Friday, October 25, 2013
According to the New York Times, the jury had also determined that Toyota had acted with "reckless disregard" and was about to begin deliberations on punitive damages when the settlement was announced. The New York Times article also appropriately emphasizes that the case is noteworthy because plaintiffs' tried their claims of electronic throttle control problems.
Though the New York Times article notes the ages of the plaintiff driver was 82 (the Los Angeles Times says she was 76), the New York Times article does not note that there have been in the past been particular concerns of pedal misapplication by older drivers, and the article does not reference a government report that found no problems in Toyota's electronic throttle control system. According to CNNMoney, Toyota apparently argued that the plaintiff in Oklahoma case hit the gas, rather than the brake. In response, plaintiffs pointed to long skid marks on the road, suggesting the driver was hitting the brake. One wonders if the event data recorder in this car might have shed more light on the issue. Toyota would certainly want to avoid having juries deciding unintended acceleration cases based on the believability of the testimony of a driver who claims to have hit the brake, rather than the accelerator. If Toyota is unable to exclude plaintiffs' proferred expert testimony of electronic throttle control defect on the grounds that such testimony is not scientifically reliable, then Toyota should also be concerned that the jury may be unable to grasp the arcane details of software code design. I'm reminded of the line by Robert Duvall's character in the film, A Civil Action, depicting the Woburn water contamination case; waiting for a jury decision, his character opines, "[I]t's not going to have anything to do with dates or groundwater measurements or any of that crap, which nobody can understand anyway. It's going to come down to people like it always does."
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
Defendants in the moldy washers cases have filed cert petitions once again after the 6th and 7th Circuits reinstated those liability only (or issue) class actions. You can find the briefs here and here.
It doesn't make sense for the Supreme Court to grant cert, but stranger things have happened.
Why don't I think the Court should grant cert? Commonality is clear, there aren't real damages issues because its an issue class action and the circuits are coming together on the question of issue class actions and their parameters (coalescing around the ALI proposals and the Manual on Complex Litigation) and these are squarely in the field where class actions are most useful - consumer claims. In other words, there's nothing adventuresome here for the Court to consider.
For more defense side links with a different point of view see the Volokh Conspiracy.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
The New York Times reports that an appellate panel has remanded the BP settlement appeal for "clarification" of the settlement in response to BP's allegations that the settlement adminstrator was paying claims to non-injured claimants and engaging in other wasteful conduct.
Update: Here's the Fifth Circuit decision in the case.
In the human rights litigation over Argentina's "dirty war" of the 1970s and 1980s, a dispute over personal jurisdiction has reached the Supreme Court and will be argued on October 15 (DaimlerChysler AG v. Bauman). A group of Argentinian plaintiffs sued DaimlerChrysler AG, alleging that the company's Argentinian subsidiary participated in kidnappings and other serious wrongdoing. They sued in the Northern District of California. On the question of personal jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit held that DaimlerChrysler was subject to general jurisdiction in California based on the contacts of its US subsidiary, Mercedes Benz USA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the jurisdictional question.
The Vanderbilt Law Review has published an online roundtable concerning the case, and the initial papers -- by Donald Childress, Burt Neuborne, Suzanna Sherry, Linda Silberman, and myself -- are now available on the Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc website. My own contribution, entitled The Home-State Test for General Personal Jurisdiction, takes a strong view that the Ninth Circuit got it wrong. General jurisdiction over corporations requires a home-state relationship; it should not be founded merely on the contacts of a subsidiary acting as an agent, or on the fact that a company has a substantial presence or does substantial business in the forum state (even if that business is "continuous and systematic," to use the ambiguous and misleading language that the Supreme Court should finally abandon as a description of the sort of relationship that justifies general jurisdiction).
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this term on the mass action exception as it relates to parens patriae suits in Mississippi ex rel Hood v. AU Optronics (see the coverage on scotusblog). The issue in that case is "Whether a state’s parens patriae action is removable as a “mass action” under the Class Action Fairness Act when the state is the sole plaintiff, the claims arise under state law, and the state attorney general possesses statutory and common-law authority to assert all claims in the complaint."
In another case percolating up, the 9th Circuit ruled on Tuesday that a collection of cases all brought in state court against one drug manufacturer with similar allegations of injury do not fall within the mass action exception and aren't removable. The case, Romo v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA can be found on the 9th Circuit website. It involves a number of cases filed against the generic drug manufacturer in California. The plaintiffs moved to coordinate the cases in California courts. The defendant responded by trying to remove to federal courts, arguing that this falls under the jurisdiction of the federal courts because CAFA provides that more then 100 cases cases sharing common issues of fact or law proposed to be tried jointly may be removed -- the "mass action" exception. In In re Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 698 F.3d 568 (7th Cir. 2012) the 7th Circuit held that coordinated cases set to be consolidated "through trial" were subject to the mass action exception and were removable. The 9th Circuit distinguished Abbott and agreed with the plaintiffs that a consolidation for discovery purposes is not the same as a request to try the cases jointly, underscoring that jurisdictional provisions are strictly construed.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Monday, September 23, 2013
Marketplace has a segment about lead paint litigation today featuring our own Elizabeth Burch. The trigger is a lead paint trial that closed in California today. See here for a news story. The question posed is how the lead paint manufacturers have escaped the kind of liability that tobacco or asbestos. What's the difference? Here are some theories. Caveat: These are just some ruminations, not a definitive work on lead paint by any stretch.
1. Who's doing the suing?
Municipalities vs. victims: Beth points out that in these lead paint suits municipalities or states are pursuing a public nuisance theory against the paint manufacturers and this makes them different than some more successful mass torts. Some courts think that this doctrine is a bad fit with the wrong at issue. But not all lead paint cases have been brought by municipalities. In the beginning, much like tobacco or asbestos, these cases were brought on behalf of victims. This is a late-stage litigation after failures at the individual or group victim level.
Poor children vs. workers: The victims of lead paint were poor children who ingested the paint chips, whereas in the tobacco and asbestos cases they were adult workers. This is not a doctrinal explanation but a socio-political one.
Scienter: In tobacco there was evidence of misrepresentation and manipulation. That seems to be a big part of the argument in the California courtroom from press reports: what did the lead manufacturers know and when?
2. What's the doctrine?
Market share liability. First, and I think most importantly, the idea of market-share liability failed to gain traction after some initial gains early on. Without being able to tie a particular manufacturer to the apartment where the paint was ingested, plaintiff can't show that this manufacturer caused the harm. In that sense lead not like asbestos (where work places kept records) or tobacco (where people know what brand they smoked).
Public nuisance doctrine is a relatively novel theory for this type of mass tort. That doesn't make it wrong, but it doesn't make it an easy sell to courts either.
3. Is there insurance? The asbestos manufacturers had more insurance coverage than you'd think due to some loose underwriting in mid-century. What is the lead paint manufacturers' coverage and how is this affecting these suits?
More theories welcome.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Vanderbilt Law School’s Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program invites submissions for its 2014 New Voices in Civil Justice Scholarship Workshop, to be held May 12-13, 2014, at Vanderbilt Law School.
The New Voices format maximizes collegial interaction and feedback. Paper authors do not deliver prepared “presentations.” Rather, all participants read the selected papers prior to the session, and at each workshop, a senior faculty member provides a brief overview and commentary on the paper. Open and interactive discussion immediately follows.
1. Subject matter. Submitted papers should address an aspect of civil justice, broadly defined. Subject areas may include, but are not limited to, civil procedure, complex litigation, evidence, federal courts, judicial decision-making, alternative dispute resolution, remedies, and conflict of laws. In keeping with the intellectual breadth of the Branstetter Program faculty, the Workshop welcomes all scholarly methodologies, from traditional doctrinal analysis to quantitative or experimental approaches.
2. Author qualifications. To be eligible to submit a paper, scholars must currently hold either a faculty position or a fellowship.
3. Format / Anonymity. We will consider preliminary drafts, drafts under submission, or accepted papers that will not be published by the time of the workshop. Papers should be formatted either in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat. 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 1, 2014. 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. Final drafts are due no later than April 15.
The Branstetter Program will pay all reasonable travel expenses within the United States for invited participants. Additional information can be found at http://law.vanderbilt.edu/newvoices. If you have any questions, please email the chair of the selection committee, Brian Fitzpatrick, at firstname.lastname@example.org.ECB
This spring's 20th Annual Clifford Symposium at DePaul University College of Law is featuring Judge Jack Weinstein's Impact on Civil Justice in America. It looks like they have lined up an allstar cast, with Justice Stephen Breyer giving the special address. Speakers include:
Susan Bandes, DePaul University College of Law
Anita Bernstein, Brooklyn Law School
Shari Seidman Diamond, Northwestern University
Howard M. Erichson, Fordham University School of Law
David L. Faigman, University of California Hastings College of the Law
Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen LLP
Richard D. Friedman, University of Michigan Law School
Judge John Gleeson, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
John C.P. Goldberg, Harvard Law School
James R. Hackney, Northeastern University School of Law
Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge (ret.) New York Court of Appeals; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates
Alexandra D. Lahav, University of Connecticut School of Law
David Marcus, University of Arizona College of Law
Judge Brian R. Martinotti, Bergen County, New Jersey
Jennifer L. Mnookin, UCLA School of Law
Jeffrey Morris, Touro Law Center
Linda S. Mullenix, University of Texas School of Law
Robert L. Rabin, Stanford Law School
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York
Elizabeth Schneider, Brooklyn Law School
Tom R. Tyler, Yale Law School
Judge Jack B. Weinstein, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
Adam Zimmerman. Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
The symposium takes place on April 24, 2014. Here's a link to the brocure.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
No procedural topic has garnered more attention in the past fifty years than the class action and aggregation of plaintiffs. Yet, almost nothing has been written about aggregating defendants. This topic is of increasing importance. Recent efforts by patent “trolls” and BitTorrent copyright plaintiffs to aggregate unrelated defendants for similar but independent acts of infringement have provoked strong opposition from defendants, courts, and even Congress. The visceral resistance to defendant aggregation is puzzling. The aggregation of similarly-situated plaintiffs is seen as creating benefits for both plaintiffs and the judicial system. The benefits that justify plaintiff aggregation also seem to exist for defendant aggregation — avoiding duplicative litigation, making feasible negative-value claims/defenses, and allowing the aggregated parties to mimic the non-aggregated party’s inherent ability to spread costs. If so, why is there such resistance to defendant aggregation?
Perhaps, contrary to theoretical predictions, defendant aggregation is against defendants’ self-interest. This may be true in certain types of cases, particularly where the plaintiff’s claims would not be viable individually, but does not apply to other types of cases, particularly where the defendants’ defenses would not be viable individually. These latter cases are explained, if at all, based on cognitive limitations. In any event, defendant self-interest does not justify systemic resistance to defendant aggregation. Likewise, systemic resistance is not warranted because of concerns of weak claims or unsympathetic plaintiffs, the self-interest of individual judges handling aggregated cases, or capture by defendant interests. This Article proposes that to obtain the systemic benefits of defendant aggregation and overcome the obstacles created by defendant and judicial self-interest, cognitive limitations, and capture, defendant aggregation procedures should use non-representative actions, provide centralized neutral control over aggregation, and limit aggregation to common issues. This Article concludes with a modified procedure to implement these principles: inter-district related case coordination.
Arguments that we have too much litigation (overclaiming) or too little (underclaiming) cannot be valid without estimating how many of the undecided claims that are brought (actual claims) or not brought (potential claims) have or lack legal merit. We identify the basic conceptual structure of such underclaiming and overclaiming arguments, which entails inferences about the distribution of actual or potential claims by their probability of success on the merits within a claims-processing institution. We then survey the available methods for estimating claim merit.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
For those of us making brief reference to Ronald Coase in our Torts classes, here are a few links to helpful takes on Coase's scholarship and influence, in the wake of his recent passing: (1) Wall Street Journal editorial, The Wisdom of Ronald Coase; (2) Professor David Henderson (Naval Postgraduate School & Hoover Institution), The Man Who Resisted 'Blackboard Economics' (also in the WSJ); and (3) Cato Senior Fellow Walter Olson's post, Ronald Coase, 1910-2013.
Legalnewsline reports in Ala. SC to hear oral arguments in case over ‘innovator liability’ next week, by Jessica Karmasek. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform has more discussion of the issues.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Professor Jennifer Robbennolt (Illinois) has posted to SSRN her article, The Effects of Negotiated and Delegated Apologies in Settlement Negotiation, 37 Law & Hum. Behav. 128 (2013). Here's the abstract:
Previous work has explored the influence that apologies have on the settlement of civil legal disputes. This study explored 2 aspects of apologies that commonly arise in the legal setting — the fact that many apologies may be negotiated with or requested from a wrongdoer in the context of settlement discussions and the possibility that an apology may be offered by a wrongdoer’s attorney rather than personally by the offender. In general, apologies given following a negligent action were found to improve perceptions of the offender and the situation. Full apologies that were given in response to a request by the injured party or at the suggestion of a mediator were viewed in ways that were similar to the same apology given spontaneously. On the other hand, full apologies that were offered by an attorney on behalf of the wrongdoer, although improving perceptions somewhat, were less effective than apologies offered directly by the wrongdoer. The motives attributed to the apologizer and general attitudes toward the civil litigation system also influenced perceptions of apologies.
Professor Jill Wieber Lens (Baylor) has posted to SSRN her article, No Matter the Enormous Cost: A Defendant's Accuracy-Based Right to Present Defenses. Here's the abstract:
The Supreme Court has held that a plaintiff has a due process right to her day in court. The right is grounded in a process-based theory of procedural due process, which values litigant participation intrinsically. The defendants in Philip Morris USA v. Williams and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes claimed something similar — a right to present defenses. The Court recognized that right in both cases, stating that a defendant could not be punished for harming nonparties or be forced to pay damages to a class action plaintiff without being provided the opportunity to present defenses specific to the nonparties and absent plaintiffs.
The cases are significant not because the Court found the right, but how it did so — relying on an outcome-based theory of procedural due process, under which procedures are necessary to achieve accurate results. The pursuit of accuracy is alarmingly uncompromising. Only the accuracy resulting from individualized proceedings was acceptable. And the Court required individualized proceedings despite the costs — unpunished defendants, with little incentive to alter their behavior, and uncompensated, injured plaintiffs. But the Court did not weigh the costs and instead focused on increasing accuracy even though perfect accuracy can never be achieved. The cases pave the way for an absurdly broad, outcome-based right to day in court for defendants.
This Essay is a contribution to the 19th Annual Clifford Symposium on Tort Law and Social Policy. The focus of the Essay is on the alienability of legal claims. Debates over alienability often emphasize questions of commodification or efficiency, yet there are also interesting remedial implications. Drawing on insights from civil recourse theory, I will argue that some remedies may cease to be apt once a claim has been transferred. For example, apologies may no longer make sense if their recipient is not the party who was wronged, or someone affiliated with that party. Apologies are admittedly not a core remedy in tort law. But similar concerns may arise with respect to punitive damages, particularly if those damages have an expressive component, or are taken to provide a type of private revenge. More broadly, if civil recourse theorists are correct that private rights of action provide a type of accountability, or a mode of “getting satisfaction”, many tort law remedies may have a different meaning post-transfer. This Essay will explore these concerns and suggest several potential responses to them.
Friday, August 30, 2013
According to a news report, BP today asked the Fifth Circuit to reverse the district court's approval of the Gulf oil spill settlement. I have not seen the court filing, but according to this AP report as published by the NY Times, "BP is trying to persuade a federal appeals court that it should throw out a judge's approval of the company's multibillion-dollar settlement with Gulf Coast residents and businesses. Last year, BP PLC joined plaintiffs' attorneys in urging U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to give the deal his final approval. On Friday, however, the company's lawyers argued in a court filing that Barbier's more recent interpretation of settlement terms have allowed businesses to receive hundreds of millions of dollars for inflated or fictitious claims." As told in the Houston Chronicle, BP would still support the settlement if the Fifth Circuit were to decide in BP's favor on its earlier appeal challenging Judge Barbier's rulings on the generosity of payouts.
BP's decision to ask for reversal of its settlement class action (a deal that BP had negotiated and agreed to, and for which BP had previously argued in favor of judicial approval), is a fascinating turn of events in light of the history of the Gulf Oil Spill litigation and settlement. Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP established a compensation fund to pay claims. Kenneth Feinberg was named administrator of the fund, which came to be knows as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), and the GCCF proceeded to settle thousands of claims. But BP later joined with a group of plaintiffs' lawyers to negotiate a settlement class action that would replace the GCCF as settlement mechanism. For BP, a settlement class action offered a greater prospect of finality because it could bind all class members who fail to opt out, whereas the GCCF settlement program could bind only those claimants who chose to accept their compensation offers. In other words, even though the claims systems strongly resembled each other, a key difference is that a settlement class action uses the adjudicative power of the court to bind class members, in contrast to the claims facility, which depended upon the consent of individual claimants to settle their claims.
I've argued elsewhere that settlement class actions should be impermissible because they use the power of the courts to disadvantage claimants. But the BP news drives home the point that the opposite problem can occur -- a defendant may feel disadvantaged by a settlement class action because it deprives the defendant of control over the settlement process.