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.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
You don't need the Mass Tort Litigation Blog to tell you that the imminent BP trial has been stayed pending settlement talks. In the meantime, here are some thoughts from the ever relevant George Conk. Special shout out for his poetic references: Diving Into the Wreck: BP and Kenneth Feinberg's Gulf.
I was just at a wonderful conference at the Charleston School of Law on Mass Torts and the Federal Courts where Feinberg spoke. One of the key questions at the conference is the extent to which claims facilities (BP, 9/11, etc.) are unique and unlikely to be repeated or the wave of the future. The interesting thing about BP is that it shows the interaction between claims facilities and litigation - its not one or the other. Speakers mentioned how companies trying to get ahead of a litigation may well look to the BP model. Others questioned whether BP was really special because the company was prepared to admit liability (although not gross negligence).
I was especially interested by the remarks of Sheila Birnbaum, currently running the 9/11 Fund for first responders and who mediated settlements for the 94 families who chose not to participate in the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Even the families who wanted a public trial to find out what happened ultimately settled because of the uncertainty of trial. This raises important questions about the purpose of litigation for individuals: is it ultimately to get compensation? How important is it to get to the "truth"? How important is vindication? Punishment? When people settle (or waive their right to litigate prior to filing suit), what kind of consent do we want and does money ultimately satisfy? Lynn Baker, who was at the conference, referred me to the following article that addresses some of these questions: Gillian Hadfield, Framing the Choice Between Cash and the Courthouse: Experiences with the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. This continues to be relevant, especially if Funds become a model rather than a one-off.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Mark Behrens sent me a new mass tort protocol issued by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Here are some highlights:
- There shall be no reverse bifurcation of any mass tort case, including asbestos, unless agreed upon by all counsel involved.
- Consolidation of mass tort cases shall not occur absent an agreement of all parties, except in the asbestos program in accordance with the protocols set forth herein below.
- All punitive damage claims in mass tort claims shall be deferred.
- Pro hoc vice counsel shall be limited to no more than two (2) trials per year, but otherwise will not be limited on pre-trial appearances. The Court encourages non-Pennsylvania counsel to pass its Bar Examination and thereby become familiar with Pennsylvania law, rules and procedures.
- Unless otherwise agreed by defense counsel or upon showing of exigent circumstances, all discovery shall take place in Philadelphia.
- Except for those cases already scheduled for trial through February 29, 2012, asbestos cases thereafter shall be grouped in groups of a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 10 and counsel shall be required to propose cases for consolidation considering the following criteria:
- Same law. Cases that involve application of the law of different states will not be tried together;
- Same disease. The disease category for each case in a group must be identical. The disease categories of cases to be grouped for trial are mesotheliomas, lung cancers, other cancers and non-malignancy cases;
- Same plaintiff’s law firm. Primary trial counsel for all cases in each group will be from a single plaintiff firm. Cases where Philadelphia plaintiff firms serve as local counsel for out-of-state counsel will not be grouped with cases from the local firm;
- Fair Share Act cases will not be consolidated with non-Fair Share Act cases;
- Pleural mesothelioma is a disease that is distinct from mesotheliomas originating in other parts of the body, and will not be tried on a consolidated basis with non-pleural mesothelioma cases and not necessarily tried on a consolidated basis. Non-pleural mesothelioma cases will be further classified for trial, so that non-pleural mesothelioma cases allegedly caused by occupational exposure will not be tried on a consolidated basis with non-pleural mesothelioma cases allegedly caused by para-occupational (bystander) exposure;
- And such other factors as determined appropriate in weighing whether all parties to the litigation can receive a prompt and just trial. The Court’s present backlog of asbestos cases shall not be an overriding factor in the consolidation determination.
- Any grouping of cases less than 8-10 in number shall not receive a trial date until a group is formed of 8-10 cases. A maximum of 3 of these 8-10 cases may be tried, with the other 5-7 cases either resolving through settlement or returned to the Coordinating Judge for regrouping and relisting for trial.
- Mediation: Once grouped, assigned a trial date and after Motions for Summary Judgment have been decided by the Court, counsel are urged to seek mediation from a special panel of former judges named herein below. Either side may request mediation. The mediator selected by the parties shall advise the Court whether the plaintiff firm’s participation was in good faith or not. In the discretion of the Coordinating Judge, any plaintiff firm’s failure to proceed in good faith in mediation may constitute just cause to remove that group of cases from the trial list and any defendant’s failure to proceed in good faith may result in an increase of the maximum 3 cases consolidated for trial. Since no more than 3 cases may be consolidated and proceed to trial in any group of 8-10, the remaining 5-7 cases should be resolved and settled. Otherwise, those unresolved cases shall be relisted for trial. All parties will share the expense of mediation.
11. Immediately prior to trial of up to 3 consolidated asbestos cases, the assigned trial judge shall independently determine whether the cases will be tried in a consolidated manner based on the criteria herein above set forth and any other factors deemed relevant to the issue of consolidation and a fair trial.
12. Expediting of Cases. There shall be no expediting of cases based on exigent medical or financial reasons until the backlog of pending cases has been resolved, unless otherwise agreed by a majority of the defendants. When this Program achieves 80% of all asbestos cases resolved in 24-25 months, advanced listings based on exigent medical circumstances will be considered for plaintiffs with Pennsylvania exposure only.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Honda Loses Small Claims Court Suit Over Hybrid Fuel Economy, Raising Questions About Alternatives to Class Actions
As the L.A. Times reports, Honda has lost a case filed in small claims court in California by a Civic hybrid owner who claims her Honda misrepresented the gas mileage possible. The owner apparently opted out of a proposed class action settlement that might provide $100 and new-car rebate coupons to Civic owners, and pay class counsel $8.5 million in attorneys fees. Instead, she filed in small claims court and after 3 hours of testimony over two days, she was awarded $9,867.19 in damages. (In California small claims courts, parties must appear without separate counsel; plaintiff here was an attorney representing herself, though her bar membership is apparently inactive.) Honda, however, plans to appeal the small claims award to Los Angeles County District Court. (H/t to my Mass Tort Litigation student Michelle Rosenberg, who sent me the story.)
Might small claims court be a viable alternative to class action litigation? Class actions of course are most appropriate in so-called negative value claims, where the cost of bringing individual suit exceeds the recovery sought. Small claims court, with its radically diminished transaction costs (and no attorneys' fees), could be seen to shrink the realm of negative value claims. And smalls claims court avoids the potential conflict of interest arising from the temptation for class counsel to settle class claims for a less than optimal amount, in pursuit of a hefty, sure, and speedy class counsel fee. Small claims court still wouldn't be worth the trouble of people who think they were defrauded only a dollar or two, but it might be a viable alternative if hundreds of dollars per claimant were at stake.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
According to this article from CNN, French authorities have arrested Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implant Protheses (PIP), in connection with alleged manslaughter and involuntary harm to a woman who died from cancer and had PIP breast implants. The article notes that 300,000 women in 65 countries received PIP breast implants, and that questions have been raised about the use of non-medical-grade silicon and PIP went bankrupt in late 2010.
The PIP breast-implants controversy may present an opportunity to observe non-U.S.-style mechanisms for what here would likely have been a mass tort litigation. Since the PIP breast implants were not permitted to be sold in the U.S., litigation may be concentrated abroad. In general, my sense is that the European approach is more reliant on criminal law than tort for deterrence, compensatory damages are limited because of the comparatively extensive governmental social insurance, punitive damages are unavailable, and class actions are traditionally not embraced (though class actions appear to be on the rise globally -- see, e.g., the Stanford Global Class Actions Exchange).
Interestingly, according to the article, one French woman who received PIP breast implants said, "Too bad we do not have a justice system like they do in the United States which allows the accumulation of penalties...because the small punishment he will receive for what he did to 300,000 to 400,000 women, is not much compared to what we have suffered because of him."
(H/t to my Mass Tort Litigation student Abigail Anderson for sending me the CNN story.)