Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I posted a new and likely controversial piece titled "Disaggregating" on SSRN today. As the abstract explains, the basic idea is that if courts can no longer resolve mass torts cases through judicial means, like approving a class action settlement, and must resort to encouraging private settlement, then perhaps we should rethink what we hope to accomplish by centralizing these cases.
Rethinking centralization really requires that we consider two questions: First, what level of commonality justifies aggregating mass torts, shorn of Rule 23’s procedural protections? And, second, should the federal judicial system continue to centralize claims with nominal commonality when judges typically cannot resolve those claims collectively absent a private settlement?
This Article’s title suggests one answer: if minimal commonality continues to justify collective litigation, then the system should aggregate claims to resolve common concerns and then, as state laws or individual differences come to the forefront, disaggregate into smaller, cohesive groups whose members’ claims could be resolved collectively through public, judicial means, such as trials or dispositive motions. Disaggregating into smaller, more cohesive units could revive the use of issues classes, particularly when the class definition is correspondingly narrow.
To be clear, I do not claim that this is the only way to legitimately resolve mass torts. But my previous work has prompted me to think more directly about the use of exit. Exit can perform a number of functions. It can signal dissatisfaction with substantive or procedural fairness. It allows plaintiffs with fundamental differences over which litigation ends to pursue and how to pursue them to leave the group when significant conflicts arise. It thus preserves plaintiffs' choice of forum and may also safeguard defendants' right to assert individual affirmative defenses.
Exit performs other functions, too, such as preserving substantive law and furthering democratic ideals. For example, while private ordering through settlement might follow a handful of bellwether trials, jurors are geographically concentrated in the transferee forum. That allows no public participation from other affected communities nationwide, whereas holding trials in plaintiffs’ original fora would further democratic participation ideals. Jury trials are, after all, meant to be a communal enterprise and, as the American Tort Reform Association likes to point out, each community may approach the adjudicative and deliberative process differently. In that way, disaggregating might also help maintain fidelity to state substantive law.
As always, I'd be interested in your comments - eburch at uga.edu
Thursday, August 16, 2012
This article argues that there is an unrecognized “anticommons” problem in aggregate litigation. An anticommons occurs when too many owners’ consent is needed to use a resource at its most efficient scale. When many plaintiffs have similar claims against a common defendant, those claims are often worth more if they can be packaged up and sold to the defendant (i.e., settled) as a single unit — that is, the defendant may be willing to pay a premium for total peace. But because the rights to control those claims are dispersed among the individual plaintiffs, transaction costs and strategic holdouts can make aggregation difficult, particularly in cases where class actions are impractical. Recently the American Law Institute has proposed to modify long-standing legal ethics rules governing non-class aggregate settlements to allow plaintiffs to agree in advance to be bound by a supermajority vote on a group settlement offer. By shifting from individual control over settlement decisions to collective decision making, the ALI proposal may offer a way out of the anticommons and allow the group to capture the peace premium. Critics, however, say that allowing plaintiffs to surrender their autonomy will leave them vulnerable to exploitation by the majority and by their lawyers. Viewed through the lens of the anticommons, these concerns are manageable. Similar anticommons problems arise in many areas of law, ranging from eminent domain to oil and gas to sovereign debt. But instead of slavishly preserving the autonomy of individual rights-holders, these areas of law have developed strategies for aggregating rights when doing so will result in joint gains. Drawing from these other contexts, this article argues that the legitimacy of compelling individuals to participate in a value-generating aggregation depends on the presence of governance procedures capable of protecting the interests of the individuals within the collective and ensuring that the gains from cooperation are fairly allocated. Governance is thus the key to legitimizing attempts to defeat the anticommons in mass litigation through aggregation, whether by regulatory means, such as the class action, or contractual precommitment, as in the ALI proposal.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Below is an announcement for the Branstetter Civil Justice Workshop. This is a wonderful experience if you are lucky enough to be selected! ADL
2013 NEW VOICES IN CIVIL JUSTICE SCHOLARSHIP WORKSHOP
CALL FOR PAPERS
Vanderbilt Law School’s Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program invites submissions for its annual New Voices in Civil Justice Scholarship Workshop, to be held May 6-7, 2013 at Vanderbilt Law
This year, four junior scholars will be selected via a blind review process to present at the New Voices Workshop. The format maximizes collegial interaction and feedback: in lieu of author “presentations,” all participants read the selected papers prior to the session, and at each workshop, a senior faculty member provides a brief overview and
commentary on the paper. Open and interactive discussion immediately follows.
Submitted papers should address an aspect of civil justice, broadly defined. Subject areas may include, but are not limited to, civil procedure, complex litigation, evidence, federal courts, judicial decision-making, alternative dispute resolution, remedies, and conflict
of laws. In keeping with the intellectual breadth of the Branstetter Program faculty, the Workshop welcomes all scholarly methodologies, from traditional doctrinal analysis to quantitative or experimental approaches.
Submissions must be received at Branstetter.Program@vanderbilt.edu
no later than January 1, 2013. Selected participants will have reasonable travel and accommodations covered. Other requirements and more details about the workshop can be found at www.law.vanderbilt.edu/newvoices.
Sam Issacharoff (NYU) has posted "Assembling Class Actions" on SSRN. The article is forthcoming in Washington University Law Journal as part of a symposium on the future of class actions. Here's the abstract:
Five times in the past two years, the Supreme Court has engaged the propriety of class actions. Taken together, these cases revisit certain core issues in class action law, all turning on the need and justification for treating individuals as part of a collective entity for litigation purposes. When examined from the perspective of legal treatment of individuals as part of a collective – assembling the class action, in the terminology of the title – three distinct aspects of class organization stand out. First, the existence of the litigation entity requires that someone be in charge, and that in turn raises the problem of how to ensure the faithfulness of the appointed agent. Second, the decision to forge a litigation entity necessarily empowers one side of the dispute, and that requires some justification. And, finally, even when litigation entities exist, class action law must come to terms with the range of individual autonomy that should still be recognized, including the ability to contract out of collective representation. As developed in the difficult recent class action cases, the questions of leadership, underwriting, and autonomy help define how modern class action practice endeavors to provide equality of treatment and predictability in the interaction between the individual insults of aggrieved citizens and the undiscriminating consequences of mass society.
Rhonda Wasserman (Pittsburgh) has posted an article titled "Legal Process in a Box, or What Class Action Waivers Teach Us about Law-Making" on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
The Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion advanced an agenda found in neither the text nor the legislative history of the Federal Arbitration Act. Concepcion provoked a maelstrom of reactions not only from the press and the academy, but also from Congress, federal agencies and lower courts, as they struggled to interpret, apply, reverse, or cabin the Court’s blockbuster decision. These reactions raise a host of provocative questions about the relationships among the branches of government and between the Supreme Court and the lower courts. Among other questions, Concepcion and its aftermath force us to grapple with the relationship between law and politics, the role of legislative history in statutory interpretation, the meaning of legislative primacy, the influence of federal agencies on the development of the law, and competing conceptions of the relationship between the Supreme Court and the lower courts.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The saga continues with a 97 page opinion by Judge Kaplan denying the plaintiff Chevron's motion for partial summary judgment with leave to refile. I haven't read the opinion yet but the table of contents promises a lot of fodder for civil procedure mavens, especially summary judgment and personal jurisdiction.
You can find a copy of the opinon here.
You can find coverage of the opinion at these locations:
And a great story about this piece of the long-standing litigation at the New Yorker last year.