Posts Tagged ‘procedure’

Hot tea lawsuit has interesting procedural quirk

One can almost fill an entirely separate blog with variations on the McDonald’s hot coffee case. In Manhattan, 77-year-old Rachel Moltner ordered a hot tea from a Starbucks, but had trouble removing the tightly-secured lid, spilling the beverage all over her. (You will recall other lawsuits complaining that the Starbucks lids are not tight enough.) Moltner not only blames Starbucks for her resulting second- and third-degree burns (and recall that the raison d’être of the Stella Liebeck suit was the false claim that only McDonald’s served beverages that were hot enough to cause third-degree burns), but for the broken bones she suffered when she fell out of bed in Lenox Hill Hospital while being treated for burns. Moltner’s asking for $3 million.

Press coverage in the NY Post (h/t P.G.) is short on legal details (though one is encouraged to see Starbucks publicly defending themselves, an apparent change in policy). But I’ve downloaded and uploaded the complaint, which was filed in state court and removed to federal court. The kitchen-sink allegations include a defective cup, defectively hot tea, and a failure to warn. Right now the parties are haggling over federal removal jurisdiction, as Starbucks waited more than thirty days after receiving the complaint–until a formal demand for money was made–to seek removal. This is an interesting example of sandbagging; if defendants remove cases simply on the possibility that alleged damages will exceed the amount-in-controversy requirement, they may incorrectly remove cases that should remain in state court, but if they wait for the formal confirmation from the plaintiff, they may face the allegation that they’ve missed the 30-day window to remove a case–something to consider when plaintiffs’ attorneys complain that defendants reflexively remove cases to federal court that don’t belong there. Moltner has a good argument that Starbucks waited too long to remove, because alleged damages would have clearly exceeded $75,000 despite the lack of an ad damnum clause in the complaint citing a number, but the consequence of such a ruling will be that defendants will be forced to prematurely remove cases that perhaps should not be removed. (Moltner v. Starbucks Coffee Co., #: 1:08-cv-09257-LAP-AJP (S.D.N.Y.)).

Signaling the client during cross-examination? Me?

Lawyer Robert Bundy, representing a key witness at the Ted Stevens trial, is said to be all “torn up” about the judge’s accusation that he was transmitting secret nods and movements to convey to his client what testimony was desirable. Eric Turkewitz says that in his experience coaching during testimony takes three forms: “speaking objections”, nods and head movements (which may be unconscious), and deliberate signaling. (Oct. 7; AP/Google).

Vioxx settlement: Judge Fallon caps fees at 32%

MDL Judge Eldon Fallon orders plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees in the $4.85 billion settlement to be capped at 32%. Hooray, right? Certainly, the trial bar is capable of arguing for itself that the ruling is wrong and it is entitled to a couple of hundred million more, but I might just have to take their side here.

Read On…

New York court: proof of insurance fraud doesn’t entitle insurance companies to summary judgment

If you wonder why insurance fraud and insurance expense are so high in New York state it’s because of opinions like AA Acupuncture Service v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company. (The fact that the plaintiff is a quack-upuncturist immediately suggests problems, no?) Civil Court Judge Arlene P. Bluth agreed that there was “uncontradicted, overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that an accident had been faked. But State Farm was still not entitled to summary judgment on the litigation of bad-faith claims by three medical providers who insisted that State Farm was liable as the insurer of the woman who claimed to have been injured in the accident. (Plaintiffs deny fraud, though apparently wasn’t able to rebut the evidence of fraud at the motion stage.)

Read On…

In re Volkswagen en banc argument

There was an auto accident in Dallas; plaintiffs sued Volkswagen in Marshall, Texas, in the notoriously plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas, which has a hugely abnormal number of product liability cases—17% of all federal automobile product liability lawsuits in the United States. Let us quote from In re Volkswagen of America, Inc., 506 F.3d 376 (5th Cir.2007), earlier discussed on POL Nov. 27 and Feb. 23:

Volkswagen moved to transfer venue to the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas (“Dallas Division”). Volkswagen asserted that a transfer was warranted as (1) the Volkswagen Golf was purchased in Dallas County, Texas; (2) the accident occurred on a freeway in Dallas, Texas; (3) Dallas residents witnessed the accident; (4) Dallas police and paramedics responded and took action; (5) a Dallas doctor performed the autopsy; (6) the third-party defendant lives in Dallas County, Texas; (7) none of the plaintiffs live in the Marshall Division; (8) no known party or significant non-party witness lives in the Marshall Division; and (9) none of the facts giving rise to this suit occurred in the Marshall Division.

The district court refused to transfer to the Northern District, VW sought mandamus, and got it on the second try, with the Fifth Circuit ordering transfer. (See also John Council, “5th Circuit Restricts Trial Courts’ Discretion in Venue Motions”, Texas Lawyer, Nov. 5; John Council, “5th Circuit Case Could Reduce Product Liability Caseload in Texas’ Eastern District”, Texas Lawyer, Aug. 7).

In February, however, the Fifth Circuit vacated the decision, and granted en banc rehearing. Argument is Thursday in New Orleans, and the decision will determine whether the Fifth Circuit will tolerate forum shopping in the federal courts. (Michelle Massey, “Appeals court scheduled to hear arguments over forum shopping”, SE Texas Record, May 20). The case is of special importance to the patent bar, given the fact that Marshall, Texas, has become the unlikely capital of United States patent litigation. Blog coverage: PatentlyO, Prior Art.

En banc briefs in 07-40058, In re Volkswagen AG:

Department of Strangely Shifting Academic Positions: In December 2007, law professor Georgene Vairo wrote a LexisNexis Expert Commentary on the Volkswagen case explaining its consistency with Supreme Court precedents, and writing

The Fifth Circuit is not alone in permitting the use of mandamus in limited circumstances. For example, in Lemon v. Druffel, 253 F.2d 680 (6th Cir. 1958), a case decided shortly after Congress codified § 1404(a), the Sixth Circuit ruled that mandamus was an appropriate remedy to test a district court’s discretion on a motion to transfer.

In April 2008, she signed on to a brief taking precisely the opposite position, which does not cite Lemon. Curious.

Overlawyered has more on the Eastern District of Texas, and on Judge T. John Ward.

Larry Sinclair v. Barack Obama

We had a request to post the District of Minnesota opinion dismissing the meritless Sinclair v. Obama litigation (discussed May 15), so I have uploaded the magistrate’s thorough report and recommendation in Case No. 08-cv-00360-JMR-RLE (D. Minn.).  Sinclair failed to file objections to the February 25 report, and Judge James M. Rosenbaum adopted it in a summary order dated March 19, issuing final judgment the same day.

Note that the magistrate applied 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) to dismiss the plainly frivolous case sua sponte without requiring the victimized defendants to expend legal fees in responding; in December 2006, I discussed the underuse of this provision in pro se litigation.  More on delusional pro se cases.

Pope Benedict’s visit

I have an op-ed in today’s National Review Online:

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States this week will be the first papal visit since the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal broke in 2002. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s top diplomat in the United States, expresses confidence that the pope will address the scandal while here. Trial lawyers, however, having been asking legislatures for years to address the problem in their own particular way: more lawsuits. That proposed solution, through undoing statutes of limitations and permitting new lawsuits over long-ago crimes, creates more problems than it solves, and hurts more than just the actors responsible for those crimes.

Reviver legislation is pending in six states, and has been proposed in many more.

Update: “Lawyer Sanctioned for Suing Over Adversary’s Deposition Questions”

Updating our Jul. 25, 2007 post:

A plaintiffs lawyer who alleged in court that his adversary’s questions at a deposition caused his client emotional distress has been sanctioned for filing a frivolous suit.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Alfonse Cifelli entered an order March 26, assessing $2,500 in sanctions against Bruce Nagel, of Roseland, N.J.’s Nagel Rice. He must also pay his adversary’s legal fees of $11,630.

However, Cifelli stayed both payments until the Appellate Division rules on a pending appeal of his ruling last October that dismissed Nagel’s suit.

Cifelli, who sits in Newark, had found Nagel failed to state a claim, holding the litigation privilege allowed the adversary, Judith Wahrenberger, to pursue questions she considered relevant without fear of being sued and that the questions were not “extreme or outrageous.”

Nagel says he has received much encouragement from fellow plaintiff’s lawyers for his action; however, any suspension of the usual litigation privilege in favor of personal liability for attorneys would have been very much a double-edged sword, since the asking of emotionally distressing questions during depositions is not exactly a rarity on either side. (Maria Vogel-Short, New Jersey Law Journal, Apr. 9)(link fixed now).

“Resurrect Rule 11”

In 1993 the U.S. Congress, urged on by organized litigators, gutted Rule 11, which for ten years had provided relatively strong remedies to those targeted by groundless litigation in federal courts. It’s time to look again at the case for a stronger Rule 11, argue Zeke J. Roeser and Karen Harned (National Federation of Independent Business, in a new article for the Federalist Society’s Engage (cross-posted from Point of Law).