Wednesday, April 17, 2013
As we as scholars and practictioners begin to explore class action alternatives, one problem continues to arise: when to preclude subsesequent litigation. Of course, this problem arose early on in the class action's history, most notably with (b)(2) civil rights cases where some class members disagreed fundamentally over the remedy requested. But the problem has persisted in multidistrict litigation and, perhaps most notably, in parens patriae actions. I explore this problem and propose a solution in my latest piece, titled Adequately Representing Groups. Here's the SSRN abstract, which gives a brief summary of the proposed solution:
Adequate representation and preclusion depend on whether the courts treat a litigant as part of a group experiencing an aggregate harm or as a distinct person suffering individual injuries. And though a vast literature about adequate representation exists in the class-action context, it thins dramatically when contemplating other forms of group litigation, such as parens patriae actions and multidistrict litigation. As class actions have gradually fallen into disfavor and attorneys and commentators seek alternative means for resolving group harms, the relative clarity of Rule 23 wanes. How should courts evaluate adequate representation in parens patriae actions and in multidistrict litigation? The answer to this question matters immensely since adequate representation is critical to precluding relitigation and achieving finality.
This Article suggests that courts should differentiate between inadequate representation claims based on the underlying right at stake. When the underlying right arises from an aggregate harm — a harm that affects a group of people equally and collectively — and demands an indivisible remedy, courts should tolerate greater conflicts among group members when evaluating a subsequent claim of inadequate representation. Because the harm is aggregate and the remedy is indivisible (typically declaratory or injunctive relief), if one group member receives the remedy, then they all receive the remedy. The litigation operates to group members’ benefit or detriment equally, so if one group member is inadequately represented, they are all inadequately represented. Consequently, a subsequent litigant can successfully avoid preclusion only where the lawyers or the named representatives acted contrary to the group’s best interests or attempted to represent an overinclusive, noncohesive group where some members required unique relief that the representative had no selfish reason to pursue.
Conversely, when plaintiffs suffer individual injuries at the same defendant’s hands and unite their claims for economic or efficiency reasons, that aggregation does not convert their individual injuries into an aggregate harm. When counsel fails to fairly represent her client in vindicating that harm, inadequate representation is an individual injury. In multidistrict litigation and Rule 23(b)(3) class actions, which typically include individuals litigating their individual harms together for systematic and litigant efficiency, courts should look for “structural conflicts” between the claimants themselves as well as between the representatives and the claimants. This means that both initially and on a collateral attack, courts should accept fewer conflicts than in cases involving aggregate rights. Accordingly, judges should assess whether there are reasons the lawyers “might skew systematically the conduct of the litigation so as to favor some claimants over others on grounds aside from reasoned evaluation of their respective claims or to disfavor claimants generally vis-à-vis the lawyers themselves.”
Friday, March 29, 2013
Zachary Savage (J.D. Candidate, NYU), has posted to SSRN his student note, Scaling Up: Implementing Issue Preclusion in Mass Tort Litigation Through Bellwether Trials, N.Y.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013). Here's the abstract:
The civil litigation system aims to resolve disputes in an efficient, centralized, and final manner. In the context of mass tort litigation, one technique courts often use to achieve these goals is what I call “scaling up”: holding individual trials, and then applying results from these trials to similarly situated individuals. Scaling up, however, presents two difficulties. First, the technique risks compromising defendants’ Due Process rights by creating impermissible settlement pressure. Second, scaling up requires the initial court to structure the litigation so that it may serve as a template for follow-on proceedings; where this is not done, attempting to graft the results of one proceeding onto the remaining group of similarly situated individuals may simply lead to more protracted litigation.
Yet these difficulties are not inherent to the technique; in fact, courts can scale up in a way that avoids these problems. In order to mitigate the Due Process problem, courts should not apply the results of individual trials to subsequent trials involving similar claims until a substantial number of trials have been completed, and until it has become clear that any verdicts unfavorable to defendants are not flukes or outliers. And to ensure that scaling up does not simply lead to more protracted litigation, the initial trials should be structured so as to maximize the likelihood that individuals in follow-on litigation can invoke the findings under the issue preclusion doctrine of Parklane Hosiery v. Shore. The American Law Institute has made a proposal with these considerations in mind with respect to issue classes. This Note argues that a similar approach should be taken in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) process, where most mass tort litigation occurs today. This approach would be particularly useful if applied to one device that is being used with increasing frequency in the MDL process: the bellwether trial.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Widener University School of Law and the Widener Law Journal are presenting a day-long symposium, Perspectives on Mass Tort Litigation, on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Honorable Eduardo Robreno of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will present a luncheon address, Federal Asbestos Litigation: Black Hole or New Paradigm? Other participants include Hon. Thurbert Baker (McKenna Long); Mark Behrens (Shook Hardy); John Beisner (Skadden); S. Todd Brown (SUNY Buffalo); Scott Cooper (Schmidt Kramer); Amaris Elliot-Engel (Legal Intelligencer); Michael Green (Wake Forest); Deborah Hensler (Stanford); Mary Kate Kearney (Widener); Randy Lee (Widener); Bruce Mattock (Goldberg Persky); Tobias Millrood (Pogust Braslow); Linda Mullenix (Texas); Christopher Robinette (Widener); Susan Raeker-Jordan (Widener); Sheila Scheuerman (Charleston); Victor Schwartz (Shook Hardy); William Shelley (Gordon & Rees); Aaron Twerski (Brooklyn); Nicholas Vari (K&L Gates); and Nancy Winkler (Eisenberg Rothweiler). I will also participate via Skype videoconference. Here's the brochure: Download Widener 2013 MTL Symposiu Brochure
Monday, January 21, 2013
Corporate Counsel has a short piece, Crafting a Defense in Food-Labeling Class Actions, by O'Melveny's Kelsey Larson and Carlos Lazatin.
Skadden has issued a useful analysis of upcoming cases to watch and potential developments for 2013 in class actions and product liability. The analysis includes contributes by Skadden's John Beisner, J. Russell Jackson, and Jessica Miller.
Friday, November 30, 2012
On November 26 the Supreme Court denied cert in RJ Reynold Tobacco Co. v. Clay, an appeal from a Florida state court decision to give the Engle court ruling preclusion effect.
Engle, recall, is the tobacco issue class action certified and upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. Does the denial of cert pave the way for issues class actions to flourish (at least for the moment) or is this just not the right vehicle?
See Scotusblog for a summary and links. ADL
Saturday, October 20, 2012
The conference will take place on October 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C., and includes panels on third-party litigation financing and global litigation (including the Chevron Ecuadoran litigation and the adoption of class actions in other countries).
Friday, October 19, 2012
HB Litigation Conferences has put together a Judicial & Lawyers’ Forum on Cost-Driven Litigation Strategies — The New Paradigm: When is a Case Too Big to Litigate?, on November 9, 2012, at the University of Chicago. Here's the brochure.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Daniel Fisher at Forbes has an interesting article previewing three class-action cases being argued before the Supreme Court of the United States this fall: Class-Action Lawyers Face Triple Threat At Supreme Court.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Friday, October 5, 2012
Those interested in a quick overview of many of the recent issues in global tort litigation might be interested in the following article from the Legal Intelligencer: Is Growth of Foreign Class, Mass Actions Changing Products Law?, by Amaris Elliot-Engel (registration required). I was happy to be quoted in the article along with leading practitioners, but even happier that my current Global Tort Litigation seminar course was mentioned.
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.
Monday, July 9, 2012
NPR has an extended interview with famed claims administrator Ken Feinberg about his new book, Who Gets What: Fair Compensation After Tragedy and Financial Upheaval.
July 9, 2012 in 9/11, Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 17, 2012
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has awarded $300 million in punitive damages to plaintiffs bringing tort claims against Syria and Iran in connection with their alleged role in a 2006 suicide bombing attack in Israel; the recovering plaintiffs were all U.S. citizens. The opinion is noteworthy not only for the size of the punitive-damages award, but also for the opinion's application of the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the opinion's finding that the organization allegedly responsible for the attack was acting as an agent of Iran and Syria. The Jurist also has an article on the opinion.
Although executing on such a judgment is likely difficult and sensitive matters of foreign policy may be implicated, the use of tort law (here, the claims included battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress) seems promising as a way to hold foreign states responsible for terrorism. Indeed, multiple such claims have been litigated recently in the District of Columbia. Apart from general attempts to execute on assets of the defendants seized abroad, perhaps payment of such claims might be raised by the U.S. Department of State in connection with any future regime change and new government in the defendant countries.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Stanford has an exciting announcement: the creation of the first scholarly law journal devoted to complex litigation! Stanford law students interested in complex litigation and mass torts will now have the opportunity not only to study under Stanford's Deborah Hensler, but also to edit the Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation.
Below is a note from the journal's first editors-in-chief, Nick Landsman-Roos and Matt Woleske.
Re: Announcing the Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation!
Dear Authors: We are proud to announce the founding of the Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation (SJCL). Beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year, SJCL will publish articles and essays that are timely and make a significant, original contribution to the field of complex litigation. We are currently seeking article and essay manuscripts on a range of topics including the rules of civil procedure, aggregate litigation, mass torts, jurisdictional disputes, complex litigation reform, actions by private attorneys general, and transnational litigation.
We hope you will consider publishing with SJCL for a few reasons:
· Specialization: SJCL is the first student-edited journal devoted exclusively to topics relating to complex litigation. Publishing with SJCL will ensure your important contribution will be read within the broader field it is engaging. SJCL will serve as a forum for dialogue on complex litigation issues. We also expect that because SJCL is devoted exclusively to complex litigation, it will quickly become a source of guidance for courts and practitioners.
· Expedited publishing: Because we are currently accepting submissions for the first volume of SJCL, we will be able to publish many of the submissions we accept in our fall issue. That means you can expect your article with SJCL to be in print faster than almost any other journal. There will be no need to update through a lengthy editing process.
· Modified peer review: SJCL will follow a modified peer-review system. Meaning, after a first-level review by SJCL’s editorial staff, any submission that is a candidate for publication will be submitted to at least one scholar in the field of complex litigation or civil procedure who will review the piece. We will take any unanimous decision from our peer reviewers as a binding decision on publication. This will ensure that SJCL is publishing significant contributions to this field.
· “Light edit”: Our editorial policy is to afford substantial deference to authors, in both tone and substance. As a result, all articles must be well written, well cited, and completely argued at the time of submissions. SJCL will only edit to ensure readability and Bluebook compliance, which means that the editing process will be faster but also requires that authors vouch for the accuracy of their citations.
· Outreach: We are committed to generating interest in the articles published with SJCL. That is why we will actively promote all scholarship we publish at symposia and on the blogosphere. We are also committing to distributing hundreds of copies of our first issue to grow our readership base.
· Volume 1: There is something to be said for publishing in the very first volume of a journal. We hope you appreciate this significance and decide to submit your manuscript to SJCL.
We review and accept articles year-round on a rolling basis. SJCL strongly prefers electronic submissions through the ExpressO submission system, which can be found online at http://www.law.bepress.com/expresso. You may also e-mail your manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not accept submissions in hard copy.
SJCL is also seeking faculty with expertise in areas such as civil procedure or complex litigation to serve as reviewers. If you are interested, please contact email@example.com.
A website with more information is forthcoming. For the time being please refer to our Stanford Law School site: http://www.law.stanford.edu/publications/journals/sjcl/.
Please contact us with any questions. We look forward to working with you.
Nick Landsman-Roos & Matt Woleske
Editors-in-Chief, Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation
Monday, April 23, 2012
George Conk has the links to the BP settlement class action. A quote from the complaint: "The principle was two-fold: to design claims frameworks that fit a wide array of damage categories, and, within each category, to treat like claims alike, so as to proceed with both fairness and predictability."
Conk also notes that the settlement offers a "risk transfer premium" for future injuries/losses. You can find more posts here.
Interesting to think how the court will treat this high profile settlement class action, whether there will be objectors and appeals.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Troy McKenzie (NYU) has posted "Toward a Bankruptcy Model for Non-Class Aggregation." I look forward to reading it. Here is the abstract:
In recent years, aggregate litigation has moved in the direction of multidistrict litigation followed by mass settlement without certification of a class action — a form commonly referred to as the “quasi-class action.” Driven by increased restrictions on class certification, the rise of the quasi-class action has been controversial. In particular, critics object that it overempowers lawyers and devalues the consent of individual claimants in the name of achieving “closure” in litigation. This Article presents two claims.
First, the debate about the proper scope and form of the quasi-class action too frequently relies on the class action as the touchstone for legitimacy in aggregate litigation. References to the class action, however, are more often misleading than helpful. The basic assumptions behind the class action are different in degree and in kind from the reality of the quasi-class action. Overreliance on the class action as the conceptual framework for aggregation carries the significant risk of unintentionally shackling courts in their attempts to coordinate litigation. The very reason the quasi-class action emerged as a procedural device — the ossification of the class action model of litigation — suggests that courts and commentators should look for another reference model when assessing what is proper or improper in quasi-class actions.
Second, bankruptcy serves as a better model for judging when to use, and how to order, non-class aggregation of mass tort litigation. The entirety of bankruptcy practice need not be imported to realize that bankruptcy may provide a useful lens for viewing aggregation more generally. That lens helps to clarify some of the most troubling concerns about the quasi-class action, such as the proper role of lawyers and the place of claimant consent. Bankruptcy serves as a superior reference model because it starts with an assumption that collective resolution is necessary but tempers the collective with individual and subgroup consent as well as with institutional structures to counterbalance excessive power by lawyers or particular claimants.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
BNA Class Action Litigation Reporter has an article about Engle's progeny and how the Florida courts are dealing with the variation in jury verdicts in those cases. Here the link - behind a pay wall unfortunately.
In sum and substance, the Florida Supreme Court permitted an issue class action regarding the conduct of the tobacco companies to stand and ruled that the results have preclusive effect in subsequent cases. Now the Individual cases are being litigated. There are many plaintiffs verdicts. BNA describes that there have been 50 judgments and compensatory damages were awarded in 35 cases. Of those, in at least 10 the jury awarded more than $7 million. Not all have survived on appeal.
I am interested in this suit because I think issue class actions are the cutting edge of class litigation and because there is potential here to use statistical methods to come up with a solution that is better than spending many millions litigating every case to judgement and appealing it.
Here is the list of verdicts above $7 million:
$8 million compensatory and $71.2 million punitive damages (vacated on appeal) - Webb (No. 1D10-6557, 4/9/12)
$ 8 million compensatory - Tate (No. 2007–CA-021723 (17th Cir. Broward County))
$7.8 million compensatory - Campbell (No. 2008 CA 2147 (1st Cir. Escambia County)) (upheld on appeal).
$10 million compensatory - Cohen (No. 2007–11515 (17th Cir. Broward County)).
$7 million compensatory - Grey (No. 2007–CA-002773 (1st Cir. Escambia County)) (upheld on appeal)
$56.59 million compensatory - Naugle (No. 07–036736CA (17th Cir. Broward County)).
$15 million compensatory - Putney (No. 2007–CV-36668 (17th Cir. Broward County)).
$10.8 million compensatory - Townsend (No. 01–2008–CA-003978 (8th Cir. Alachua County)) (upheld on appeal) (40 million punitive damages award struck down).
$20 million compensatory - Alexander (No. 07–46830–CA-10–4 (11th Cir. Miami-Dade Co.)) (on appeal)
$10 million compensatory and $20 million punitives - Smith (No. 09-719-CA (14 Cir. Jackson County) (on appeal)
Readers who know of others, or have a list of all the verdicts, please let us know. ADL
Saturday, April 7, 2012
The Class Action Blawg has a post citing useful caselaw against the concept of trial by formula - that is, the use of statistical analysis to determine either apportionment of damages (less controversial) or liability (more controversial). Thanks to our own Sergio Campos for the tip.
I just published a paper on this very topic called The Case for "Trial by Formula." In this defense of the use of statistics, I show the benefits for statistical analysis in mass tort cases for the promotion of equality between plaintiffs. "But what about defendants' due process rights?" the authors over at CAB, Justice Scalia and others might rightly ask. This is a very good question. Take Wal-Mart v. Dukes and the defense argument that the use of statistics to conduct Teamsters hearings would violate the defendants' right to assert individualized affirmative defenses. I wonder whether the defendant would actually be able to marshall the indivdualized proof against each individual plaintiffs' claims as they said they wanted to do. I'd like to see a court call the defendants' bluff in one of these cases and actually see if defendants have enough evidence to exercise their right to assert individualized defenses in at least a sampling of cases -- not to dispose of the whole litigation, but just to inject some realism into the proceedings. There's also a deeper issue - what is due process anyway? Is the touchstone tradition? If so, new developments in statistics and probability theory are useless to the doctrine; due process is really horse and buggy process which requires an individual hearing. Or is it about what process is due from either a participatory, accuracy or other metric? If so, there might indeed be something to talk about.