Posts Tagged ‘sanctions’

More on liability reform in the House — and a federalism angle

I’ve got a post at Cato at Liberty catching up on House action on litigation reform bills — see last week — and comparing it in particular to the recommendations of the chapter on tort and class action law (of which I was one author) in the new 8th edition Cato Handbook for Policymakers. As I note, two measures (on sanctions and class actions) track recommendations Cato scholars have been making for years, while a third (on medical liability] has been scaled back in a way that at least nods to concerns I and others have expressed.

The last few paragraphs of the piece follow:

Finally, there has been a development worth noting on H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access To Care Act, which passed committee by an 18-17 vote on Feb. 28. I and others have repeatedly criticized federal medical liability bills on the grounds that they run into serious problems of federalism and enumerated powers, seeking to justify federal involvement by way of loose New Deal doctrines of impact on interstate commerce, and overriding the workings of state courts even as to the large mass of medical malpractice disputes in which both parties to the lawsuit are local to the state and the costs of error are apt to be local as well. As I argued in this space:

That doesn’t mean federal policymakers are to be left with no role at all. For example, if Washington is paying for a large share of hospital stays, it may make sense as a cost containment measure for it to steer beneficiaries into lower-cost ways of resolving disputes over care quality, or even to ask beneficiaries as a condition of treatment to agree not to file certain suits at all. But that would require stepping back toward a more careful—and more Constitutionally appropriate—view of the federal role.

This year, PACA includes a new limiting provision. To quote Rep. Bob Goodlatte, on the bill’s latest version:

Unlike past iterations, this bill only applies to claims concerning the provision of goods or services for which coverage is provided in whole or in part via a Federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit, giving it a clear federal nexus. Wherever federal policy affects the distribution of health care, there is a clear federal interest in reducing the costs of such federal policies.

Whether the provision in question is drafted in such a way as to pass federalist muster is a question for another day — but it does at least seem that someone on Capitol Hill may have been listening to our past critiques.

Litigation reform moving fast through House of Representatives

With both Congress and White House now in Republican hands, the U.S. House of Representatives is moving with dispatch to consider a series of litigation reform measures, some stalled for years by Democratic opposition and others of relatively recent vintage. Bruce Kaufman at BNA Bloomberg has a three-part series (first, second, third) followed by an update today on the looming battle over the six main bills:

  • The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 720) “requires judges to impose mandatory sanctions on attorneys who file ‘meritless’ civil cases in federal courts.”
  • The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 985) which “affects nearly all facets of class action practice” and in particular “class certification requirements, capping or delaying distribution of fees to class counsel, requiring the disclosure of litigation financing, and tying the reporting of settlement data to plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fees.” [More: various academic opponents weigh in here, Andrew Trask defends provisions of the bill here and here, and see earlier]
  • The Innocent Party Protection Act (H.R. 725) “targets what is known as fraudulent joinder—the improper addition of [local] defendants to suits in a bid to keep cases in more plaintiff-friendly state courts.”
  • The Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act (H.R. 906) “mandates increased reporting of payments to plaintiffs by trusts that pay out asbestos exposure claims against bankrupt companies,” in hopes of preventing undisclosed duplicative collection of damages over the same injury.
  • The Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 732) which “seeks to bar the Department of Justice from entering into settlements that steer funds to favored third-party groups.”
  • The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act (H.R. 469) Goes after what have been called “sue-and-settle” processes at EPA in which the agency reaches concessionary terms with ostensibly adverse litigants who seek to expand its authority.

Trial lawyers and allies in the Litigation Lobby aren’t standing idly by: “opponents hope to gum up the works.” Even if many bills clear House passage, getting to 60 votes in the Senate in the face of filibuster threats could prove difficult, despite the departure of perennial trial lawyer ally Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the views of President Trump are not entirely clear. More: Washington Examiner editorial on class action measures.

Liability roundup

  • Uphill battle in Congress for bill to “prohibit federal courts from issuing awards that consider the victim’s race or gender, among other demographic variables” [Kim Soffen, Washington Post on “Fair Calculations Act”]
  • Normalizing champerty, the Ann Arbor way: University of Michigan endowment to take stake in litigation finance fund [Janet Lorin, Bloomberg News]
  • Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA), restoring sanctions for groundless litigation, cleared House committee vote last month [@HouseJudiciary]
  • “Lynch’s Doubling of False Claims Act Fines Could Be Bonanza for Trial Lawyers” [Joe Schoffstall, Washington Free Beacon]
  • “Katrina victims shocked by small payments in levee failure case they ‘won’ – $118 each, on average” [David Hammer, WWL-TV]
  • Advisory Committee on Civil Rules considers revising Rule 23 on class actions [Washington Legal Foundation comments]

Judge Andrew Hanen vs. DoJ lawyers, cont’d

In the old days, when lawyers representing the U.S. Department of Justice were found to have lied, an Attorney General might have ended their service. We’re not in the old days any more [Michael Greve] As related in an earlier post, Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas federal court, after concluding that federal lawyers had chosen to hide relevant facts in litigation challenging President Obama’s DAPA immigration initiative, ordered them to take ethics classes in a scathing opinion; his order has variously been criticized for possibly exceeding his jurisdiction, and for being insufficiently stringent to deter future misconduct by the Department’s lawyers.

Federal judge: DoJ lawyers told untruths, need ethics classes

A federal judge has handed down one of the most spectacular rebukes in memory to the courtroom conduct of the U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], for hiding the ball in a challenge to the administration’s DAPA immigration initiative. Writes Ilya Shapiro:

[Judge] Hanen’s remedy consists of five components:

(1) all the lawyers at DOJ headquarters who litigate in the 26 states that challenged DAPA (most of them) have to go back to school for an annual ethics course taught by an outside expert;

(2) DOJ has to certify annually for five years that these lawyers are indeed going to school;

(3) the attorney general must report within 60 days “a comprehensive plan to prevent this unethical conduct from ever occurring again,” and “what steps she is taking to ensure that . . . the Justice Department trial lawyers tell the truth — the entire truth.”; …

Declaring that the lawyers had acted in “bad faith” and that their “conduct is certainly not worthy of any department whose name includes the word ‘Justice,'” Hanen added: “The court does not have the power to disbar the counsel in this case, but it does have the power to revoke the pro hac vice status of out-of-state lawyers who act unethically in court.” [Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner; Josh Blackman, NRO] But see: Orin Kerr asks whether the order exceeds the court’s jurisdiction.

Liability roundup

  • For thee but not for me? Lawprof proposes immunizing mass tort litigators from RICO liability [Mass Tort Litigation Blog]
  • Some reasons, even aside from PLCAA, the Sandy Hook lawsuit against gunmakers is so weak [Jacob Sullum]
  • One welcome, overdue development that deserves more attention than we’ve given it: federal courts adopt rules curtailing pretrial discovery [Institute for Legal Reform interview with former Colorado justice Rebecca Love Kourlis; Joe Palazzolo and Jess Bravin, WSJ]
  • Cloudy in Texas, with a chance of $1 million lawsuits blaming broken floor tiles on falling objects [Southeast Texas Record via Texans for Lawsuit Reform; Hidalgo County]
  • Billboards hawked Kentucky disability practice: “the law has finally caught up with ‘Mr. Social Security.’” [Louisville Courier-Journal]
  • Wall Street Journal covers trend of big plaintiff’s firms teaming up with more city governments to file “affirmative litigation” [WSJ] We were on this trend as early as the year 2000 [San Francisco and Philadelphia launch such operations in wake of tobacco settlement). On county governments as cat’s-paws for trial lawyers in lead paint, opioid, and other mass tort cases, see coverage of California’s Santa Clara County here, here, etc., and on Orange County here, here, etc.

Gate Guard v. Perez: the sequel

Last month we told the story of a Texas business that managed to clobber the U.S. Department of Labor in court over its challenge to the company’s use of independent contractors. The Fifth Circuit granted the company a substantial award in legal fees to punish the department for its bad faith in litigation.

Now, Coyote relates a personal encounter in which he runs into a man at a Houston steakhouse who turned out to be the owner of that company, Gate Guard:

I refused to believe him until he showed me a picture of him with the check. He had had it blown up into one of those huge golf tournament checks. I told him he was my hero and tried to buy him drinks the rest of the night, but when I got up to leave, I found he had actually paid my tab. I drank that evening on the Department of Labor’s dime, I guess.

“I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

As recently as two weeks ago we covered Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s pattern of suing his critics. But the report by Paul Farhi in yesterday’s Washington Post, recounting Trump’s long courtroom assault on reporter Tim O’Brien, contains a remarkable new passage:

Both courts [in ruling that Trump’s suit should be dismissed] cited a lack of “clear and convincing” evidence to satisfy the basic legal test for libeling someone as well known as Trump: willful disregard for the truth. The appeals court noted O’Brien’s diligent and extensive efforts to research Trump’s wealth.

Trump said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

Paul Alan Levy, at Public Citizen, calls Trump’s explanation of his actions and motives “astonishing” and says the front-runner’s “admission of malicious reasons for suing a reporter reminds us why we need anti-SLAPP statutes.” For voters, it might also raise questions of what to expect should a candidate with this instrumental view of legal action gain control of the machinery of law enforcement in the United States.

Bonus: “Litigation and legal threats related to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” [Ballotpedia catalogue]

December 2 roundup

  • Nice work: how one lawyer cleans up filing piggyback class actions after the Federal Trade Commission and other enforcement agencies cite marketers for violations [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
  • Cites inmate’s 18-year history of frivolous complaints: “Prisoner can’t sue USA Today for not printing gambling odds, Pennsylvania court says” [PennLive]
  • Canada’s pioneering cap on regulation could be a model for U.S. [Laura Jones, Mercatus via Tyler Cowen]
  • “He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I’m going to dismiss this charge” [Eugene Volokh on Kentucky case noted in July]
  • Dear John: Los Angeles may use license-plate readers to go after drivers who enter “wrong” neighborhoods [Brian Doherty]
  • Asylum law (which differs in numerous ways from refugee law, among them that it typically addresses claims of persons already here) hasn’t quite solved its own vetting problem [flashback from last year, more]
  • Georgia lawyer “sanctioned for ‘deploying boilerplate claims’ and ‘utterly frivolous’ arguments” [ABA Journal]