March 17, 2010
ASLCH Annual Conference and Presentation on "Examining Litigant Autonomy in Mass Torts: Insights from the Individualism of Ayn Rand"
On Saturday, March 20, I'll be speaking as part of a panel on "Pluralism in Tort Law and Litigation" at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and Humanities, at Brown University in Rhode Island. The panel will be moderated by Professor Alan Calnan (Southwestern), and other presenting panelists are Professors Christopher Robinette (Widener) and Sheila Scheuerman (Charleston). A podcast of the panel may later be posted on this blog. Given the conference's focus on culture and humanities, my talk draws upon literature and political theory. Here's the abstract for my talk:
Byron Stier -- "Examining Litigant Autonomy in Mass Torts: Insights from the Individualism of Ayn Rand"
Class actions and other aggregate procedural methods raise questions about the relationship of the individual to the group. Litigant autonomy -- the litigant's interest in controlling his or her lawsuit -- has generally been considered merely one value among others in mass tort litigation, and only recently has a robust commitment to litigant autonomy been seen to call into question the entire structure of class action practice. In looking for insight into the proper place for litigant autonomy in class actions or other management methods, we might fruitfully turn to political debates concerning the relationship of the citizen to the state, for both settings examine the rights of the individual against the perceived needs of the group or collective. For discussion of that political question, I look to an unusual source -- outside law, to the literature of one known for her radical political individualism, Ayn Rand. Her novel, "We The Living," which was published in 1936 and is set in the aftermath of the communist revolution in Russia, puts forth a moral argument for individualism stemming from the sanctity of one's own life, and of one's control of one's own life, for one's own ends, not the group's; she also argues that personal tragedy and systemic corruption accompany an approach that fails to respect individuals' lives and choices. Turning back to mass tort litigation, I suggest that our notion of litigant autonomy can be informed by Rand's themes and that current class action rules show flaws similar to the collectivism that Rand critiques. Viewing litigant autonomy not merely as one value among others, but instead as an organizing principle that must be respected as a core right, I suggest that current class action rules regarding notice, opt-out, and settlement are problematic because they do not allow adequate expression of individual preference and they blunt each class member's individuality. In addition, by avoiding individual control, the current class action rules create fertile ground for corruption and collusive settlements.
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