Sunday, February 26, 2017
The Republicans in Congress are intent on expropriating ordinary citizens’ right to sue wrongdoers and allowing corporations and other defendants to violate the law without consequence.
Not content to protect corporations from accountability by hobbling class actions and intimidating plaintiffs' lawyers with mandatory Rule 11 sanctions, Republicans are going for the full monty: federalized so-called “tort reform” (or what I call “tort elimination”).
Without a hearing, H.R. 1215 (Download HR1215) goes to straight to markup in the House Judiciary Committee this Tuesday. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA 4th Dist.).
H.R. 1215 has the Orwellian name of “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (because all Republican-sponsored bills about the civil justice system are named just the opposite of what they would actually do to ordinary citizens). The name of this bill should be “Protecting Doctors and Hospitals from Liability for Wrongdoing and Protecting Insurance Companies from Having to Pay Legitimate Claims.”
Although Republicans supposedly care about “states’ rights,” this bill would eliminate (by preempting) vast swaths of state tort law. Among the many draconian provisions of the bill:
- It would impose a uniform 3-year statute of limitations on “health care lawsuits.”* States would be free to have a shorter one, but not a longer one.
- It would impose a uniform $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages.
- The bill would not limit economic damages, but it would allow states to limit economic damages, noneconomic damages, and the total amount of damages.
- Naturally, “the jury shall not be informed about the maximum award for noneconomic damages.” Because then they might at last understand what “tort reform” means.
- The bill would eliminate joint-and-several liability. This could deprive an innocent injured person of full compensation, while shielding a wrongdoing defendant from paying for an injury he helped to cause.
- “Any party” would be allowed to introduce evidence of collateral source benefits.
- An award of future damages over $50,000 would be required, at the request of “any party,” to be paid in periodic payments.
- The bill would completely release health care providers (as defined) from any liability in a products liability action for prescribing a product approved by the FDA.
Finally, no Republican-sponsored civil justice bill would be complete without denigrating plaintiffs’ attorneys and making it even more uneconomical for plaintiffs’ attorneys to represent clients. This bill goes so far as to call the payment to attorneys of an agreed-upon fee a “conflict of interest.” The bill would give the court the power to restrict a contingent fee. And “in no event shall” the contingent fee exceed 40% of the first $50,000 recovered, 33-1/3% of the next $50,000, 25% of the next $500,000, and 15% of any amount in excess of $600,000.
So now the federal government would be dictating to the states what attorneys’ fees they could allow. Those limits would apply even in settlement, mediation, or arbitration.
Really, guys? This bill isn’t even getting a hearing? Maybe to talk about its practical elimination of citizens’ ability to sue or the fact that the bill is a gift to the insurance industry? Maybe to talk about the experience that many states, swept up in “tort reform” over the last several decades, have had with similar provisions (many of which have been held unconstitutional)? How about the fact that the bill slavishly follows the positions of the American Tort Reform Association and the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council?
H.R. 1215 joins five other bills introduced in the past few weeks that tilt the table in favor of corporate defendants in litigation. Is there any item on the corporate defense wish list that we haven’t seen introduced in Congress yet?
It is possible, though, that this bill could have one positive effect. It may induce doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies who currently refuse to participate in federal programs to do so, based upon the limited liability the bill would ensure.
*Definition: “The term ‘health care lawsuit’ means any health care liability claim concerning the provision of goods or services for which coverage was provided in whole or in part via a Federal program, subsidy or tax benefit, or any health care liability action concerning the provision of goods or services for which coverage was provided in whole or in part via a Federal program, subsidy or tax benefit, brought in a State or Federal court or pursuant to an alternative dispute resolution system, against a health care provider regardless of the theory of liability on which the claim is based . . .” This would presumably include Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Five bills that would generally operate to favor corporate defendants in civil lawsuits have passed the House Judiciary Committee with blinding speed and have been referred to the full House:
Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act
Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27)
Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Innocent Party Protection Act
Ken Buck (R-CO-4)
Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
Lamar Smith (R-TX-21)
We briefly described four of the bills here. The bills are opposed by over 50 advocacy groups for civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection.
Monday, February 13, 2017
While Trump Distracts, Republicans Introduce Four Bills Restricting Ordinary Citizens’ Access to the Courts
Four bills have been introduced in Congress that would limit plaintiffs' access to the courts. The title of each bill is misleading, in that the effect of each bill would be very different from what its title indicates.
1. Probably the most far-ranging bill is the so-called "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017," H.R. 985.
This bill would critically hobble class actions by making them much more difficult to certify and reducing the compensation to plaintiffs’ class action lawyers.
The major provisions of the bill with respect to class actions are (this is not an exhaustive list):
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Today the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Washington v. Trump, refusing to grant the federal government’s request for a stay of Judge Robart’s TRO:
- Yes to appellate jurisdiction
- Yes to Article III standing for Washington and Minnesota
- No to the federal government’s request to narrow the TRO
Although this resolves the federal government’s request for a stay, the Ninth Circuit also issued a briefing schedule for the federal government’s appeal of the TRO itself:
Friday, February 3, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Howard Wasserman’s essay, Eight Is Enough. Howard reviews Eric Segall’s article, Eight Justices Are Enough: A Proposal to Improve the United States Supreme Court.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
In what is beginning to feel like the Groundhog Day of civil procedure bills, LARA has been reintroduced in the Senate and the House for the umpteenth (I think the fifth) time. Although the text of the bills is not yet available, they are likely to be the same as the last version, which was described on this blog here. Essentially, the bills would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to eliminate the 21-day "safe harbor" and to make sanctions mandatory instead of discretionary if a violation is found.
The press release by Senator Grassley, one of the co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate, is a rehash of all the alternative facts repeated for years by defendants to discredit civil litigation.
The Advisory Committee, however, knows that there are not "thousands of frivolous lawsuits" in our federal courts and would be unlikely to amend Rule 11 based upon that falsehood. I assume that is one reason the bills propose an end run around the Rules Enabling Act process.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Yesterday several legal challenges to Trump’s Executive Orders were filed. If you want to keep track of the various filings and orders as these cases proceed, the University of Michigan’s Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse is collecting them here.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Here is the complaint in Darweesh v. Trump, which was filed early this morning in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York:
Some coverage of the case:
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Recent lawsuits against Donald Trump may end up raising some interesting civil procedure and federal courts issues. Here are some documents and reports relating to pending litigation:
CREW v. Trump
(This is the Emoluments Clause challenge filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York)
- Jonathan Adler (Washington Post, 1/23/2017)
- Michael Dorf (Dorf on Law, 1/24/2017)
- Chris Geidner (BuzzFeed, 1/22/2017)
- Eric Lipton & Adam Liptak (NY Times, 1/22/2017)
- Eric Segall (LA Times, 1/25/2017)
- Jim Zarroli (NPR, 1/26/2017)
Zervos v. Trump
(Defamation action against Trump in New York State Court)
- Michael Dorf (Dorf on Law, 1/19/2017)
- Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post, 1/17/2017)
- Megan Twohey (NY Times, 1/17/2017)
AES Electrical v. Trump Old Post Office LLC
(This case was filed yesterday in D.C. Superior Court by an electrical contractor that claims it wasn’t paid for $2 million worth of work on Trump’s DC hotel.)
Friday, January 13, 2017
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied an attempt by two consumers to intervene in U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell (No. 16-5202). The case involves, among other things, whether the House of Representatives has Article III standing to sue regarding the Executive Branch’s administration of the Affordable Care Act.
Here is the text of yesterday’s order:
Upon consideration of the motion for leave to intervene, the responses thereto, and the reply, it is
ORDERED that the motion for leave to intervene be denied. Movant-intervenors have not demonstrated that they are entitled to intervene in this case. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 24; Building and Const. Trades Dep’t, AFL-CIO v. Reich, 40 F.3d 1275, 1282 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (enumerating the requirements for intervention under Rule 24 and applying those factors to a motion to intervene in an appellate proceeding). This case shall continue to be held in abeyance, with motions to govern further proceedings due February 21, 2017. See Order (Dec. 5, 2016).
Here is the initial motion to intervene:
Friday, October 14, 2016
Eugene Volokh and Paul Levy have an interesting post over at the Washington Post/Volokh Conspiracy. It begins:
There are about 25 court cases throughout the country that have a suspicious profile:
- All involve allegedly self-represented plaintiffs, yet they have similar snippets of legalese that suggest a common organization behind them. (A few others, having a slightly different profile, involve actual lawyers.)
- All the ostensible defendants ostensibly agreed to injunctions being issued against them, which often leads to a very quick court order (in some cases, less than a week).
- Of these 25-odd cases, 15 give the addresses of the defendants — but a private investigator (Giles Miller of Lynx Insights & Investigations) couldn’t find a single one of the ostensible defendants at the ostensible address.
Now, you might ask, what’s the point of suing a fake defendant (to the extent that some of these defendants are indeed fake)? How can anyone get any real money from a fake defendant? How can anyone order a fake defendant to obey a real injunction?
Check it out to find the answers.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in Schuchardt v. President of the United States (3d Cir. No. 15-3491). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance activities, but the district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit reversed, with an opinion that begins:
This appeal involves a constitutional challenge to an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Elliott Schuchardt appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissing his civil action for lack of jurisdiction. The District Court held that Schuchardt lacked standing to sue because he failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that his own communications had been seized by the federal government. Because we hold that, at least as a facial matter, Schuchardt’s second amended complaint plausibly stated an injury in fact personal to him, we will vacate the District Court’s order and remand.
The court goes on to discuss the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, as well as the general pleading standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal.
It’s worth noting that a case similar to Schuchardt is currently pending in the Fourth Circuit. Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA (4th Cir. No. 15-2560) is scheduled for oral argument in December. If readers are interested, below is a link to an amicus brief in the Wikimedia case that I filed on behalf of various civil procedure and federal courts professors:
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Last week Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Although there’s apparently been some “buyer’s remorse” by members of Congress who voted to override the veto, JASTA’s provisions narrowing sovereign immunity are now in effect.
Among other things, JASTA adds a new provision to Title 28 of the U.S. Code: 28 U.S.C. § 1605B. Subsection (b) of the new provision states:
(b) RESPONSIBILITY OF FOREIGN STATES.—A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by—
(1) an act of international terrorism in the United States; and
(2) a tortious act or acts of the foreign state, or of any official, employee, or agent of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency, regardless where the tortious act or acts of the foreign state occurred.
Subsection (d) provides: “A foreign state shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under subsection (b) on the basis of an omission or a tortious act or acts that constitute mere negligence.’’
Sunday, September 11, 2016
The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, will hold a hearing on Tuesday, September 13 at 11:00 a.m. on "Exploring Federal Diversity Jurisdiction."
- Mr. Charles Cooper, Partner, Cooper & Kirk, PLLC
- Ms. Joanna Shepherd, Professor of Law, Emory Law School
- Mr. Ronald Weich, Professor of Law, University of Baltimore
In 2014, Mr. Cooper co-authored an article, Complete Diversity and the Closing of the Federal Courts, which argued for minimal diversity as the jurisdictional standard and was published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, a forum for conservative scholarship.
In 2015, Professor Shepherd published a study conducted for the National Association of Manufacturers entitled Estimating the Impact of a Minimal Diversity Standard on Federal Court Caseloads, which concluded:
This study shows that concerns of diversity jurisdiction burdening the federal courts are largely unfounded. Empirical analysis of almost 3,600 complaints filed in state court shows that replacing complete diversity with a minimal diversity standard would increase existing federal district court caseloads by less than 8 percent. Distributed evenly over existing federal judgeships, this caseload increase translates into an additional 43 cases per year for each judgeship.
Ronald Weich is the dean of University of Baltimore College of Law.
Hat tip: Altom Maglio.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued its decision in In re: Missouri Department of Corrections. The case involves a subpoena that two Mississippi death row inmates served on the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) seeking discovery relating to Missouri’s use of pentobarbital in lethal injections, including the identities of its pentobarbital suppliers. The inmates are challenging Mississippi’s execution method (which does not use pentobarbital) as violating the Eighth Amendment.
MDOC moved to quash the subpoena, but the district court in Missouri denied the motion and ordered MDOC to produce most of the information sought by the inmates. The Eighth Circuit has now denied MDOC’s request for a writ of mandamus challenging that order. It’s a short six-page opinion, but it covers a lot of ground—from appellate mandamus, to whether a subpoena creates an undue burden under FRCP 45(d)(3)(A)(iv), to sovereign immunity, to the state secrets privilege.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Earlier this summer, Judge Robert Mariani of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion dismissing an Alien Tort Statute claim brought against Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who has been a U.S. permanent resident since the 1990s. (Gülen has been in the news more recently following the attempted coup that took place in Turkey last month; Turkey is currently seeking Gülen’s extradition.)
Judge Mariani’s ruling in Ates v. Gülen contains a detailed discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel (an important Alien Tort Statute decision from 2013) as well as some of the post-Kiobel case law in the lower federal courts.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Today U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an opinion in Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State, a FOIA case seeking employment records relating to Huma Abedin, long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. In connection with the plaintiff’s request for discovery under FRCP 56(d), the court ordered that the plaintiff may serve interrogatories on Hillary Clinton but could not depose her.
From the opinion:
The Court directs Judicial Watch to propound questions that are relevant to Secretary Clinton’s unique first-hand knowledge of the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s federal lawsuit against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission was dismissed today on Younger abstention grounds. Here’s the order:
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
How the Current Version of Rule 5 Frustrates Public Access to Discovery in the “Trump University” Lawsuit and Other Cases
Most people know by now that Cohen v. Donald Trump, No. 3:13-cv-02519, is a class action in federal court in San Diego alleging that Trump University defrauded thousands of consumers who purchased real estate courses. What is less widely reported is that the complaint alleges that Donald Trump violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), a federal statute passed in 1970 to make it easier to prosecute members of organized crime – e.g., the Mafia. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Donald Trump violated RICO by conducting Trump University (the alleged criminal enterprise) through a “pattern of racketeering activity” consisting of crimes of mail fraud and wire fraud.
The Discovery Sought by the News Media
What does this have to do with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? Well, hang on. One of the latest skirmishes in the case is that major news media organizations (CNN, The Washington Post, CBS, and several others) have moved to intervene for the purpose of modifying the protective order so that the videotaped depositions of Donald Trump taken in the case may be released.
Earlier, the plaintiff tried to file portions of the videos in court as exhibits to his brief opposing Trump’s motion for summary judgment. The court returned the videos to the plaintiff for failing to comply with a court rule. The plaintiff promptly moved to file “a series of electronic files of video excerpts from the depositions of Trump, taken on December 10, 2015, and January 21, 2016.” Trump opposes the motion.
But meanwhile, plaintiff’s motion revealed the existence of two days of depositions of Trump in videotape form, of which plaintiff is only seeking to file a fraction. The putative intervenors (the news media) want it all.
Rule 5 Prohibits the Filing of Discovery in Court Until “Used in the Proceeding”
Perhaps one of the most somnolent of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is Rule 5, “Serving and Filing Pleadings and Other Papers.” Since 2000, Rule 5(d)(1) has prohibited the filing in court of discovery requests and responses (including initial disclosures, depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents, and requests for admission). From 1980 to 2000, Rule 5 allowed local courts to prohibit the filing of discovery. (Of course, once a party “uses” the discovery “in a proceeding” – for example, as an exhibit to a summary judgment motion – it must be filed in court.)
In contrast, before 1980, Rule 5 required the filing of discovery – depositions, interrogatories, and so forth – in court. The only reason that was publicly stated for the change to prohibiting the filing of discovery in court was that the copies for filing could be expensive and that the courts did not have enough physical storage space. But now that everything is digital, it would seem that the issues of expense and physical storage space are moot.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., on the nominations of:
Donald Karl Schott, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit
Paul Lewis Abrams, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of California
Stephanie A. Finley, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Louisiana
Claude J. Kelly III, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Winfield D. Ong, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Indiana
On Thursday, May 19, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., the Committee will consider the nominations of:
Ronald G. Russell, to be United States District Judge for the District of Utah
Inga S. Bernstein, to be United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts
Stephanie A. Gallagher, to be United States District Judge for the District of Maryland
Suzanne Mitchell, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma
Scott L. Palk, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma