Monday, May 16, 2011
Sergio Campos (University of Miami) has posted Mass Torts and Due Process to SSRN.
Almost all courts and scholars disfavor the use of class actions in mass tort litigation, primarily because class actions infringe on each plaintiff's control, or autonomy, over the tort claim. The Supreme Court has stressed the importance of litigant autonomy in other contexts, most recently in decisions involving the Rules Enabling Act, preclusion, and arbitration. Indeed, this term the Court will decide four cases involving class actions that will likely reaffirm the importance of protecting a plaintiff's autonomy over the claim. In all of these contexts the Court, and most scholars, have understood protecting litigant autonomy as a requirement of procedural due process.
In this article I argue that protecting litigant autonomy in the mass tort context is mistaken, and, in the process, challenge basic notions of procedural due process. Relying on recent property theory, I first show that protecting litigant autonomy in mass tort litigation causes collective action problems that undermine the deterrent effect of the litigation. Thus, protecting litigant autonomy leads to more mass torts. Counterintuitively, this tragedy can be avoided by taking away each plaintiff's autonomy over the claim, such as through a mandatory class action.
I then use the self-defeating nature of litigant autonomy in the mass tort context to reexamine the law of procedural due process. I argue that an interest in deterrence, understood as an individual interest in avoiding the tort altogether, should be included in the due process analysis. I also argue for a more impartial method to balance competing interests. I conclude that the law of procedural due process should permit mandatory collective procedures in mass tort and similar contexts. I further suggest that the law of procedural due process should focus less on procedural rights such as litigant autonomy, a "day in court," and even the opportunity to be heard, and focus more on often ignored aspects of procedural design.