Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Adap Liptak of the NYTimes has a piece When Lawyers Cut Their Clients Out of the Deal about a cy pres settlement with Facebook. In this settlement (approved by the 9th Circuit) the lawyers got $2.3 million and the clients got a cy pres contribution, apparently $6.5 million to a foundation over which Facebook has some control according to the article. The cy pres recipient is something called the Digital Trust Foundation. A quick google search came up with a bunch of references to the Facebook settlement but no website for this foundation.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the settlement and denied rehearing en banc, with a dissent on rehearing en banc, making this a possible Supeme Court cert grant. (A cert petition was filed on June 26, 2013).
There is a lot of scholarship on the topic of how much lawyers should be paid relative to class members as well as articles critizing cy pres settlements. Some links to this work are below. The problem is this. We regulate entities like Facebook largely by litigation. In the absence of the class action, there would be little or no enforcement of the consumer protection laws. But the class action litigation needs to be funded, and it is funded out of lawyers percentage of the total fund, usually the total fund from a settlement because class actions are almost never litigated. Its very hard to certify a class action, so class actions are often certified for settlement only. The incentive of the lawyers, fearing no class certification or realistic possibility of actually litigating, is to settle. The incentives for defendants, wanting to get the litigation off their books, is to settle cheap. The answer to this problem in my view is to allow classes to be litigated, not to tighten the certification standards further.
If the settlement will deter future misconduct, even if the money doesn't go directly to the class members, there is still a lot of societal value there. But is $8.8 million enough to deter Facebook? Does it have any relationship to the potential value of this lawsuit? That is, what is the value of the claims multiplied by the probability of success?
In my own work, I've suggested that cy pres settlements are not necessarily bad, but that certainly doesn't mean they are always good. Class members should just be polled in determining where cy pres settlements should go. The argument that class members will not appreciate the putative $1 (I think I saw it was $1.12) they would get in a settlement like this one is reasonable. But that doesn't make a settlement like this one okay. Especially in a settlement involving facebook users, who presumably are all connected via facebook, there is no reason why absent class members cannot be polled. Do they "like" this foundation? what would they prefer? Might I suggest Public Citizen as a recipient?
This case might be a fine vehicle for the Supreme Court to consider cy pres settlements. Given how few cases the Court decides, how few class actions actually are filed and litigated (less than 1% of the federal docket) its not clear to me that this is the best use of its time. That said, if the Court does grant cert, it would be wise to consider both the overall benefits and costs of cy pres to consumers and society more generally, not merely the fact that the lawyers got a lot of money here. This is a story of more money than sense.
Monday, July 22, 2013
The presentatons from the 2012 Moscow meeting of the International Association of Procedural Law have been posted to SSRN as a combined UC Irvine Law research paper entitled, Civil Procedure in Cross-Cultural Dialogue: Eurasia Context. Among the many professors whose papers are gathered are Carrie Menkel-Meadow (UC Irvine), Richard Marcus (UC Hastings), Stefaan Voet (Univ. of Ghent), and Jasminka Kalajdzic (Univ. of WIndsor). Here's the abstract:
The Idea of the book is to discuss the evolution of civil procedure in different societies, not only in the well-known civil or common law systems, but also in different countries of Eurasia, Asia, etc. Civil procedure in Europe and North America is a subject of enormous scientific and practical importance. We know a lot about these systems. But we do not know enough about civil procedure in the rest of the world. How does it work and what are the main principles? Culture is one of the main factors that makes civil procedure of these countries different. Therefore it is necessary to discuss the main links between different systems of civil procedure. The discussion was held on the basis of National reports from 24 countries.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Khoury, Menard & Redko on the Role of Canadian Private Law in the Control of Risks Associated with Tobacco Smoking
Professors Lara Khoury and Marie-Eve Couture-Ménard (McGill), and Olga Redko (LL.B./B.C.L. Candidate, McGill) have posted to SSRN their article, The Role of Private Law in the Control of Risks Associated with Tobacco Smoking: The Canadian Experience, 39 Am. J. L., Med. & Ethics 442 (2013). Here's the abstract:
Can private law litigation serve as a tool for advancing public health objectives? With this contentious and oft-asked question in mind, this text tackles Canada’s recent tobacco litigation. This Article first presents critical commentary regarding various lawsuits waged against Canadian cigarette manufacturers by citizens acting as individuals or as parties to class action lawsuits. We then turn to analyze how Canada’s provincial governments rely on targeted legislation to facilitate private law recourses for recouping the healthcare costs of treating tobacco-related diseases. The authors address challenges to the constitutionality of this type of legislation, as well as attempts by manufacturers to transfer responsibility to the federal government.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Professor Paul McMahon (Harvard) has posted to SSRN his article, Proceduralism, Civil Justice, and American Legal Thought, 34 U. Pa. J. Int'l L. (forthcoming). Here's the abstract:
American legal scholars spend a large proportion of their time debating and theorizing procedure. This Article focuses on American proceduralism in the particular field of civil justice and undertakes a detailed comparison with England, where procedural questions receive little academic attention. It finds that procedure is more prominent in America partly because Americans have been more willing than others to use private litigation as a tool for regulation. More significantly, procedural questions necessarily occupy more space in American debates because authority over civil justice is unusually dispersed among different actors; procedural rules allocate power among these actors. But American proceduralism runs deeper than these surface explanations allow, and a full account requires an examination of the history of American legal thought. I trace contemporary American proceduralism to a counter-intuitive source: the emergence of Legal Realism in the 1920s and 1930s.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Zachary Savage (J.D. Candidate, NYU), has posted to SSRN his student note, Scaling Up: Implementing Issue Preclusion in Mass Tort Litigation Through Bellwether Trials, N.Y.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013). Here's the abstract:
The civil litigation system aims to resolve disputes in an efficient, centralized, and final manner. In the context of mass tort litigation, one technique courts often use to achieve these goals is what I call “scaling up”: holding individual trials, and then applying results from these trials to similarly situated individuals. Scaling up, however, presents two difficulties. First, the technique risks compromising defendants’ Due Process rights by creating impermissible settlement pressure. Second, scaling up requires the initial court to structure the litigation so that it may serve as a template for follow-on proceedings; where this is not done, attempting to graft the results of one proceeding onto the remaining group of similarly situated individuals may simply lead to more protracted litigation.
Yet these difficulties are not inherent to the technique; in fact, courts can scale up in a way that avoids these problems. In order to mitigate the Due Process problem, courts should not apply the results of individual trials to subsequent trials involving similar claims until a substantial number of trials have been completed, and until it has become clear that any verdicts unfavorable to defendants are not flukes or outliers. And to ensure that scaling up does not simply lead to more protracted litigation, the initial trials should be structured so as to maximize the likelihood that individuals in follow-on litigation can invoke the findings under the issue preclusion doctrine of Parklane Hosiery v. Shore. The American Law Institute has made a proposal with these considerations in mind with respect to issue classes. This Note argues that a similar approach should be taken in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) process, where most mass tort litigation occurs today. This approach would be particularly useful if applied to one device that is being used with increasing frequency in the MDL process: the bellwether trial.
Friday, March 22, 2013
At Corporate Counsel, there's an interesting piece by journalist Michael Goldhaber entitled Kindergarten Lessons from Chevron in Ecuador. Goldhaber, who has been following this massive and messy litigation for years, offers what he sees as some of the true and false lessons from the ongoing litigation concerning Texaco-Chevron's involvement in oil drilling in Ecuador.
In a nutshell, the litigation involves claims that a Texaco subsidiary caused environmental damage to the Oriente region of Ecuador. Plaintiffs originally sued in the Southern District of New York, but their suit was dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens. Plaintiffs then filed a lawsuit in Ecuador and won an $18 billion judgment. Chevron contends that the Ecuadorian judgment was obtained by fraud and corruption, and has resisted enforcement of the judgment. Chevron sued plaintiffs' attorney Stephen Donziger and others, asserting RICO and fraud claims. An international arbitration tribunal weighed in pursuant to the Ecuador-US bilateral investment treaty. Plaintiffs are seeking to enforce the judgment in Canada, Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere. This mess of a litigation has been going on for nearly 20 years.
Goldhaber, in prior work, has articulated a strong view that the Ecuadorian judgment was the product of fraud and corruption. In the new article, Goldhaber takes as his starting point the Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation symposium that took place in February. He goes through the basic lessons offered by the participants -- plaintiffs' lawyer Graham Erion, defense lawyer Theodore Boutros, and a host of scholars including myself.
The strongest lesson (and here I am in complete agreement with Goldhaber): "Be careful what you wish for." The irony of this litigation is overwhelming. Texaco fought to have the case dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens, arguing that Ecuador was a more appropriate forum. The plaintiffs argued that the Ecuadorian courts could not handle the case and that it should remain in the U.S. Ever since the massive judgment, however, the positions have been flipped -- with the plaintiffs insisting that the judgment deserves respect and the defendant contending that the Ecuadorian courts were corrupt. Goldhaber has referred to this as "forum shopper's remorse."
But I do not agree with Goldhaber's next step. Noting that "the abuse of transnational litigation would never have happened had the U.S. held on to the case," he suggests that the doctrine of forum non conveniens be altered to take into account the stakes and political significance of a case:
The great blunder in this dispute was to ship it to Ecuador in the name of forum non conveniens. The U.S. courts could have saved everyone a lot of grief had they recognized that a case is more prone to abuse when the issues are (a) high-stakes or (b) politicized. I learned from Russia's Yukos affair that, even if a weak judicial system has made significant progress, it does not deserve trust in a hot-button case of great magnitude. It was reckless to expect Ecuador (even if it had just adopted a new set of corruption reforms) to handle a huge case pitting gringo oil companies against indigenous rights. My modest suggestion is to incorporate these factors into the FNC analysis.
The adequate alternative forum prong of the forum non conveniens analysis is a low threshold, and deliberately so. A lawsuit alleging environmental harm to Ecuadorian land and medical harm to Ecuadorian citizens, and involving control over Ecuadorian natural resources, belongs in Ecuador. That is the very point of forum non conveniens. A U.S. court should be loath to say that it will hear the case in the U.S. because it thinks the Ecuadorian courts just cannot handle it. A judgment obtained by fraud should not be enforceable elsewhere, but this is better addressed ex post, which is exactly what the current litigation -- albeit in a rather ugly fashion -- is doing. But to have said, ex ante, that the case should be heard in the United States despite all of the public and private interest factors that pointed to Ecuador, would have been a mistake.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Widener University School of Law and the Widener Law Journal are presenting a day-long symposium, Perspectives on Mass Tort Litigation, on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Honorable Eduardo Robreno of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will present a luncheon address, Federal Asbestos Litigation: Black Hole or New Paradigm? Other participants include Hon. Thurbert Baker (McKenna Long); Mark Behrens (Shook Hardy); John Beisner (Skadden); S. Todd Brown (SUNY Buffalo); Scott Cooper (Schmidt Kramer); Amaris Elliot-Engel (Legal Intelligencer); Michael Green (Wake Forest); Deborah Hensler (Stanford); Mary Kate Kearney (Widener); Randy Lee (Widener); Bruce Mattock (Goldberg Persky); Tobias Millrood (Pogust Braslow); Linda Mullenix (Texas); Christopher Robinette (Widener); Susan Raeker-Jordan (Widener); Sheila Scheuerman (Charleston); Victor Schwartz (Shook Hardy); William Shelley (Gordon & Rees); Aaron Twerski (Brooklyn); Nicholas Vari (K&L Gates); and Nancy Winkler (Eisenberg Rothweiler). I will also participate via Skype videoconference. Here's the brochure: Download Widener 2013 MTL Symposiu Brochure
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
In an opinion by Justice Breyer, the Court unanimously rejected a stipulation by a proposed class representative to limit recovery for the putative class to less than $5 million, in an apparent attempt by plaintiffs to avoid removal to federal court unde the Class Action Fairness Act. See also SCOTUSblog.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Corporate Counsel has a short piece, Crafting a Defense in Food-Labeling Class Actions, by O'Melveny's Kelsey Larson and Carlos Lazatin.
Skadden has issued a useful analysis of upcoming cases to watch and potential developments for 2013 in class actions and product liability. The analysis includes contributes by Skadden's John Beisner, J. Russell Jackson, and Jessica Miller.
Friday, November 30, 2012
On November 26 the Supreme Court denied cert in RJ Reynold Tobacco Co. v. Clay, an appeal from a Florida state court decision to give the Engle court ruling preclusion effect.
Engle, recall, is the tobacco issue class action certified and upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. Does the denial of cert pave the way for issues class actions to flourish (at least for the moment) or is this just not the right vehicle?
See Scotusblog for a summary and links. ADL
Saturday, October 20, 2012
The conference will take place on October 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C., and includes panels on third-party litigation financing and global litigation (including the Chevron Ecuadoran litigation and the adoption of class actions in other countries).
Friday, October 19, 2012
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.
The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument this week in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., which concerns corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute. Today, the Court posted the audio from the argument. More generally on the case can be found at SCOTUSblog.
UPDATE -- The Economist reports on the Kiobel oral argument in Law's Long Arm: A Review of Extreme Extraterritoriality.
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.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The saga continues with a 97 page opinion by Judge Kaplan denying the plaintiff Chevron's motion for partial summary judgment with leave to refile. I haven't read the opinion yet but the table of contents promises a lot of fodder for civil procedure mavens, especially summary judgment and personal jurisdiction.
You can find a copy of the opinon here.
You can find coverage of the opinion at these locations:
And a great story about this piece of the long-standing litigation at the New Yorker last year.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Thomas J. Donahue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has an op-ed entitled, U.S. Firms Prone To 'Tort Tourism' In Foreign Courts, in Investor's Business Daily. The op-ed particularly discusses the Chevron case in Ecuador.