Posts Tagged ‘procedure’

Justinian Lane: reform supporter?

Until now, we’ve ignored a small left-wing think-tank’s admitted attempt to create a Bizarro-world version of Overlawyered. The writers are a recent college graduate and a recent law-school graduate who don’t appear to have actually read anything reformers write in support of reform. (For example, one post links to Overlawyered when defending the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, but fails to address any of Overlawyered’s arguments for why the McDonald’s coffee case is meritless, and simply repeats ATLA propaganda that Overlawyered refuted.) The blog has consisted mostly of thoughtless regurgitation of trial-lawyer talking points; when original analysis is attempted, it rises to the level of self-parody, such as an analysis of Leonard v. Nationwide (see POL Sep. 7 and links therein) that ignores the language of the insurance policy, the relevant Mississippi precedent, the existing discussion in the blogosphere, and any semblance of public policy rationalization in lieu of a Wikipedia definition to argue that the decision (and the defendant) are racist because some African-American plaintiffs might lose as a result.

Another such post is Justinian Lane’s “The Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit.” The standard trial-lawyer talking point on such issues is to redefine “frivolous lawsuit” to consist of an exceedingly narrow subset of what it is laypeople are talking about when using the term “frivolous lawsuits,” note that the legal system has some mechanisms to address this narrow subset of cases, and then conclude that there’s no problem and thus no need for reform. (Or, as per John Edwards, announce Potemkin legislation to tackle this artificially constrained set of “frivolous lawsuits” that does nothing to actually address the problems of the tort system.) But Lane, perhaps because of his unfamiliarity with the legal system, bites off more than he can chew and inadvertently proves the reformers’ point.

Read On…

Lott v. Levitt, Part VII

Since our initial coverage, William Ford and Tim Lambert have been following this case so closely that I’ve been focusing on other issues where I have more of a comparative advantage rather than doing posts that would end up being similar to theirs. It’s unlikely that I’m going to have anything new to say about the case that you haven’t seen in earlier posts, so, barring major developments, from hereon out I defer to their coverage; John Lott’s blog also has occasional coverage of the case, as does Levitt’s. One last roundup of links:

As I previously mentioned, Levitt’s motion to dismiss is unlikely to succeed because of liberal pleading rules in modern civil procedure that forbid the consideration of evidence in most circumstances.

$9 million back injury verdict tossed in Indiana

Christopher Berrier claimed, along with his for-hire medical experts, that his back injuries were solely the result of falling on a treadmill at a fitness club. The appeals court reversed because the trial court did not allow the defendant to question experts over Berrier’s previous “back injuries from playing football, a car accident and a fall down seven stairs at work.” (Reliable Development Corp. d/b/a The Fitness Barn v. Christopher Berrier, Jul. 31; AP, Aug. 2). Dr. Linda Stewart had testified that Berrier had absolutely no problem with his back before the date of the accident, so one can see the prejudice in not permititng cross-examination on this point.

Lott v. Levitt, Part VI

Lott filed his response to the motion to dismiss Monday. Lott seems to have the better of this exchange as a matter of positive (if not normative) law because of the liberal pleading rules that make it nearly impossible to dismiss a case on the pleadings. That has little predictive value for what happens afterwards. (Note, however, the Northern District of Illinois’ Local Rules’ 15-page limit, which make it nearly impossible to file a motion for summary judgment without the permission of the court.)

Previous entry.

Heads I win, tails is your fault

Peter Nordberg points us to an unpublished Fourth Circuit opinion upholding an expert’s testimony as to damages. Mary Lafontaine Parmenter’s investment advisor moved her $730,000 account into stock mutual funds in late 1999, increasing its value to $1.1 million at the height of the stock market bubble in 2000 (even as she was withdrawing $6000/month), whereupon it declined in value to $342 thousand. The expert argued that the most serious breach of the investment advisor’s duties came when he failed to consolidate the gains, and that losses should be counted from the peak of the account’s value. I don’t doubt that the investment advisor could have been found to be inappropriately aggressively investing Parmenter’s money; but if he was doing so inappropriately in April 2000, he was doing so inappropriately in 1999, when he made her half a million dollars; there’s something unseemly about the calculation of loss. Hindsight is nice: if the expert, F. John Hermann, could accurately forecast account value peaks, he’d be a billionaire rather than an expert-for-hire.

The opinion also reveals that the plaintiff’s attorney successfully tricked the defendant into conceding that an accurate SEC disclosure form that he had filed was inaccurate; the appeals court offered no relief because of lack of evidence that the tactic was intentional.

“Making Civil Justice Sane”

In the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, Philip K. Howard, president of Common Good and a longtime friend of this site, contributes an essay on fixing our litigation system. Among his topics: the need for a robust principle of assumption of risk; lessons from the U.K., where a “compensation culture” has spread despite a set of legal procedures that is the dream of reformers on this side of the Atlantic; the role of summary judgment and Daubert review; and the role of predictable law in maintaining the principle of the rule of law (Spring).

By popular demand: the $400,000 permanent erection

You’ve seen the AP press coverage. Charles Lennon had a pre-Viagra surgery to install a prosthesis, but had trouble keeping it in a concealed position; the legal opinion reveals he also complained about the product’s discomfort and noise. He won $400,000 after a jury trial. I don’t know whether the jury was correct. On the one hand, the description is one of a bad product failure. On the other hand, Lennon had trouble meeting federal evidentiary standards, and dismissed with prejudice the case he filed in federal court, rather than face the results of a summary judgment motion; moreover, an Oklahoma case against the manufacturer also suggests that the manufacturer didn’t do anything actionable. (Lennon also sued his doctor and his hospital; they won below.)

What nobody has mentioned is that the case turned on a lawyer’s use of Latin. The reference in the notice of appeal was to “Dacomed Corp., et al.” But Rule 3(c) requires parties to be named with specificity in such a notice. Thus, co-defendant National Union Fire Insurance was not allowed to appeal—and the appeal may very well have been dispositive in its favor, because Dacomed’s appeal—based on res judicata because they had succeeded in a previous federal lawsuit after two First Circuit appeals—was successful. The ruling is correct: better to have a straightforward rule that can be neutrally applied than a vague multi-factor balancing test that essentially permits a judge to let sympathy into play, and the insurer was on the wrong side of the rule. But when so much turns on something so seemingly trivial, judges should not be surprised that appellate briefing costs so much. Lennon v. Dacomed Corp. (R.I. Jun. 23, 2006).

Read On…

Down repressed-memory lane, cont’d

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that if plaintiffs claim to have repressed their memory of the bad things that happened to them, they may succeed in suspending for years and even decades the statute of limitations on the resulting tort actions. The court reinstated a suit by a man who said he had been sexually abused at Chaminade College Preparatory School 30 years ago, but had repressed the memory of the episode for 25-odd years. (Robert Patrick, “Repressed memory abuse suits supported”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun. 13). Reader Patrick R., who sent the item along, says: “This is an invitation to fleece churches and insurance companies through fraudulent claims and an invitation for claimants to sleep on their legal rights.”

Rock, paper, scissors

A federal judge has ordered lawyers to use a round of the game to resolve a squabble over the location of a deposition (Roger Parloff, “Judge orders lawyers to play game”, Fortune, Jun. 7; Carton, Jun. 7). As Eugene Volokh points out (Jun. 7), there are many legal disputes and issues which can be resolved through a random mechanism without shocking the conscience. For one that went too far, however, see our May 1, 2000 post on a Louisville, Ky. jury that reportedly flipped a coin to convict a man of murder.