAL, Anjali Shastry/Washington Times, Baltimore Sun, earlier]
- Discovery and other procedural reforms in the federal courts: “Chief Justice Roberts on speedier civil litigation … and dueling?” [Howard Wasserman, PrawfsBlawg]
- Shackled Philly priest died in prison, accused by “Billy Doe.” But how well does Doe’s story hold up? Questions about another big sex assault story from Rolling Stone/Sabrina Rubin Erdely that preceded their U.Va./”Jackie” tale [Ralph Cipriano/Newsweek, Robby Soave/Reason].
- “Oversimplification is at the heart of a Coates-style approach to the reparations issue.” [John McWhorter on an unexpected bid to get me to side with Bernie Sanders; more on reparations, Glenn Loury and (missed this earlier) Jonathan Blanks, Rare, 2014]
- Federal Trade Commission went after LabMD on data security complaint. Unlike so many targets, LabMD chose to fight the FTC. And then… [Steven Boranian, Drug and Device Law, earlier]
Details at ABA Journal. The settlement inevitably invites comparison with Toyota’s agreement to pay the federal government $1.2 billion to settle criminal charges over alleged coverup on the sudden acceleration issue. One difference that comes to mind is that GM’s use of a flimsy ignition switch was a genuine design flaw that appears to have contributed to numerous accidents and deaths, while the Toyota “flaw” was imaginary.
P.S. “Apparently, there is no Vice President In Charge Of Going To Jail at General Motors.” [Daniel Fisher]
- “Judge dismisses ‘American Idol’ racial bias lawsuit” [Reuters]
- “Don’t sue your art dealer, because you won’t win” [Shane Ferro, Business Insurance on fate of Ronald Perelman suit against Larry Gagosian]
- Lawyer with big case pending before West Virginia high court bought plane from chief justice’s spouse [ABC, Charleston Daily Mail, WV Record]
- Remembering Bruno Leoni, classical liberal known for theory of superiority of decisional law process over legislation [Cato panel this summer, Todd Zywicki/Liberty and Law]
- “If I ever shoot your wedding, I’ll be sure to add a clause of ‘You cannot sue me for $300,000.'” [@GilPhotography on PetaPixel coverage]
- “Court Unconvinced by Lawyer Dressed as Thomas Jefferson” [Lowering the Bar]
- Arizona attorney general to GM: gimme $10K for every vehicle you’ve sold in my state [Bloomberg]
“It may sound silly, but lost resale value is what cost Toyota a whopping $1.3 billion in claims when those suits were settled in late 2012.” And if lawyers can extract $1.3 billion in a case where there was nothing wrong with the cars, imagine how much they might extract in a case where there was. [Jalopnik]
I was a guest Tuesday on the Roger Hedgecock program at the San Diego Union-Tribune, discussing the way Washington, D.C. seems to have come down at least as hard on Toyota as on General Motors, maybe harder, even though the safety shortcomings falsely attributed to Toyota appear actually to be present in the GM case.
One striking feature of the GM story is the extent to which a culture of putting as little as possible on paper appears to have undermined GM’s capability to grasp the scope of the safety problem with the flimsy ignitions and their relationship to nonfunctional airbags. Bill Vlasic of the New York Times reports:
To the legal department at General Motors, secrecy ruled. Employees were discouraged from taking notes in meetings. Workers’ emails were examined once a year for sensitive information that might be used against the company. G.M. lawyers even kept their knowledge of fatal accidents related to a defective ignition switch from their own boss, the company’s general counsel, Michael P. Millikin.
As I’ve often noted, organizations gripped by fear of legal consequences or hostile oversight often develop a “put as little as possible on paper” mentality, even though such a mentality regularly proves counterproductive to the organization’s mission by fostering ignorance and lack of coordination and allowing bad practice to take root.
- Gabriel Kolko: “A historian who understood why big business wanted regulation” [Tim Carney, Washington Examiner, earlier]
- Thumbing nose at Hill, Interior Dept. moves to tribalize native Hawaiians by decree [Ilya Shapiro, NACRP, related PDF, Hawaii Free Press, also, background]
- Cellphone 911: “Safety Mandates That May Reduce Safety” [Coyote]
- Liability-expanding California decision: knowing breach of a material contractual provision may trigger state False Claims Act [Sidley] Plus Chamber’s ILR on state False Claims Acts and more;
- Feds to GM: write smoking-gun memos for trial lawyers’ benefit, or else [Daniel Fisher; more on $35 million NHTSA fine at WSJ, National Law Journal, background on Toyota]
- Child-grabbing in safety’s name: “CPS and Free-Range Parents” [David Pimentel 2012 via Free-Range Kids]
- Maryland Court of Appeals affirms denial of class certification over $29.64 wage garnishment [decision in Marshall v. Safeway, PDF via Michael Schearer]
“As a big employer that the government made a big bet on, ‘GM starts off in a position where institutional Washington has to be rooting for it to come through,’ said Larry Kamer, a public affairs strategist who worked in the past for GM and Toyota.” [Washington Post, related] Talk about spotting a dangerous defect that needs fixing…
Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.
I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.
A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.