Friday, March 17, 2017
Adam Zimmerman has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Bellwether Settlement, which will appear in the Fordham Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This Article examines the use of "bellwether settlements" in mass litigation. Bellwether settlements are different from “bellwether trials,” a practice where parties choose a representative sample of cases for trial to determine how to resolve a much larger number of similar cases. In bellwether settlements, the parties instead rely on a representative sample of mediations overseen by judges and court-appointed mediators.
The hope behind bellwether settlements is that different settlement outcomes, not trials, will offer the parties crucial building blocks to forge a comprehensive global resolution. In so doing, the process attempts to (1) yield important information about claims, remedies, and strategies that parties often would not share in preparation for a high-stakes trial; (2) avoid outlier or clustering verdicts that threaten a global resolution for all the claims; and (3) build trust among counsel in ways that do not usually occur until much later in the litigation process.
The embrace of such bellwether settlements raises new questions about the roles of the judge and jury in mass litigation.What do bellwether settlements even mean when the procedures and outcomes lack any connection with a jury trial? What function do courts serve when large cases push judges outside their traditional roles as adjudicators of adverse claims, supervisors of controlled fact-finding, and interpreters of law?
This Article argues that, as in other areas of aggregate litigation, courts can play a vital “information-forcing” role in bellwether settlement practice. Even in a system dominated by settlement, judges can help parties set ground rules, open lines of communication, and, in the process, make more reasoned trade-offs. In so doing, courts protect the procedural, substantive, and rule-of-law values that aggregate settlements may threaten.
Friday, March 10, 2017
We covered earlier several bills that could make significant changes to federal civil procedure. Two of these passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
- H.R. 725 (the Innocent Party Protection Act) passed by a vote of 224–194.
- H.R. 985 (the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act) passed by a vote of 220-201-1.
Stay tuned. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate will be a more difficult proposition.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The House of Representatives Committee on Rules has announced that it will meet the week of March 6 “to grant a rule that may provide a structured amendment process for floor consideration of” H.R. 720 (amendments to FRCP 11), H.R. 725 (on so-called “fraudulent” joinder), and H.R. 985 (on class actions and MDLs).
Hat tip: Adam Zimmerman
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
In addition to the six bills already reported here and here, House Republicans have also introduced H.R. 1118, the so-called “Innocent Sellers Fairness Act,” which would federalize the law of product liability by limiting liability for the sellers of a product. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX 27), Rep. John Duncan (R-TN 2), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX 21).
The operative provisions of the bill provide:
(a) In general
No seller of any product shall be liable for personal injury, monetary loss, or damage to property arising out of an accident or transaction involving such product, unless the claimant proves one or more of the following activities by the seller:
(1) The seller was the manufacturer of the product.
(2) The seller participated in the design of the product.
(3) The seller participated in the installation of the product.
(4) The seller altered, modified, or expressly warranted the product in a manner not authorized by the manufacturer.
(5) The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product as a result of a recall from the manufacturer or governmental entity authorized to make such recall or actual inspection at the time the seller sold the product to the claimant.
(6) The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time the seller supplied the product.
(7) The seller intentionally altered or modified a product warranty, warning or instruction from the manufacturer in a way not authorized by the manufacturer.
(8) The seller knowingly made a false representation about an aspect of the product not authorized by the manufacturer.
(b) Liability of seller in cases of negligence
If the claimant proves one or more of the activities described in subsection (a) and such activity was negligent, the seller’s liability is limited to the personal injury, monetary loss, or damage to property, directly caused by such activity.
These provisions resemble Section 8 of the American Legislative Exchange Council's so-called “model policy” on product liability for state legislators to copy.
Unlike the other six bills, this one has not passed the House Judiciary Committee.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Elizabeth Burch has recently published Monopolies in Multidistrict Litigation, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 67 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
When transferee judges receive a multidistrict proceeding, they select a few lead plaintiffs’ lawyers to efficiently manage litigation and settlement negotiations. That decision gives those attorneys total control over all consolidated plaintiffs’ claims and rewards them richly in common-benefit fees. It’s no surprise then that these are coveted positions, yet empirical evidence confirms that the same attorneys occupy them time and again.
Anytime repeat players exist and exercise both oligopolistic leadership control across multidistrict proceedings and monopolistic power within a single proceeding, there is concern that they will use their dominance to enshrine practices and norms that benefit themselves at consumers’ (or here, clients’) expense. Apprehensiveness should increase when defense lawyers are repeat players too, as they are in multidistrict litigation. And anxiety may peak when the circumstances exhibit these anti-competitive characteristics, but lack regulation as they do here. Without the safeguards built into class certification, judicial monitoring and appellate checks disappear. What remains is a system that may permit lead lawyers to act, at times, like a cartel.
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):
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Sunday, January 10, 2016
On January 8, the House of Representatives passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2016. (The L.A. Times called the "fairness in class action" part of the title "Orwellian" and "shameless.")
For additional coverage of the bill, see our post from last Friday.
The bill goes to the Senate next for consideration.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
An interesting opinion by U.S. District Judge William G. Young:
- provides a definition of “coupons” as used in the Class Action Fairness Act;
- makes sense of the “poorly drafted” CAFA provision regulating attorneys’ fees in so-called coupon settlements; and
- incidentally speculates on the relationship between MDL case assignment, the potential loss of judgeships in a district, and the strictness of a district judge’s scrutiny of attorneys’ fees in class action settlements.
Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., No. CV 11-10920-WGY, 2015 WL 8484421 (D. Mass. Dec. 9, 2015).
This class action, based on Massachusetts consumer law, alleged that Michaels “asked customers for their zip codes as part of credit card transactions to reverse engineer those customers' addresses using commercially available databases, and then used those addresses to carry out aggressive and unwanted marketing campaigns.” [Internal quotation marks omitted.] After Michaels moved to dismiss, the federal court certified legal questions to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which held plaintiffs’ allegations sufficient under state law.
After discovery, the parties settled and the court approved the settlement, reserving a ruling on class counsel’s request for fees. Under the settlement, class members were to receive a $10.00 or $25.00 “voucher” to be used on any merchandise in Michaels’ physical stores, with certain restrictions on use. The face value of the vouchers was $418,000.00. The value of the vouchers actually redeemed by class members was $138,620.00.
Class counsel requested fees and costs of $425,000.00, asserting that Massachusetts law, not CAFA, governed the fees request because the vouchers were not “coupons” as used in CAFA, 28 U.S.C. § 1712, which applies to settlements that “provide for a recovery of coupons to a class member.” Surprisingly, CAFA does not define “coupon.” Surveying other cases, the Court “essay[ed] such a definition: when class members must transact business with the defendant to obtain the benefit of the settlement, the settlement ‘provides for a recovery of coupons’ under section 1712. In other words, coupons must be redeemed; conversely, if an award must be redeemed, it is a coupon.” Under that definition, the Michaels vouchers were coupons, and section 1712 applied to the fees request.
That didn’t settle the matter, however, because section 1712 is bewilderingly drafted. (I won’t reprint it here: just read subsections (a), (b), and (c), if you dare, and see if you can decipher them.) Again after surveying other cases, the Court held that even in a coupon-only settlement, section 1712 “vests the Court with the discretion to choose between using a percentage-of-coupons-redeemed method, or the lodestar method.”
Here, the Court chose the lodestar method (attorney hours worked times hourly fee) for two reasons: “[f]irst, class counsel vindicated the important public policy goals of Massachusetts' consumer protection statute,” and “[s]econd, and most importantly, they obtained binding precedent from the Supreme Judicial Court that will influence conduct far beyond that of Michaels.” However, the Court warned:
Given the hostility to disproportionately large fee awards to class counsel evident in the legislative history -- at least insofar as fees generated from obtaining coupon settlements were concerned -- counsel may reasonably expect that this Court will generally award attorneys' fees based on a percentage of the actual value of the coupons redeemed by class members, absent the groundbreaking nature of this case.
The Court found that the requested hourly fee of $650.00 for partners was unreasonable, and cut it to $350.00. This yielded a lodestar of $312,895.00 in attorneys’ fees, which was awarded along with $14,005.30 in costs.
In other words, the fees award, even though reduced from what was requested, still ended up being more than twice as much as the value of the vouchers actually redeemed by class members. Personally, I have no problem with that: in my opinion, the primary purpose of the consumer class action is not to compensate the plaintiff class, but to hold the defendant accountable for violating the law. Others obviously disagree.
Here’s where the Court’s two-page footnote 29 comes in. The Court’s point appears to be this: at least one pro-business advocacy group has argued to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that the Panel’s decision where to send an MDL should “rest on a district judge’s strict scrutiny of claims for attorneys’ fees in class action settlements.” In other words, business interests have argued that the more strictly a district judge scrutinizes fees requests, the more that judge should be favored as the transferee court in an MDL. But why should judges want to be the transferee court in an MDL? Because all of those transferred cases will now be counted as part of that judge’s, and that district’s, civil caseload. (When a civil case is filed in one district, and transferred to another district for whatever reason, including MDL, it is counted as a filing in both the transferor and the transferee court. So, for example, if the Panel transfers 5,000 MDL cases to another district, the transferee district gets 5,000 cases added to its total filings.) This accrual of cases “tend[s] to immunize that court against the potential loss of a judgeship,” because recommendations by the Judicial Conference to add or subtract authorized district court judgeships are based in part on the number of case filings that district has.
So the Court in Tyler candidly “confess[ed] that, when awarding attorneys' fees in this case, it contemplated -- but rejected as wholly inappropriate -- an additional consideration: the views of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.”
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Emery G. Lee III, Catherine R. Borden, Margaret S. Williams, and Kevin M. Scott have published in Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies their article, Multidistrict Centralization: An Empirical Examination.
Following the judiciary's experience with aggregate litigation in the 1960s, Congress established a procedure for the transfer of related cases to a single district court for coordinated pretrial proceedings. Originally designed to achieve efficiencies associated with coordinated discovery, the multidistrict litigation (MDL) process evolved from a rather modest starting point to become a central part of aggregate litigation in the federal courts today. Despite its importance, however, there is little empirical research on the MDL process. This article seeks to fill this gap in the empirical literature by addressing a few central questions about the work of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (Panel). Using a unique database, we examine how that body decided motions to centralize multidistrict litigation. We find, most importantly, that the Panel became more likely to order centralization of proceedings over time, after controlling for other factors. That trend is not, however, apparent in the most recent years' data. We also find, all else equal, that the Panel is more likely to centralize a proceeding including class allegations, and more likely to centralize proceedings raising certain kinds of claims.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Linda Mullenix entitled Into Litigation’s Black Hole: A Cosmic Solution. Linda reviews Judge Eduardo Robreno’s recent article, The Federal Asbestos Product Liablity Multidistrict Litigation (MDL-875): Black Hole Or New Paradigm?, 23 Widener L.J. 97 (2013).
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Back at the end of last Term we covered the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Gelboim v. Bank of America (No. 13-1174). This week the Court issued a unanimous opinion in Gelboim, authored by Justice Ginsburg. Here’s how she teed things up:
An unsuccessful litigant in a federal district court may take an appeal, as a matter of right, from a “final decisio[n] of the district cour[t].” 28 U.S.C. §1291. The question here presented: Is the right to appeal secured by §1291 affected when a case is consolidated for pretrial proceedings in multidistrict litigation (or MDL) authorized by 28 U.S.C. §1407?
The Court’s answer: No. Plaintiffs whose action was consolidated for pretrial MDL proceedings could still appeal the dismissal of their action, even though other cases in the MDL remained pending. It was not necessary for such plaintiffs to obtain authorization to appeal via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).
In footnote 4, though, the Court reserved judgment on whether it would reach the same conclusion when cases were “combined in an all-purpose consolidation,” as opposed to an MDL consolidation for pretrial purposes only. (Not as glamorous as footnote 4 of Carolene Products, but worth keeping an eye on.)
For more, Howard Wasserman has an analysis of the opinion over at SCOTUSblog.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation granted three Motions to Centralize and denied eight Motions to Centralize in its July 2013 Hearing Session.
MDL No. 2458 - IN RE: Effexor (Venlafaxine Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation (before Judge Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
MDL No. 2455 - IN RE: Stericycle, Inc., Steri-Safe Contract Litigation (before Judge Shadur in the Northern District of Illinois)
MDL No. 2454 - IN RE: Franck's Lab, Inc., Products Liability Litigation (before Judge Engelhardt in the Eastern District of Louisiana)
MDL No. 2469 - IN RE: Capatriti Brand Olive Oil Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation
MDL No. 2467 - IN RE: Bank of America, N.A., Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation
MDL No. 2466 - IN RE: Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation
MDL No. 2465 - IN RE: JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation
MDL No. 2464 - IN RE: HSBC Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation
MDL No. 2463 - IN RE: Fresh Dairy Products Antitrust Litigation (No. II)
MDL No. 2453 - IN RE: Adderall XR (Amphetamine/Dextroamphetamine) Marketing, Sales Practices and Antitrust Litigation
MDL No. 2456 - IN RE: Kashi Company Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation
Monday, July 22, 2013
The Northern District of Ohio, supervising multidistrict litigation alleging that Whirlpool's front-loading washing machines allow mold and mildew to grow in the machines, certified a class of Ohio purchasers for liability purposes. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Whirlpool's petition for certiorari, vacated, and remanded to the Sixth Circuit for reconsideration in light of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013).
The Sixth Circuit just reaffirmed the class certification, despite Amgen and Comcast. Glazer v. Whirlpool Corp., No. 10-4188 (6th Cir. July 18, 2013).
Thursday, June 27, 2013
From The Legal Intelligencer, part 3 of 3:
Each state and federal court might have its own inviolable power to adjudicate cases and issue orders within its territory. But that does not stop judges from cooperating in the face of mass-tort litigation that arises both in state and federal court.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein, of the Western District of Washington and a visiting judge to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said that for many years input was not obtained from state-court judges, but that has changed.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
From The Legal Intelligencer, Part 2 of 3:
The number of mass torts filings in the United States hasn't seen a precipitous drop-off, but profit margins for the law firms defending those cases have taken a hit.
A confluence of events over the past five years has caused mass torts work, namely in the pharmaceutical space, to face increasing rate sensitivity. That has caused firms to either reconfigure their mass torts practices or de-emphasize the work altogether. Even some still involved with defending mass torts now use the once lucrative work more as a springboard for other assignments in practice areas facing less rate pressure.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
class actions (consolidated in an MDL in Minnesota) are notable for the whimsical names of their subclasses, the Soggy
Plaintiffs and the Cloggy Plaintiffs.
The Eighth Circuit upheld the settlement of several class actions
alleging damage caused by defective brass
plumbing fittings sold by defendants Radiant and Uponor. The Soggy Plaintiffs have already experienced
leaking (in some cases causing severe damage) and the Cloggy Plaintiffs have
not yet experienced leaks but have the same fittings.
"The proposed settlement agreement stipulated that after two leaks, soggy plaintiffs would be entitled to have their entire plumbing system replaced at Uponor and Radiant's expense. Cloggy plaintiffs who had demonstrated 'by way of a flow test that a differential in water flow . . . of more than 50% [exists] between the hot and cold lines' would also be entitled to replacement of their brass fittings, and if that proved insufficient, to a new plumbing system."
After notice of the proposed settlement had been sent, Ortega, a California resident, moved to intervene as of right. His motion was denied as untimely. He and 26 other class members then objected to the settlement, arguing that notice had been deficient, that the scope of the release of defendants was overbroad, and that the settlement did not account for a cause of action available under California law. All of these arguments were rejected and the district court's approval of the settlement was upheld. In re Uponor, Inc., F1807 Plumbing Fittings Products Liability Litigation, No. 12-2761 (8th Cir. June 7, 2013).
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Twelve Asbestos Plaintiffs' Claims Dismissed Under Rule 41(b) for Noncompliance with Administrative Order
The Third Circuit has upheld the dismissal of twelve plaintiffs' claims in the Asbestos MDL for failure to comply with an administrative order requiring them to include specific histories of their exposure to asbestos. The first paragraph of the opinion is:
This appeal comes to us from Multidistict Litigtion case number 875 ("MDL 875"), otherwise known as the "Asbestos MDL," involving asbestos cases from around the country, pending before Judge Robreno in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The District Court, overseeing several thousand asbestos cases, dismissed the claims of twelve Plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure based on non-compliance with the District Court's Administrative Order No. 12 ("AO 12"). Specifically, Judge Robreno determinated that the Plaintiffs' submissions were fatally flawed in that they failed to include specific histories of Plaintiffs' exposure to asbestos. Plaintiffs contend on appeal, as they did in the District Court, that AO 12 did not impose this requirement, and urge, alternatively, that even if it did, under a proper balancing of the factors we outlined in Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casulaty Company, 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984), dismissal with prejudice was not warranted. For the reasons discussed below, we will affirm the District Court's dismissal of the twelve cases at issue.
In re: Asbestos Products Liability Litigation, No. 12-2061 (3d Cir. May 31, 2013).
Friday, March 22, 2013
In the shameless self-promotion category . . .
I have posted on SSRN a draft of my article "Confronting the Myth of 'State Court Class Action Abuses' Through an Understanding of Heuristics and a Plea for More Statistics." The paper has been accepted for publication in the UMKC Law Review, Volume 82, No. 1 (2013).
The Supreme Court heard five cases involving class actions this term. One of these cases, Standard Fire Insurance Company v. Knowles, brought the Class Action Fairness Act to the Court for the first time. Petitioner insurance company and its numerous business-interest amici repeatedly claimed before the Court that "state court class action abuses" should justify removal of the case (which was based on state law and filed in state court) to federal court.
The charge of "state court class action abuses" echoes the same rhetoric that CAFA's supporters used in their ultimately successful efforts to pass the legislation. Hyperbolic assertions of a "flood of state court class actions" in which plaintiffs' lawyers were "abusing" the limits of diversity jurisdiction to keep cases in state court, and state courts were "abusing" the class action device by granting "drive-by" class certifications, fill the pages of CAFA's legislative history.
Unfortunately for the quality of the debate, then and now, no current data and very little past data about class actions are readily and publicly available, for federal or state courts. In other words, courts in the United States offer no data on such basic questions as the number of cases filed as class actions, the percentage of cases designated as class actions that are eventually certified as such, or the ultimate disposition of such cases.
To be sure, the herculean efforts of the Federal Judicial Center, the California Office of Court Research, and private academic researchers have resulted in the compilation of databases that provided partial answers to some of these questions. But these limited efforts are well beyond the resources and skill available to the public, the press, and even to most policy-makers and the Court.
What does the lack of baseline data on class actions mean? A wealth of psychological research has shown that human cognition and judgment are subject to a variety of heuristics and biases. For example, the mantra of "state court class action abuses" has a "priming effect" making it easier to see or imagine such "abuses." Further, the mind automatically attempts to create a coherent story out of the information it has, even if that information is incomplete or invalid. This manifests itself in many ways, including the "anchoring effect," the "availability heuristic," and the "representativeness heuristic," which are exploited by those spreading the myth of "state court class action abuses." Even if a person knew the base rate of class action filings or dispositions, for example, the "representativeness heuristic" would make it difficult to avoid making judgments about class actions based on negative stereotypical anecdotes. Without such base rates available at all, it will be almost impossible. One can only hope that the Court will resist the lure of class action mythology as it considers the five class action cases pending this term.