Thursday, October 20, 2011
BNA reports that a set of cases (one trial, two plaintiffs) reached a defense verdict in the Levaquin pharma litigation. Beare v. Johnson & Johnson, N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., No. ATL-L-196-10, verdict 10/14/11; Gaffney v. Johnson & Johnson, N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., No. ATL-L-4551-09, verdict 10/14/11). The cases are consolidated before Judge Carol Higbee of New Jersey, who also oversaw the New Jersey Vioxx litigation.
The allegations are the the manufacturer of the antibiotic did not provide adequate warnings of its potential to cause tendon injuries. There are six more bellwether cases to go. According to BNA there are approximately 1,900 Levaquin cases before Judge Higbee.
I don't have information about how the bellwether cases were picked or why eight is the number. For an analysis of how judges can do a more rigorous job of using bellwether trials to promote case resolution and equality among litigants, see my latest paper: The Case for "Trial by Formula."
Monday, October 10, 2011
Today's Wall Street Journal Law Blog has an update on the state and federal Toyota acceleration cases. California Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr has penciled in bellwether trials to begin in April of 2012, but Judge Selna, who is presiding over the federal MDL, estimates that bellwether trials will not begin there until February 2013. Likewise, plaintiffs' attorneys litigating before Judge Robert Schaffer in Texas suspect that they too will not try a case until 2013.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
(With apologies to HME for stealing his title)
The Second Circuit last week (just in time for the Jewish New Year) decided Johnsons v. Nextel Communications, Inc., -- F.3d -- , 2011 WL 4436263 (2d Cir. Sept. 26, 2011) . You can find the opinion here. That case involved an aggregate settlement with all kinds of schenanigans that our own Howard Erichson described in his article "The Trouble With All or Nothing Settlements." (download it while its hot! ...as they say....)
The Second Circuit allowed the clients to sue the lawyers on a broad breach of fiduciary duty theory. The clients may also sue the defendants on an "aiding and abetting" theory.
I learned from this opinion from Adam Zimmerman (St. John's) who has also blogged about it on the ADR Prof Blog.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
I just read a very interesting student note from 1987 suggesting that in mass tort cases the JPMDL should be permitted to send mass tort cases to state court. George T. Conway III,* The Consolidation of Multistate Litigation in State Courts, 96 Yale L. J. 1099, 1101 (1987). The rule of thumb could be that the state with the applicable law would be the target jurisdiction. Of course this would take new Congressional action to implement, but what an idea!
*The author is now a litigation partner at Wachtell - I wonder what he would say of his student note with many years of experience under his belt? If you're reading this, leave a comment or drop me an email.
Monday, September 19, 2011
District Court Judge Carl Barbier (EDLa) has issued a case managment order for the upcoming trial arising out of the BP Horizon Deep Water Oil Spill. You can find the order here: Pretrial Order #41. According to BNA, the MDL has more than 500 lawsuits arising out of the spill.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Jeremy Grabill (Weill, Gotshall) has posted to SSRN his article, Judicial Review of Private Mass Tort Settlements, which is forthcoming in the Seton Hall Law Review. Here's the abstract:
In the mass tort context, class action settlements have largely given way to a unique form of non-class aggregate settlements that this Article refers to as “private mass tort settlements.” Although it has been argued that aggregation in tort law is “inevitable,” the legal profession has struggled for many years to find an effective aggregate settlement mechanism for mass tort litigation that does not run afoul of the “historic tradition” that everyone should have their own day in court, assuming they want it. Over the last decade, however, as a result of the evolution of non-class aggregate settlements, a new opt-in paradigm for mass tort settlements has emerged that is true to that historic tradition. This Article discusses the new opt-in paradigm and the appropriate contours of judicial authority vis-à-vis private mass tort settlements.
Private mass tort settlements present a difficult conundrum for presiding judges. On one hand, mass tort litigation requires active judicial involvement and oversight due to the sheer size and complexity of such matters. Thus, having been intimately involved in the litigation from its inception, it understandably seems natural for courts to want to exercise some degree of control over private mass tort settlements. But, on the other hand, like traditional one-on-one settlements and unlike class action settlements and other specific settlements, private mass tort settlements do not impact the rights of absent or unrepresented parties. Perhaps not surprisingly then, courts have struggled in applying established principles concerning the scope of judicial authority to evaluate and oversee the implementation of traditional settlements in the unfamiliar context of private mass tort settlements.
This Article seeks to provide a clear path forward by first examining the limited contexts in which courts have the authority to evaluate and oversee the implementation of traditional settlements, highlighting the nature of the absent or unrepresented interests that judicial review is designed to protect in those traditional contexts. The Article then discusses the emerging opt-in paradigm for mass tort settlements and traces the paradigm’s lineage to three recent cases: In re Baycol Products Liability Litigation, In re Vioxx Products Liability Litigation, and In re World Trade Center Disaster Site Litigation. The Article argues that the well-established maxim that courts lack authority over private one-on-one settlements should apply with equal force to private mass tort settlements because these non-class aggregate settlements allow each individual plaintiff to decide whether or not to settle on the terms offered and do not impact the rights of absent or unrepresented parties. In short, courts do not have - and do not need - the authority to review private mass tort settlements. The Article concludes by addressing the arguments that have been advanced to support judicial review of non-class aggregate settlements, debunking the “quasi-class action” theory that some courts have relied upon to regulate attorneys’ fees in connection with mass tort settlements, and discussing the various ways in which courts may nevertheless be able to influence private mass tort settlements.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
RAND's Institute for Civil Justice last week released its report, Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts and Tort Compensation, by Lloyd Dixon and Geoffrey McGovern. Here's the summary:
Payments by asbestos bankruptcy trusts have played an increasingly important role in compensating asbestos injuries and have become a matter of contention between plaintiff and defense attorneys. At issue is how tort cases take into consideration compensation paid by trusts and the evidence submitted in trust claim forms. This monograph examines how such evidence and compensation are addressed by state laws and considered during court proceedings. It also examines how the establishment of the trusts potentially affects plaintiff compensation from trusts and the tort system combined, payments by defendants that remain solvent, and the compensation available to future, as compared to current, plaintiffs. The authors find that the potential effects of trusts' replacement of once-solvent defendants are very different in states with joint-and-several liability than in states with several liability. In states with joint-and-several liability, total plaintiff compensation should not change. In several-liability states, the replacement of once-solvent defendants by trusts can cause total plaintiff compensation to increase, decrease, or remain unchanged. The findings underscore the importance of information on plaintiff exposure to the products and practices of the bankrupt firms in determining the trusts' effects on plaintiff compensation and on payments by defendants that remain solvent.
RAND also published the shorter Research Brief, Bankruptcy Trusts, Asbestos Compensation, and the Courts, by the same authors.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Call for Papers for "New Voices" Workshop at Vanderbilt's Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program
Announcement from Professor Tracey George, who is the new Director of Vanderbilt's Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program:
VANDERBILT LAW SCHOOL • BRANSTETTER LITIGATION & DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROGRAM
CALL FOR PAPERS
Vanderbilt Law School and the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program announce the 2012 New Voices in Civil Justice Scholarship Workshop to be held at Vanderbilt on April 20, 2012, and invite submissions for the workshop.
The Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program draws on a multimillion-dollar endowment to support research and curriculum in civil litigation and dispute resolution. The idea for the Branstetter “New Voices” workshop is to draw together scholars on civil justice issues who are in the first seven years of their academic careers. Four to six scholars will be chosen by anonymous review of the submitted papers. The audience will include invited junior scholars, Vanderbilt faculty, and invited guests. Previous participants include Nora Freeman Engstrom (Stanford), Maria Glover (Harvard), Margaret Lemos (Cardozo), Jonathan Mitchell (George Mason), Myriam Gilles (Cardozo), Donna Shestowsky (UC Davis), Benjamin Spencer (Washington & Lee), Amanda Tyler (George Washington), and Tobias Wolff (Pennsylvania).
The format for the workshop is designed to maximize collegial interaction and feedback. All participants will have read the selected papers. A senior faculty member will provide a brief overview and commentary on the paper, and then we are off and running with interactive discussion. Paper authors thus do not deliver prepared “presentations” as such. Rather, the overwhelming majority of each session is devoted to collective discussion of the paper involved.
1. Subject matter. Submitted papers should address an aspect of civil justice. Subject areas may include, but are not limited to, civil procedure, complex litigation, evidence, federal courts, judicial decisionmaking, alternative dispute resolution, remedies, and conflict of laws. In keeping with the intellectual breadth of the Branstetter Program faculty, we are very receptive to the full range of scholarly methodologies, from traditional doctrinal analysis to quantitative or experimental approaches.
2. Author qualifications. To be eligible to submit a paper, scholars must currently hold a permanent faculty position. In addition, scholars may not have held a position at assistant professor or higher (including visiting assistant professor) prior to 2004.
3. Format. Papers may be sent in either Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat format. To maintain the anonymity of the process, please remove any self-identifying information from the submission.
4. Deadline. Submissions should be e-mailed to Branstetter.Program@vanderbilt.edu no later than January 13, 2011. Please include your name, current position, and contact information in the e-mail accompanying the submission. We will contact you with our decision by February 15.
The Branstetter Program will pay all reasonable travel expenses within the United States for invited participants. If you have any questions, please email Professor Tracey George, Branstetter Program Director, at Branstetter.Program@vanderbilt.edu
Friday, July 8, 2011
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is arguing in favor of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which is pending in the House and would change Rule 11 back to its pre-1993 mandatory sanctions approach and remove the current 21-day "safe harbor" for a litigant to withdraw challenged filings. In the 1980s, I believe the mandatory-sanctions/no-safe-harbor regime was blamed for increasing costly satellite Rule 11 litigations brought by both plaintiffs and defendants who perhaps in an excess of zeal repeatedly argued that the other side's positions were utterly meritless and frivolous.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also suggests that the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would make it easier for parties challenging to recover their attorneys' fees. That modification raises the larger question of "loser pays" as a broad and perhaps more effective way to deter frivolous lawsuits. Under loser pays, the party that loses in a litigation must pay the attorneys' fees of the prevailing party. Followed in much of the world outside the U.S., loser pays deters frivolous litigation by removing much of the litigation costs that are used as a weapon to extract a nuisance-value settlement. For example, if it costs a defendant $50,000 in legal fees to obtain a ruling that a lawsuit is meritless, a plaintiff lawyer might offer to settle with the defendant for $25,000 -- less than it costs to litigate to a judge ruling. Unless the defendant thinks the plaintiff lawyer will turn around and sue the defendant again, the defendant may well choose the $25,000 settlement, even if the lawsuit seems clearly meritless or frivolous. But the $25,000 settlement may sufficiently compensate (via contingency fee) the plaintiff lawyer to incentivize the plaintiff lawyer to file another meritless claim against another defendant, and indeed, the plaintiff lawyer might even develop a successful business in frivolous claims. In contrast, if a loser-pays rule applies, defendant might well reject the $25,000 settlement and elect to spend $50,000 to obtain a court ruling exposing and dismissing the frivolous claim, also confident that the defendant can seek to recover the $50,000 in attorneys' fees from the plaintiff under the loser-pays rule. Moreover, ex ante, the plaintiff lawyer in a loser-pays jurisdiction should decline to even file a meritless claim, because the plaintiff lawyer would expect that the defendant would refuse a nuisance settlement and instead litigate to a ruling that will impose defendant's attorneys' fees on the plaintiff. The presence of loser pays is often cited as one reason that countries outside the United States have less litigation -- see, e.g., John Stossel, When Lawyers Become Bullies, Real Clear Politics (April 8, 2008).
One significant objection to loser pays is that impecunious plaintiffs will elect never to file their claims not because their claims are frivolous, but because they are risk averse about the possibility of defendants' attorneys fees being imposed on them. This concern is even greater in tort litigation, where injured plaintiffs are regular folks whose finances may already be strained by an injury. So the argument goes, loser pays should be rejected because these impecunious plaintiffs will not file what are meritorious suits -- and access to justice is denied.
But what if the cost of loser pays were permitted to be shifted from a plaintiff to his or her attorney? Plaintiff attorneys already make entrepreneurial decisions about the likelihood of success in a case when plaintiff attorneys decide whether to take a case on contingency fee and risk no reimbursement if they lose at trial or by judicial ruling. Adding fee-shifting via loser pays would only increase the size of the bet on each case, and plaintiff firms could adjust to that larger bet by becoming somewhat larger and greater diversifying that risk, or even by gaining greater access to outside capital and loans (the latter of which is itself controversial). Ultimately, injured plaintiffs would conceivably still have access to attorneys for meritorious cases, but having lost the threat of nuisance-value settlements and now fearing fee-shifting via loser pays, plaintiff lawyers would screen out frivolous claims and never file them.
I think there is much to recommend this market-finance-oriented version of loser pays, but of course plaintiff lawyers might resist it because it would remove the stream of income from nuisance-value settlements. And even though they might not admit it, defense lawyers also benefit from being hired to defend frivolous cases, so they might not vigorously push such a proposal, unless their defendant clients vigorously pushed them to do so. Ultimately, a reduction in frivolous litigation reduces the wealth of the entire bar, but the bar has no valid entitlement to enrichment by waste. Notwithstanding lawyers' interests, Alaska has had a version of loser pays, and Texas over a month ago enacted a version of loser pays. If Texas Governor Rick Perry enters the Republican primary as a candidate for President in 2012, loser pays as litigation reform (and tort reform) may well receive substantial national attention. That would be a good thing.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
BNA Class Action Litigation Reporter reports that the lawsuits against Bayer Cropscience for the contamination of rice crops with genetically modified rice have settled. The case was In Re: Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, E.D. Mo., No. 4:06-md-1811.
The plaintiffs were denied class certification for predictable reasons. The settlement is equally predictably organized on the Vioxx model: it goes into effect if 85% of the farmers sign on.
For more information on the MDL GMO Rice Litigation see the E.D.Mo. website: http://www.moed.uscourts.gov/node/115. (As for this writing, not updated to reflect the BNA report of settlement). As the website notes, the GMO rice has since been de regulated by the FDA.
Image by scottchan.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Today, the Supreme Court decided Smith v. Bayer (opinion here), applying the Anti-Injunction Act to reject a federal court's attempt to control state court class certification.
The federal MDL judge in the Baycol litigation had rejected class certification for a class of West Virginia plaintiffs, finding that common questions did not predominate because each plaintiff would have to prove actual injury. One of the members of the putative class filed a lawsuit in West Virginia state court (it was non-removable because it included several West Virginia defendants in addition to Bayer), and sought class certification. Bayer asked the MDL judge for an order enjoining the state court from hearing Smith's motion to certify the class, arguing that Smith's class action was identical to the one the federal court had rejected. The judge granted the injunction and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court unanimously reversed in an opinion by Justice Kagan. The Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 2283, generally prohibits federal courts from enjoining state court proceedings. Bayer argued that this case fits within the Act's relitigation exception; according to Bayer, issue preclusion prevents Smith from relitigating the issue of class certification. The Court rejected this argument for two reasons: (1) it's not the same issue, and (2) it's not the same party.
It's not the same issue because states are entitled to interpret their own procedural rules differently from federal courts' interpretation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Last year's ruling in Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate (2010) emphasized that Rule 23 applies in federal courts and state courts apply their own class action rules. The text of West Virginia's Rule 23 is nearly identical to the federal rule, but as Justice Kagan explained, federal and state courts "can and do apply identically worded procedural provisions in widely varying ways." In the Rezulin litigation, the West Virginia Supreme Court announced that it did not necessarily follow the federal approach to class certification, particularly on the question of predominance. Given that the state does not follow the federal interpretation of Rule 23, issue preclusion cannot prevent relitigation of class certification and the injunction was improper.
It's not the same party because Smith was not a named plaintiff in the federal court case. You can't bind a non-party, as the Supreme Court emphasized in Taylor v. Sturgell (2008), where it rejected nonparty preclusion on a theory of virtual representation. Bayer argued that Smith was bound as a member of the class, but the Supreme Court pointed out that there was no class because class certification was rejected: "The definition of the term 'party' can on no account be stretched so far as to cover a person like Smith, whom the plaintiff in a lawsuit was denied leave to represent."
The Court got it right. It's a complicated case but it was an easy decision. State courts have their own rules and are entitled to decide what procedures to follow. Even though a federal judge concluded (correctly, in my view) that the mass tort litigation involving Baycol was not suitable for a class action under Federal Rule 23, the West Virginia state court is entitled to decide that issue under the West Virginia class action rule. But the decision shows how messy things get when mass disputes are litigated in both federal and state courts. Justice Kagan's opinion acknowledges the "special problems of relitigation" that can be presented by class actions, but suggests that the solution lies in removal under CAFA and transfer under the MDL statute, rather than departing from fundamental principles of preclusion.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has appointed twenty-five people to serve as appeals judges for BP's private compensation system. Alabama's Press Register describes the process as follows:
Anyone who files a claim valued at more than $250,000 can protest the claims operation’s initial ruling to the appeals panel. BP can protest the decision on any claim above $500,000.
The judges will serve in panels of three. The panels will have 14 days to rule on each case before them.
If claimants are not happy with the appeals ruling, they can file their claim with the U.S. Coast Guard, or sue BP and other companies involved in the spill.
Jack Weiss, LSU's law school dean selected the following people to serve on the panel:
- Judge Delores R. Boyd (ret.) of Montgomery, Alabama. Boyd is a former Magistrate Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
- Dean John L. Carroll of Birmingham, Alabama. Carroll is the Dean and Ethel P. Malugen Professor of Law at the Cumberland School of Law of Samford University and a former Magistrate Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
- Judge William R. Gordon (ret.) of Montgomery, Alabama. Gordon is a former Circuit Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court of Alabama.
- Justice Champ Lyons, Jr. (ret.) of Point Clear, Alabama. Lyons is a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama.
- Judge Edward B. McDermott (ret.) of Dauphin Island, Alabama. McDermott is a former Circuit Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court of Alabama.
- Judge Kenneth O. Simon (ret.) of Birmingham, Alabama. Simon is a former Circuit Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of Alabama.
- Professor Charles W. Ehrhardt of Tallahassee, Florida. Ehrhardt is the Ladd Professor Emeritus at Florida State University College of Law.
- J. Joaquin Fraxedas of Altamonte Springs, Florida. Fraxedas is an attorney mediator/arbitrator and a Distinguished Fellow of the American College of Civil Trial Mediators.
- Judge Melvia B. Green (ret.) of Tampa, Florida. Green is a former Judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal of Florida.
- Justice Major B. Harding (ret.) of Tallahassee, Florida. Harding is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida.
- Judge John J. Upchurch (ret.) of Ormond Beach, Florida. Upchurch is a former Chief Judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and was appointed by the Supreme Court of Florida as a charter member of the Supreme Court Committee on Mediation and Arbitration.
- Dean Donald J. Weidner of Tallahassee, Florida. Weidner is the Dean and Alumni Centennial Professor at Florida State University College of Law.
- Judge Gerald T. Wetherington (ret.) of Coral Gables, Florida. Wetherington is a former Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and has served as a Judge Pro Tempore of the 2nd and 4th District Courts of Appeal of Florida.
- Judge Robert J. Burns, Sr. (ret.) of Metairie, Louisiana. Burns is a former Chief Judge of the 24th Judicial District Court of Louisiana and served as a Judge Pro Tempore of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.
- Judge Philip C. Ciaccio (ret.) of New Orleans, Louisiana. Ciaccio is a former Judge of the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and has served as a Justice Ad Hoc of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
- Judge David S. Gorbaty (ret.) of Chalmette, Louisiana. Gorbaty is a former Judge of the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
- Chancellor Freddie Pitcher, Jr. of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pitcher is the Chancellor and Professor of Law at the Southern University Law Center and a former Judge of the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
- Professor Ronald J. Scalise, Jr. of New Orleans, Louisiana. Scalise is the A.D. Freeman Associate Professor of Civil Law at Tulane Law School.
- Lynne R. Stern of New Orleans, Louisiana. Stern is an attorney mediator/arbitrator and past Chairman of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Louisiana State Bar Association.
- Professor Guthrie T. Abbott of Oxford, Mississippi. Abbott is a Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
- Professor Patricia W. Bennett of Madison, Mississippi. Bennett is a Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law.
- Richard T. Bennett of Clinton, Mississippi. Bennett is an attorney mediator/arbitrator, former President of the Mississippi State Bar and serves on the Board of Directors of the American Arbitration Association.
- Judge W. Raymond Hunter (ret.) of Gulfport, Mississippi. Hunter is an attorney mediator/arbitrator, a former Municipal Court Judge for the City of Long Beach and serves as President of the Mississippi Chapter of Attorney-Mediators.
- Harold D. Miller, Jr. of Madison, Mississippi. Miller is an attorney mediator/arbitrator and served as the first Chairman of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Mississippi State Bar.
- Anne P. Veazey of Ridgeland, Mississippi. Veazey is an attorney mediator/arbitrator and serves on the Executive Committee of the Mississippi State Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution Section
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Sergio Campos (Miami) has just posted Mass Torts and Due Process on SSRN. I've also just learned that the paper was accepted for the Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum, wonderful recognition for an important topic. Here is the abstract:
Almost all courts and scholars disfavor the use of class actions in mass tort litigation, primarily because class actions infringe on each plaintiff's control, or autonomy, over the tort claim. The Supreme Court has stressed the importance of litigant autonomy in other contexts, most recently in decisions involving the Rules Enabling Act, preclusion, and arbitration. Indeed, this term the Court will decide four cases involving class actions that will likely reaffirm the importance of protecting a plaintiff's autonomy over the claim. In all of these contexts the Court, and most scholars, have understood protecting litigant autonomy as a requirement of procedural due process.
In this article I argue that protecting litigant autonomy in the mass tort context is mistaken, and, in the process, challenge basic notions of procedural due process. Relying on recent property theory, I first show that protecting litigant autonomy in mass tort litigation causes collective action problems that undermine the deterrent effect of the litigation. Thus, protecting litigant autonomy leads to more mass torts. Counterintuitively, this tragedy can be avoided by taking away each plaintiff's autonomy over the claim, such as through a mandatory class action.
I then use the self-defeating nature of litigant autonomy in the mass tort context to reexamine the law of procedural due process. I argue that an interest in deterrence, understood as an individual interest in avoiding the tort altogether, should be included in the due process analysis. I also argue for a more impartial method to balance competing interests. I conclude that the law of procedural due process should permit mandatory collective procedures in mass tort and similar contexts. I further suggest that the law of procedural due process should focus less on procedural rights such as litigant autonomy, a "day in court," and even the opportunity to be heard, and focus more on often ignored aspects of procedural design.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
As all class-action enthusiasts know, neither plaintiffs lawyers nor defendants like for class members to exercise their opt-out rights. Opting out from the plaintiffs' attorneys' perspective diminishes their fee award and undermines their ability to deliver total peace to the defendant; the defendant wants finality and closure, which opt outs undermine. So, lawyers developed mechanisms to thwart class members from opting out, such as including walk-away provisions, liens on the defendants' assets in favor of those remaining in the class, and most-favored-nation provisions in the settlement.
Recently, attorneys have begun settling mass-tort cases outside of the class-action process. (As most of you know, CAFA makes it increasingly difficult to certify mass-tort cases as Rule 23(b)(3) class actions--not that they were ever easy.) Merck settled the Vioxx litigation by contracting with the plaintiffs' attorneys and requiring those law firms to recommend the deal to 100% of their clients (with the caveat that the plaintiffs' attorneys deemed the settlement in their clients' best interests), and to withdraw from representing those clients who refused. Moreover, Merck could walk away from the deal if fewer than 85% of the claimants signed on. Thus, while claimants technically opted "into" the settlement offer, realistically claimants had to opt out of their lawyer-client relationship if they didn't want to settle.
Yesterday's article in the NY Times by John Schwartz and Cambell Robertson, "Many Hit by Spill Now Feel Caught in Claims Process," illustrates the new, new opt out: plaintiffs' lawyers are claiming to represent clients who have never consented to an attorney-client relationship. Consider this excerpt from the article:
Last summer and fall, numerous Vietnamese households — including some who say they were not even affected by the spill — received letters signed by Mr. Watts, of San Antonio. The letters, in Vietnamese, addressed some recipients by name and others as: “Dear Client.” The letters directed people to send their financial records and added, “Do not sign anything from BP or anyone else except Watts Guerra Craft,” the name of the firm.
“As far as I know almost every other house got it,” said Felix Cao, a law student at Loyola University in New Orleans. “I don’t know how they even found my address.”
Mr. Cao said he did not know whether he had become a client or simply a marketing target. He said he was not affected by the spill.
Nor was Nga Nguyen, who lives in New Orleans and also received one of the letters. “I think they just went through the phone book,” she said.
Let me be clear: the Gulf Coast Claims Facility is a private compensation scheme set up by BP. The claims pending before Ken Feinberg are NOT class actions. Thus, no attorney-client relationship exists absent either class certification and a judicial determination that lawyers are adequately representing absent clients (in the MDL pending before Judge Barbier) or an individual's affirmative consent to enter into an attorney-client relationship.
Yet, if this is what attorneys are doing, the new, new opt-out requires "clients" to opt out of an attorney-client relationship they never formed. The result is nothing short of lawless.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
This coming Friday, the University of Cincinnati College of Law is holding its 2011 Corporate Law Symposium, which is about The Principles and Politics of Aggregate Litigation: CAFA, PSLRA, and Beyond. The symposium is this Friday, April 1 (no joke), 2011. Here's a description and the schedule of events:
The Principles and Politics of Aggregate Litigation: CAFA, PSLRA, and Beyond
6 hours of CLE credit have been applied for in Ohio. Approval is expected.
Date: April 1, 2011
Time: 8:45 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Location: Room 114
Webcast: View the webcast here: https://www.uc.edu/ucvision/event.aspx?eventid=267
The Principles and Politics of Aggregate Litigation: CAFA, PSLRA, and Beyond
Aggregate litigation and its impact on business are hot-button issues for courts, policy makers, practitioners and academics. Calls for reform come from both critics and defenders of class actions, as courts work out implementation of Congress’s recent efforts to rein in perceived abuses -- the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and the Class Action Fairness Act. Recently, the ALI Aggregate Litigation Project focused on the serious problems of management, costs, and risks of underrepresentation presented by large cases and sought to identify good procedures for handling aggregate litigation. Our panelists will present theory, empirical data and practical insights to explore various aspects of aggregate litigation from a variety of perspectives.
Schedule of Events
8:45-9:00 a.m. Welcome: Louis Bilionis, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law
9:00-10:30 a.m. PANEL I: Class Actions
Moderator: Darrell Miller, Associate Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law
Robert H. Klonoff, Dean, Lewis & Clark Law School
Reflections on the ALI Aggregate Litigation Project
The recently completed ALI Aggregate Litigation Project focused on the serious problems of management, costs and the risks of underrepresentation presented by large cases and sought to identify good procedures for handling aggregate litigation. Dean Klonoff, Associate Reporter, reflects on the work of the Project and the paramount role of the late Professor Richard A. Nagareda, also Associate Reporter.
Emery G. Lee III, Senior Researcher, Federal Judicial Center and Thomas E. Willging, Senior Researcher (Retired), Federal Judicial Center
Disappearing (Class Action Fairness) Act: Class Certification and Settlement in the Federal Courts
This study reports on empirical findings on class certification and settlement in a representative sample of class actions filed between 2003 and 2007.
Laura Hines, Professor of Law, University of Kansas School of Law
Reconsidering the Issue Class Action
Although the Supreme Court recently declined an opportunity to weigh in on the propriety of the issue class action, the majority of federal courts of appeals and the ALI Aggregate Litigation Project have embraced such class actions. This paper will explore the evolving certification criteria, effect on settlement dynamics, and other unresolved questions regarding the issue class action.
10:30-10:45 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. -12:15 p.m. PANEL II: Securities Class Actions
Moderator: Lynn Bai, Associate Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law
Michael A. Perino, Dean George W. Matheson Professor, St. John's University School of Law
Institutional Activism through Litigation: An Empirical Analysis of Public Pension Fund Participation in Securities Class Actions
The PSLRA’s lead plaintiff provision enlisted institutional investors to monitor class counsel in order to curb the agency costs endemic in securities class actions. This paper uses a sample of 731 settlements to examine the efficacy of this provision. It finds that, even when controlling for institutional self-selection of potentially easier or higher quality cases, cases with public pension lead plaintiffs have larger recoveries and lower fee requests and fee awards than cases with other lead plaintiff types. The paper also finds evidence consistent with the existence of a significant positive externality associated with public pension participation. Over time, fee requests and fee awards have on average declined significantly even in cases without such lead plaintiffs. These findings suggest that public pensions act as more effective monitors of class counsel than traditional plaintiffs and that the lead plaintiff provision has substantially reduced the transactions costs associated with securities class actions.
Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Assistant Professor, Florida State University College of Law
Optimal Lead Plaintiffs
In securities class actions, Rule 23’s adequate-representation requirement is often subsumed by the PSLRA’s lead-plaintiff appointment process. Although Rule 23 aims to prevent conflicts of interest between the representatives and the class, courts define “interests” in terms of a widely shared desire to recover one’s losses. This broad definition allows judges to certify securities class actions and thus promotes corporate accountability, but it also means that plaintiffs’ attorneys can pursue an institutional lead plaintiff’s interests at the other class members’ expense. The “other class members” are principally small investors who need the class-action vehicle the most. Accordingly, Elizabeth Burch will discuss one answer to this conundrum: appointing a diverse lead-plaintiff group and linking diversity to class members’ heterogeneous interests.
Jennifer J. Johnson, Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar, Lewis & Clark Law School
Securities Class Actions in State Court: Down but Not Out
This paper explores the remnants of securities class actions in state court in light of congressional efforts to preempt this field embodied in the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA) and the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA). SLUSA precludes both state and federal courts from adjudicating class actions based upon state statutory or common law, that allege a misrepresentation in connection with the purchase or sale of nationally traded securities. In combination, SLUSA and CAFA direct most remaining securities class actions to federal court. The paper will analyze data on state securities class action filings in the aftermath of SLUSA and CAFA to evaluate the impact of federal preemption and its wisdom as a policy choice.
12:15-1:30 p.m. LUNCH SPEAKER:
Theodore H. Frank, Center for Class Action Fairness
Beyond Coupons: Structuring CAFA Settlements to Maximize Attorneys' Fees
One of CAFA's stated goals was to eliminate settlements where "counsel are awarded large fees, while leaving class members with coupons or other awards of little or no value." As such, statutory language was enacted requiring additional scrutiny of coupon settlements. But the incentive for class attorneys to negotiate high fees for themselves at the expense of class benefits has not disappeared. What other mechanisms are settling parties using to exaggerate the value of class settlements to rationalize disproportionate attorneys' fees? Mr. Frank, using examples from the Center's docket, will discuss the mechanisms class attorneys use, even after CAFA, to maximize attorneys' fee requests.
1:30-3:00 p.m. PANEL III: Aggregate Litigation
Moderator: Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louise, Visiting Assistant Professor of law, University of Cincinnati College of Law
G. Robert Blakey, William J. & Dorothy K. O’Neill Chair in Law, Notre Dame Law School
Some Thoughts about the 1995 Securities Fraud Exclusion from Civil RICO
This paper reviews the legislative history, text, and misguided judicial interpretation of the 1995 exclusion of securities fraud from civil RICO, particularly in light of the events of 2007-08. It is one matter not to let civil RICO remedies displace securities fraud remedies; it is another matter entirely to learn that because of the exclusion, you cannot recover under either statute.
Francis E. Mc Govern, Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law
When Aggregate Litigations Conflict: Problems Involving Overlapping Compensation Systems
This paper examines several instances when there are multiple aggregations of claimants implicating multiple, discrete, and overlapping compensation systems. Examples include the asbestos cases: workers' compensation, health and other insurance, governmental compensation, common law relief, bankruptcy trust funds; 9/11: workers' compensation, health and other insurance, other collateral sources, statutory or other governmental compensation, common law remedies; oil spill: workers' compensation, health and other insurance, other collateral sources, Oil Pollution Act of 1990, other state statutory relief, and common law remedies.
Linda S. Mullenix, Morris & Rita Atlas Chair in Law, The University of Texas School of Law
Of Dubious Doctrines: The Quasi Class Action
This paper examines the concept of the quasi class action, articulated by Judge Jack Weinstein in theZyprexa litigation, and the spread of this doctrine to other mass tort and MDL proceedings. Although the doctrine’s critics have focused almost exclusively on the doctrine’s impact on attorney fees, the judicial embrace of the quasi class action expands a new type of lawlessness in resolving law-scale aggregate litigation.
3:00-3:15 p.m. Break
3:15-4:30 p.m. PRACTITIONERS’ ROUNDTABLE
A distinguished panel discusses cutting-edge issues that concern the bench and bar.
Moderator:Michael Solimine,Donald P. Klekamp Professor of Law,University of Cincinnati College of Law
Paul M. De Marco, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley
Judge Patrick Fischer, Ohio First District Court of Appeals
Caroline H. Gentry, Porter Wright
Richard S. Wayne, Strauss & Troy
4:30-4:45 Concluding Remarks: Barbara Black, Charles Hartsock professor of law and Director, Corporate Law Center, University of Cincinnati College of Law
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The Mississippi College Law Review has posted the video for its symposium, Beyond the Horizon: The Gulf Oil Spill Crisis -- Analyzing the Economic, Environmental, and Legal Implications of the Oil Spill.
Panel One included Ms. Trudy Fisher, Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality; Professor Kenneth Murchison, James E. & Betty M. Phillips Professor, Paul M. Herbert Law Center Louisiana State University; and Professor David Robertson, W. Page Keeton Chair in Tort Law University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas at Austin. The moderator for Panel One was Ms. Betty Ruth Fox, Of Counsel, Watkins & Eager.
Panel Two included Professor Jamison Colburn, Professor of Law, Penn State University; Professor Edward Sherman, W.R. Irby Chair & Moise S. Steef, Jr. Professor of Law, Tulane University; and myself. The moderator for Panel Two was Professor Jeffrey Jackson, Owen Cooper Professor of Law, Mississippi College School of Law.
Kenneth Feinberg, claims administrator for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, delivered the symposium Keynote Presentation.
Papers from the symposium will published in the Mississippi College Law Review. Here's the abstract for my symposium talk and forthcoming article:
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility set up following the BP Gulf Oil Spill might be seen as creating a new category of claims fund that might be termed a quasi-public mass tort claims fund. Unlike purely public funds such as the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, or purely private funds such as are increasingly created for mass settlements as in Vioxx, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility is funded privately by BP, but bears the public imprimatur of having been initially negotiated by President Obama. Indeed, in an Oval Office Address, President Obama promised that claims would be "fairly" paid and that the fund would "not be controlled by BP," but would instead be administered by an "independent third party." While a quasi-public fund has the advantage of delivering swift compensation in response to an ongoing crisis, the quasi-public fund risks claimant confusion about claim-administrator independence and whether claimants should retain their own counsel to assist in evaluating fund settlement offers. In turn, that claimant confusion can jeopardize the fund's societal savings in attorney-fee transaction costs, and lower claimant participation in the fund. Accordingly, to minimize claimant confusion, a quasi-public fund should provide transparency in its fee structure for claims administrators, and seek a claims-administrator fee structure that minimizes bias, such as utilizing a fixed fee not subject to reevaluation or having defendant agree to a third-party panel's assessment of fees for claims administrators. With regard to the Gulf Coast Claim Facility, claimant participation would likely be enhanced by greater transparency and use of a third-party panel to determine claim-administrator fees.
Friday, March 25, 2011
S. Todd Brown (Buffalo) has posted a paper entitled The Market for Specious Claims on SSRN. It promises to be an interesting application of the adverse selection problem to our favorite subject here at the Mass Tort Litigation Blog! Here is the abstract:
Few problems are more disruptive to the efficient operation of comprehensive mass tort settlements than over-subscription, which, at times, appears to be fueled primarily by specious claims. In settlements with opt out rights, a flood of claims can generate a market for lemons, with the weakest claims submitting to the settlement and the strongest opting out and seeking recovery at trial or in private settlement. In binding settlements, they may result in a commons problem, requiring dramatic reductions in payment that effectively transfer recoveries from those with intrinsically strong claims to those with weak claims.
This Article evaluates the history of three mass torts where specious claim practices were uncovered and identifies common themes that reflect broader lessons about the potential for over-subscription. In particular, although commentators often focus on the incentives that drive claim recruiting, this Article explains that over-subscription has its origins in claim development incentives, which may be distorted by fixed settlement criteria and encourage practices that lend themselves to specious claim filings. This dynamic is particularly likely to generate specious claim markets for low or negative expected value claims. Moreover, the manner in which this process unfolds presents special difficulties for ethical enforcement and deterrence, suggesting that other mechanisms for controlling specious claim markets may be necessary.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Sergio Campos (Miami) sent me the link to the following debate on the University of Pennsylvania Law Review's internet companion Pennumbra (cute eh? the italics are in the original)
The short piece is called "The Future of Mass Torts - and How to Stop It" - its a defense of the deterrence rationale for limiting individual control of cases in mass tort situations. Our own Howard Erichson is scheduled to respond. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 17, 2011
John Schwartz of the NYTimes reports in an article entitled "BP Says Terms in Oil Spill Settlement Are Too Generous." The basic complaint is contained in a 25 page letter to Mr. Feinberg that basically says BP is unahppy over the valuation of future damages. The article points out that BP's letter seems to indicate that Feinberg is independent in his valuations. It raises an important question also raised by John CP Goldberg's memo to Feinberg. That is, what is and what ought to be the relationship between the law on the books and the decisions of a claims facility set up outside the legal system?
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
On this Friday, February 18, Mississippi College School of Law will be hosting a law review symposium, Beyond the Horizon: The Gulf Oil Spill Crisis -- Analyzing Economic, Environmental, and Legal Implications of the Oil Spill. Here's the short-form brochure: Download MC Law Review Symposium Brochure.
Speakers include Professors Jamison Colburn (Penn State), Kenneth Murchison (LSU), David Robertson (Texas), Edward Sherman (Tulane), and Trudy Fisher (Miss. Dep't Envt'l Quality). Moderators include Jeffrey Jackson (Mississippi College) and Betty Ruth Fox (Watkins & Eager). Papers will subsequently be published in the Mississippi College Law Review.
I will also be speaking at the symposium, discussing issues of claim-administrator compensation, transparency, and independence in connection with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. My talk will expand upon my prior blog posts raising concerns (see here and here), which last summer triggered two articles in Forbes (see here and here), as well as a post from Legal Ethics Forum. Two weeks ago, the federal MDL court overseeing the BP litigation granted in part plaintiffs' motion to have the court oversee communications by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, and the MDL court ordered that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility may not state that it is "neutral" or completely "independent" of BP. Here's the MDL opinion: Download Order - Mot to Supervise GCCF Doc 1098 2-2-2011. On the recent MDL opinion, see also this Reuters article from Moira Herbst, quoting David Logan (Roger WIlliams), Monroe Freedman (Hofstra), and me.
UPDATE -- Here's the full-length brochure for the symposium: Download MC Law BP Symposium Handout.