Thursday, February 13, 2020

Bayer Strives to Settle Lawsuits While Roundup Still on the Market

Article in the Wall Street Journal -- Bayer Strives to End Lawsuits Over Roundup—While Still Selling It, by Laura Kusisto, Ruth Bender, and Jacob Bunge.

February 13, 2020 in Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Symposium on New Frontiers in Torts: The Challenges of Science, Technology & Innovation at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles

The Southwestern Law Review Symposium, New Frontiers in Torts: The Challenges of Science, Technology, and Innovation, will take place on Friday, February 7, 2020 at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.  The Symposium is the inaugural event of Southwestern Law School’s Panish Civil Justice Program, which was endowed by one of the country’s leading trial lawyers, Southwestern Law School alumnus Brian Panish.  The Symposium's first panel will focus on tort practice, addressing an eclectic mix of subjects ranging from predictive analytics and e-discovery to scientific evidence and the cognitive science of jury persuasion.  Next, panel two will examine recent trends in financing lawsuits and proposals for changing non-lawyer relationships with law firms.  In panel three, the discussion turns to new forms of tort litigation, including recent developments in multidistrict, complex, class, and toxic tort actions such as the opioid mass litigation, among others.  The fourth panel will examine tort theory, analyzing both how traditional theories can deal with new tort problems and how new theories may help place old quandaries in sharper focus.  The Symposium will also include a luncheon keynote discussion on the past, present, and future of torts.  Registration for the symposium is available now.

Speakers and moderators at the symposium will include the following:

  • Ronald Aronovsky, Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School;
  • Mark Behrens, Partner and Co-Chair, Public Policy Practice Group, Shook, Hardy & Bacon;
  • John Beisner, Partner and Leader, Mass Torts, Insurance and Consumer Litigation Group, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP;
  • Alan Calnan, Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School;
  • Fiona Chaney, Investment Manager and Legal Counsel, Bentham IMF;
  • James Fischer, Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School;
  • Manuel Gomez, Associate Dean of International and Graduate Studies and Professor of Law, Florida International University College of Law;
  • Michael Green, Bess and Walter Williams Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law;
  • Gregory Keating, Maurice Jones, Jr. – Class of 1925 Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Southern California Gould School of Law;
  • Richard Marcus, Coil Chair in Litigation and Distinguished Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of Law;
  • Francis McGovern, Professor of Law, Duke Law School;
  • Linda Mullenix, Morris & Rita Atlas Chair in Advocacy, University of Texas at Austin School of Law;
  • Brian Panish, Founding Partner, Panish, Shea & Boyle;
  • R. Rex Parris, Founding Partner, Parris Law Firm;
  • Christopher Robinette, Professor of Law and Director, Advocacy Certificate Program, Widener University Commonwealth Law School;
  • Michael Sander, Managing Director and Founder, Docket Alarm, and Director, Fastcase Analytics;
  • Victor Schwartz, Partner and Co-Chair, Public Policy Practice Group, Shook, Hardy & Bacon;
  • Anthony Sebok, Professor of Law, Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law;
  • Catherine Sharkey, Crystal Eastman Professor of Law, New York University School of Law;
  • Kenneth Simons, Chancellor’s Professor of Law, UC Irvine School of Law;
  • Byron Stier, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School;
  • Dov Waisman, Vice Dean and Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School; and
  • Adam Zimmerman, Professor of Law and Gerald Rosen Fellow, Loyola Marymount University Law School Los Angeles.

January 22, 2020 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Conferences, Ethics, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Preemption, Procedure, Products Liability, Punitive Damages, Science, Trial | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mass Tort Deals: A Response to Ellen Relkin and an Open Invitation

Since I published Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation last May, I’ve received a lot of private emails from lawyers in the trenches who agree with my diagnosis of the problems in MDL. As the book details, incentives within multidistrict litigation tend to skew toward insiders’ self-interest, not the public interest or plaintiffs’ interests. Left unchecked, self-interest can takeover. And there are no checks. Consequently, there is an urgent need to improve the mass-tort system and its inhabitants as a whole.

Of course, in writing the book, I knew there would be backlash, particularly from those ensconced within the system who have much to lose from any change in the status quo. And judging from the latest review of my book on Amazon, it appears I’ve struck a nerve.

It comes from Ellen Relkin, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who served as co-lead counsel in DePuy ASR; lead and liaison counsel in Stryker; and on the court-appointed executive committee in Ortho Evra, Yasmin/Yaz, and Biomet.

To begin, I’d like to thank Ms. Relkin for taking time to review the book.  I hope very much that it will lead to a dialog and a broader exchange of information, not just between the two of us, but between academics and practitioners more broadly.  As my mentor, Richard Nagareda, impressed upon me, ours is a field that is driven deeply by what judges and lawyers do in real time, on the ground, not by what academics say to one another in lofty towers.

It was with that in mind that I began writing what eventually became Mass Tort Deals, which Relkin colorfully dubs a “book parading as empirical research.” It is the culmination of six-years worth of data collection on all the products-liability proceedings pending on the MDL docket as of May 2013, and its Appendix boils down all of that data into 41 pages of tables. All of the documents that I collected are freely available to the public and word searchable here.  Whether you love, hate, or are completely indifferent to the book, you are welcome to make use of all of the data and documents without having to pay Pacer fees.

What to make of the data is, of course, open to various interpretations.  Mass Tort Deals reflects my conscious choices both about how to present data in an inviting, accessible way, and which case studies and anecdotes might best convey key points. Those choices are based not only on the raw numbers (which are all disclosed), but on many hours of interviews with attorneys and judges as well as reading hundreds of motions, arguments, and court transcripts. Lawyers and judges who lived those proceedings will, invariably, have different opinions about their strengths and weaknesses, as Relkin’s critique demonstrates.

That brings me to Relkin’s specific comments, which I respond to briefly below:

  • “The book is biased.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure what this means. I don’t represent any clients, I don’t consult for lawyers on either side, and my funding comes entirely from my university (no private grants, etc.). I do have a perspective and an opinion from doing extensive research, but I am about as neutral as they come. As Relkin notes, on the other hand, she served as lead counsel in some of the mass tort deals that I criticize and, one presumes, has profited substantially from them.

  • “[T]he book criticizes and makes incorrect assumptions without ever interviewing the lead counsel . . .”

As noted, I did speak with a number of plaintiffs’ attorneys on background (including those in DePuy ASR).  Those lawyers asked not to be named for fear of retribution, which I describe in Chapter 3. Lance Cooper was the sole attorney who agreed to be interviewed “on the record.” Unlike the lawyers affected by, but not in control of the proceeding, lead lawyers’ positions tend to be apparent from reading the motions that they file and the arguments they make in a hearing’s transcripts.

Despite putting these proceedings under a microscope, however, some critical information just isn’t publicly available, as I note in the book’s Introduction.  The terms of most private settlements remain private, and even for those that are publicly available, it is rare indeed to find information on substantive outcomes—who gets what, in other words.

More frustrating still are the many sealed documents. (Reuters has echoed this same frustration in a series of articles on opioids and Propecia.) DePuy ASR was a particularly opaque proceeding in that regard. The leaders, for example, sealed their common-benefit fee and cost awards (motions, orders, etc.).  Why insist on secrecy in court-awarded attorneys’ fees?

This is one of the key concerns that I address in Mass Tort Deals: too little disclosure can lead to too much room for abuse of process.  The information that is available suggests that there is a systemic lack of checks and balances in MDLs that may benefit insiders like lead plaintiffs’ attorneys, at their clients’ expense. In short, proceedings should be more transparent—deciding issues in secret breeds mistrust.

To that end, if you have data on substantive outcomes (who, exactly, gets what), please share it with me. I would love to know more about how much money is paid out and to whom, how long it takes to administer claims, whether like plaintiffs are treated equally, how much money it costs to put dollars in class members’ hands versus plaintiffs in private settlements, etc.

  • “The book overlooks litigation challenges in some of the cases including the enormous costs of trying complex pharmaceutical and medical device cases, especially those with mild to moderate injuries, general and specific medical causation challenges, preemption issues, learned intermediary challenges, among other difficulties in some cases.”

Relkin is correct in that this book is about the procedures used to resolve cases, not substantive tort law. But to the heart of her concern, I discuss costs on pages 24-25, general and specific causation on pp. 112, 116, and 210. And I emphasize the pros and cons of bellwether trials on pp. 107-110.

  • “Ms. Burch incorrectly attributes lead counsel in the DePuy ASR settlement, incorrectly interprets and describes features of the settlement, overlooks an enormous and virtually unprecedented benefits of the settlement . . ., incorrectly claims that the Extraordinary Injury Fund awards were unknown when in fact the scheduled award amounts were listed in an appendix to the settlement agreements that have been and are still on-line, among other errors.”

The only concrete thing I can find to respond to here is Relkin’s claim about the Extraordinary Injury Fund.  As I observed on p. 140, the DePuy ASR settlements did estimate a claimant’s base award, but even after another search of the settlement’s website, I still don’t see any amounts actually paid out to clients listed anywhere.  Of course, it’s certainly possible that I’ve missed something.  So, here’s a link to the website if you’d like to dig in. 

  • “The two unhappy clients she quotes from a New York Times article are certainly not a representative sample. Using that standard, one could go on ‘Rate My Professor’, and while finding many good reviews of Professor Burch, would find some students who gave her unfavorable ratings.”

Okay, I couldn’t resist. It appears the last posting I received on “Rate My Professors” was in 2011 and of the 8 total posts, I received 7 “Awesome’s” and 1 “Good” (which still wrote “Great prof”). (Personally, I’m partial to the one that said “Amazing teacher. Funny, pretty, witty, and just downright brilliant,” but hey, maybe I am biased.)

More to the point, writing the book did make me realize that I needed to hear directly from plaintiffs, hence the Procedural Justice Study that I began over a year ago. 

Relkin kindly mentions that “she would have been happy to share the many thank you notes from enormously grateful clients who fared very well,” so I hope that she and other plaintiffs’ lawyers will ask their Yasmin/Yaz and Ortho Evra clients to participate in the Procedural Justice Study as well as any clients they might have in the other covered women’s health proceedings: Pelvic Mesh, Talcum Powder, Mentor ObTape, Mirena, Norplant, Fen-Phen, Dalkon Shield, NuvaRing, Silicone Gel Breast Implants, Power Morcellator, Ephedra, Fosamax, Monat Hair Care, Rio Hair Naturalizer, Prempro, and Protegen Sling.

Please disseminate the survey link broadly to your clients; I absolutely want to hear from all of them.  By way of background, the study does not ask for any confidential information (settlement or otherwise); the basic info it seeks include things that plaintiffs can readily find in their complaint.  The study’s focus is on how plaintiffs feel about their experience with the justice system—the judges, the lawyers, etc. 

My aim in this is to update and expand upon RAND’s 1989 Perception of Justice survey by identifying what litigants care about in the MDL context.  I hope to hear from as many plaintiffs as possible (their names and any identifying information will be kept completely confidential).

Happy to hear from each of you, too. And if there are things I should know more about, consider this an open invitation to contact me.

Screenshot 2019-12-10 16.52.39

December 10, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Books, Fen-Phen, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Prempro, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Short Guide To Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation

Over at our sister blog, Business Law Prof Blog, Professor Ben Edwards has been making his way through my recent book, Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation.  He does an excellent job of both summarizing and commentating on each chapter. So, if you just don't have the time to do a deep dive into a new book right now but want the quick and dirty takeaway alongside thoughtful, insightful commentary, here are the links to his posts so far:

Chapter 1 - Mass Tort Deal Making - on the nuts and bolts of class actions vs. multidistrict proceedings

Chapter 2 - Mass Tort Deals - on whether quid-pro-quo arrangements exist between lead plaintiffs' attorneys & defense lawyers 

Chapter 3 - Mass Tort Deals - on repeat player dynamics in aggregate litigation (leadership appointments, etc.)

Chapter 4 - Mass Tort Deals - on judges coercing facilitating mass tort settlements 

Chapter 5 - Mass Tort Deals - on the likeness between MDL deals and arbitration

Chapter 6, on reform proposals, will be coming next week.

If you're interested in all of the data and documents in the book, they are all available for free online. That site also has some data visuals that aren't in the book, like this one (clicking the image will bring up an interactive version):

Dashboard 5

 

September 26, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Asbestos, Books, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Ethics, Lawyers, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Medical Devices - Misc., Pharmaceuticals - Misc., Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement, Trial, Vioxx | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Douglas Smith on a Shift in the Preemption Landscape

Douglas Smith (Kirkland & Ellis LLP) has posted to SSRN his article, A Shift in the Preemption Landscape?, Tenn. L. Rev. (forthcoming).  Here is the abstract:

This article discusses the Supreme Court's recent decision in Merck, Sharp & Dohme v. Albrecht and its effect on the law of preemption. The Supreme Court held that judges, not juries, should decide preemption questions. It also issued a series of non-binding statements regarding the standards for preemption. This article discusses the Supreme Court decision and its potential effects on future cases.

 

August 21, 2019 in FDA, Preemption, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Five Thoughts on Today's Opioid Hearing on a "Negotiation Class"

Judge Dan Polster entertained a motion to certify a Rule 23(b)(3) negotiation class today in the federal Opiate MDL. Here are a few of my thoughts after listening in.

1. I find myself reluctantly agreeing with the distributor defendants (who objected based on predominance) on the following point: you can’t look to the fact that this might be fair to satisfy predominance under Amchem. This is Richard Nagareda’s point about bootstrapping. And Sonya Winner, who argued on behalf of objecting defendants, raises fair questions about conflicts of interest and notice (e.g., that it may be misleading as to what counties and cities will receive under the allocation formula).

  • Judge Polster’s repeated question of what alternative do we have is not an answer to the Amchem question.
  • Whether the kind of proposal that Francis McGovern and Bill Rubenstein put forward in their article would improve Rule 23 as a general matter (or a rules amendment) is a separate question. I have qualms about it being implemented on an ad hoc basis in the context of judicial common law, but this is a question that merits more thought.

2. The interplay between the state attorneys general and their local governments is a critical component to all of this. Would local government settlements count as an offset in state AG suits? For an interesting take on this general issue, see Roderick Hills, Jr.’s 1998 article.

3. Judge Polster said that defendants have a “justifiable insistence” on global peace. Why? Is that a fair assumption? When we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it and stop questioning it. But moving from what “is” to what “ought to be” can be a fruitful inquiry. We need an argument as to why and whether global resolution is the correct starting point and for that we need far more evidence.

4. Prediction: Judge Polster will certify the negotiation class, perhaps after tweaking it to help alleviate some of the state AGs concerns. He was its most ardent advocate.

5. If (or when) Judge Polster certifies a negotiation class, he shouldn’t appoint Chris Seeger as co-lead class counsel. One need only follow what is happening now in the NFL Concussion case or read about the Propulsid deal to understand my fears – See Mass Tort Deals Chapters 2 and 5.

  • As an aside, Seeger’s review of my book (which incidentally, I didn’t see until going to pull up a link for this post) is hilarious. But hey, thanks for buying it!

Screenshot 2019-08-06 15.58.42

August 6, 2019 in Class Actions, Current Affairs, Ethics, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Roundup Verdict Tracker

California State Court 

Johnson v. Monsanto,  compensatory: $39 million, punitive: $250 million.  Verdict reduced to $78 million, currently on appeal.

Pilliod v. Monsanto, compensatory: $55 million, punitive: $2 billion. 

 

Federal Court  

Hardeman v. Monsanto, Northern District of California, compensatory: $5 million, punitive: $75 million.  

 

July 3, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Products Liability, Punitive Damages, Trial | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Come for the Opioids, Stay for the Civil Procedure

Last week, I sat down with Nicolas Terry, who hosts the podcast, The Week in Health Law. We discussed the role of repeat players in multidistrict litigation leadership (on both sides), the functions and control of MDL judges, the ongoing opioid litigation, and my new book--Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation.

If you like podcasts and civil procedure, it might be just the thing for a morning commute. Just click on the icon below.

Twihl_20x20 If you're interested in the opioid suits and online reading is more your style, then you might prefer the conversation that Jenn Olivia and I had, which is written up on Harvard Law's Bill of Health (click on the icon below).  While you're on the blog, you'll find lots of useful information if you search by category: Opioid Crisis.

PFC_Logo-New-Horizontal_slide_590_380_80_c1

June 12, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Regulation, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Does Multidistrict Litigation Deny Plaintiffs Due Process?

As part of Law 360's focus on access to justice, I published this perspectives piece on MDL: Does Multidistrict Litigation Deny Plaintiffs Due Process?  It's freely accessible through the link without requiring any log-in information. 

I thought it might be of interest to readers of our blog because of its topic and its focus on the Opiate proceeding before Judge Polster.

June 11, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

MDL Data, Free & Searchable MDL Docs, MDL Rules, and a New Book on Mass Torts

For judges, lawyers, and even academics toiling away in the world of mass torts, getting a handle on the big picture can be tough.  I've seen many empirical claims made when it comes to the push for or against creating federal rules specific to mega-MDLs, all of which are mass torts.  Yet, most lack real, empirical data.

For the past six years, I've been collecting data on all of the products-liability proceedings that were pending on the MDL docket as of May 2013. (Yes, yes, I live a thrilling life.) Like a hoarder, I've squirreled away data on Lone Pine orders, Daubert motions, class-certification motions, plaintiff fact sheets, summary judgment motions, census orders, class action settlements, private aggregate settlements, and on and on and on. Those data-collection efforts have culminated in a book that is out today, Mass Tort Deals.  There is ton of information in the book's appendix on all of the information I just mentioned.  Here's a way to Download Index to Data.

One thing I noticed along the way was that neither Pacer nor Bloomberg Law allow you to search inside the text of MDL dockets, which can be long and unwieldy in and of themselves, as many of you know.  So, with the help of the wonderful UGA Law School IT department, I've created a free website that allows you to search the text of the thousands of MDL documents that I've been stockpiling for the past six years.  It includes all of the documents that I relied on for the book and I will continue to update it periodically.

The Book, Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation:

As for the book, Mass Tort Deals marshals this wide array of empirical data to suggest that the systematic lack of checks and balances in our courts may benefit everyone but the plaintiffs. Multidistrict proceedings, which place a single judge in charge of similar lawsuits filed across the country, consume a substantial portion of the federal courts’ civil caseload.  As the figure below shows, many MDLs are product liability proceedings (for an interactive version, click here):

MDL Proceedings by Type

And if you consider not just the number of proceedings, but the number of actions pending in those proceedings, products-liability suits dominate (for an interactive version, click here): 

MDL Proceedings by Total Actions (Historical)

Of course, most of these product-liability proceedings are not run-of-the-mill disputes. Litigation over products like pelvic and hernia mesh, opioids, Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, Roundup, and hip implants are headline-grabbing media magnets.

Federal judges certify a small handful of these proceedings (principally those without personal injuries)  as class actions, which affords them judicial safeguards. But as tort reform has made its way into civil procedure, it has effectively clamped down on class actions.  As you can see from the graphic below, most product-liability proceedings within my dataset ended in private, aggregate settlement (click here for an interactive version):

How Do Product-Liability MDLs End?

As readers of my work know, I've voiced some concerns with adequate representation and repeat players in MDLs. Judges and academics have long raised questions about arms-length bargaining and adequate representation in the class-action context, even though Rule 23 builds in some safeguards. In class actions, for example, judges have the authority to appoint class counsel; consider whether counsel adequately represents class members; ensure that any class settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate; and award class counsel’s attorney’s fee.

But worries about collusion, self-interest, and overreaching don’t disappear just because mass litigation can’t be certified as a class action. Instead, we might worry more because the judge lacks any clear-cut authority to police the proceedings in the same way.
 
Those concerns can be exacerbated if repeat players exist leadership positions, which they do. The graph below shows who those players are and you can click here for an interactive version:
Repeat Players in MDLs within the Dataset
 
Some judges appoint more lead lawyers than others, as the graphic below illustrates (click here for an interactive version):
 
Leadership Appointments by MDL Proceeding Stacked
 
That repeat players exist isn’t surprising in and of itself. Attorneys specialize all the time. It might be that they use their expertise to generate better outcomes for their clients. But playing the long game may also mean that repeat players develop working relationships with their opponents such that each side can use private settlement to bargain for what matters to them most from a self-interested standpoint.
 
For corporate defendants and their lawyers, this means ending the litigation with the least cost. For lead plaintiffs’ lawyers, this typically means attorneys’ fees—specifically common-benefit fees (the fees they receive for the work they do on behalf of the group as a whole).  As Chapter 3 of Mass Tort Deals details, repeat-player attorneys are prevalent in leadership positions on both the plaintiff and defense side in products-liability multidistrict proceedings.  Here's a look at the major law firms involved in these proceedings on both sides (interactive version):
Repeat Player Plaintiff and Defense Law Firms
 
To the extent possible given that most of the mass-tort settlements were private, Chapter 2 examines the deals that these repeat players negotiated with one another. After confirming that one of the top five most connected repeat players participated directly in each settled proceeding’s leadership, I identify the provisions within those settlements that are arguably more beneficial to plaintiffs’ lead lawyers or to the defendants than to the actual plaintiffs.
 
How do these provisions work? To stymie the lawsuits against them, for example, defense corporations include settlement provisions designed to push as many plaintiffs as possible into the settlement program. These "closure" clauses might require plaintiffs’ lawyers to recommend that all their clients accept the settlement offer and, if the client refuses, take steps to withdraw from representing that client.
 
To enter a settlement program, plaintiffs must typically dismiss their lawsuit. But, as I explain in Chapter 5, those plaintiffs often don’t know what, if anything, they will receive under that program. So, plaintiffs may be giving up their lawsuit in exchange for no compensation whatsoever.
 
For example, in litigation over the acid-reflux medicine Propulsid, out of the 6,012 claimants who entered into the settlement program, only 37 received any money. The rest received nothing, but had already dismissed their lawsuit as a condition of entering into the program. Those 37 plaintiffs collectively received little more than $6.5 million.
 
The lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in Propulsid, however, negotiated their common-benefit fees directly with the defendant, Johnson & Johnson, and received $27 million. Much of the remaining funds then reverted back to Johnson & Johnson.
 
Lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in Propulsid announced that they were creating a template for all future deals. Chapter 2 of Mass Tort Deals shows that they did exactly that.
 
Considering settlements that occurred over a 14-year span, Chapter 2 shows that every deal contained at least one closure provision for defendants. Nearly all settlements also contained some provision that increased lead plaintiffs’ lawyers common-benefit fees. Bargaining for attorneys’ fees with one’s opponent is a troubling departure from traditional contingent-fee principles, which are designed to tie lawyers’ fees to their clients’ outcomes.
 
In short, Mass Tort Deals raises the concern that as repeat players influence practices and norms in mass torts, they may undermine plaintiffs’ ability to freely consent to the settlement. That may or may not affect the substantive outcome. Unfortunately, most of the data on how plaintiffs fared under settlement programs was not publicly available.
 
Rules for MDLs?

Given my qualms about what lawyers are doing (Chapter 2 and 3) and what judges are doing (Chapter 4), should we implement rules for MDL proceedings? Not necessarily. Our system needs a makeover, yes.  But Chapter 6 uses basic economic and social principles as the bedrock of reform.

I suggest ways in which we can build opportunities for dissent and competition into the fabric of multidistrict proceedings and incentivize lawyers to use them.

But doing so relies on judges. Educating judges and encouraging them to select leaders via a competitive process, tie leaders’ fees to the benefits they confer on plaintiffs, open the courthouse doors to hear about those benefits (or not) directly from the plaintiffs, and remand those litigants who don’t want to settle can allow the vibrant rivalries within the plaintiffs’ bar to see to it that dissent and competition flourish.

As attorneys object and compete, they are likely to divulge new information, thereby equipping judges with pieces of the puzzle that they currently lack. In short, Chapter 6 explains how arming judges with procedures that better align plaintiffs’ attorneys’ self-interest with their clients’ best interest equips courts to hold parties accountable even without legislation or rulemaking.

From diagnosis to reforms, my goal in Mass Tort Deals isn’t to eliminate these lawsuits; it’s to save them.

May 16, 2019 in Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Medical Devices - Misc., Pharmaceuticals - Misc., Procedure, Products Liability, Regulation, Settlement, Trial, Vehicles, Vioxx | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Updated: When Trial is Too "Expensive" for Law Firms

After posting this yesterday, Bryan Aylstock reached out to provide some procedural history.  While his information better contextualizes the letter that went out, as I note below, I am still troubled by the idea that a lawyer would dismiss his client's case unless she takes some affirmative action to the contrary. As my conversations with some of the affected plaintiffs reflect, at least some feel a great deal of pressure to dismiss their claims.

As I noted, for the last few months, I've been in touch with many TVM and POP mesh plaintiffs as part of a procedural justice study that I'm conducting.  Recently, I'd heard from multiple sources that the Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz law firm has been sending out letters to clients who haven't settled, suggesting that they dismiss their case without prejudice to avoid the expense of discovery while they continue to evaluate their settlement prospects.

The text of the AWKO letter (included fully below) tells recipients that "Judge Goodwin has set a series of aggressive deadlines designed to push your case towards a trial."  As I suggested yesterday, I suspect that’s what most plaintiffs want. (As plaintiffs often tell me, “this is not about the money for me.”)

Let me fill in some background on the “aggressive deadlines” order that the letter refers to. Judge Goodwin has maintained an “inactive docket” as well as an active docket of pelvic mesh cases.  (There were, at one point, over 104,000 cases pending before him.) On February 4, 2019, he issued Pretrial Order 328 in the Ethicon MDL, which moves a list of cases from the inactive to the active docket.  He begins his order by saying:

Despite representations in inactive docket orders proposed by the parties and entered by the court, that the cases on Exhibit A have been settled or entered into a settlement model, and despite repeated warnings by the court that cases will not remain on the inactive docket indefinitely, the number of cases on the inactive docket remains in the thousands.

Judge Goodwin thus removed the listed cases from the inactive to the active docket and put discovery deadlines in place. For instance, plaintiffs had to file their fact sheets by February 15, 2019; written discovery requests by March 25, 2019; and expert disclosures by May 24, 2019.

After a case completes the discovery process and goes through dispositive motions, like motions for summary judgment, it is ready either for trial in the Southern District of West Virginia (the location of the MDL) or a remand to its original court where it could then be placed on a trial docket. 

The AWKO letter says: "The imposition of these deadlines creates a problem--complying with them will require significant time and significant expense which, in turn, will make settling your Ethicon claim in the near future more difficult."

Consequently, the firm wants to dismiss clients’ claims that are in the settlement process:

To avoid this problem, we have reached a potential agreement with Ethicon to dismiss your claim without prejudice. This means that your case will no longer be subject to the deadlines that will decrease any near term settlement amount to you by increasing your costs.

As Aylstock explained, this letter only went out to clients who had indicated that they’d like to consider a potential settlement.  The firm negotiated an aggregate settlement with Ethicon awhile ago, and these cases are being processed through that program. 

When I asked him whether there was a walkaway provision within the deal that was driving this, he said that there was a walkway threshold (meaning that Ethicon could walk away from the deal unless enough plaintiffs participate), but that it was “exceedingly low” and had been already been met (and was met shortly after it was negotiated).

In my earlier post, I said that the law firm wanted their clients to dismiss their cases so that the firm can avoid the expense of actually having to take a case to trial.  (The letter mentions that the firm "believe[s] that it is in your best interest to dismiss your Ethicon case without prejudice" and recommends that the client accept "your Ethicon settlement offer.")

Aylstock said that he had no problem taking cases to trial and had lawyers flying around the country taking depositions all the time. Nor was he hesitant about spending money the money to do so.

Instead, he wanted those clients who were in the settlement process not to have to go through discovery expenses if they planned to take the settlement offer. He said a client would be no worse off for having a case dismissed without prejudice under the agreement he negotiated with Ethicon, which waives the statute of limitations. 

Judge Goodwin has stopped accepting cases into the MDL, so presumably if a case were dismissed and refiled it would be in a state or federal court outside of the MDL proceeding.  Aylstock likewise told me that the filing fee to refile a lawsuit would be far less than the costs of experts and that he thinks a plaintiff would not be back to square one because the firm would have only case-specific discovery left to do.

As I told him, what I found most troubling about the AWKO letter was this phrase: "unless you direct us not to, we will be dismissing your claim against Ethicon without prejudice." To me, this seems like a powerful use of default rules to push plaintiffs toward settlement.

The letter apparently went out sometime in the last week, and it gave recipients only until April 24 to decide.  The folks with whom I spoke had this to say about their conversations with the firm’s case managers:

  • Client 1: “I talked live with Ann and her tone was like a bull in a china shop. . . . She said, ‘You need to be ready for deposition in two weeks, hiring your own experts and witnesses, paying your way to fly around the country at your own dime.’”
  • Client 2: “I let them know that I do NOT want them to dismiss my case. They have told me that means I will likely be dropped from them. . . . Right now they are trying to bully me, and that just isn't working!”

Perhaps other clients feel differently.  Still, two points bear mention:

First, the lawyers are the ones who initially bear the expenses associated with discovery and trial, not clients. Ultimately, costs and attorneys' fees are deducted from any judgement or settlement that the plaintiff receives, but those should not be out-of-pocket expenses for the clients.

Second, it’s apparent that at least some of AWKO’s clients are under the impression (right or wrong) that they must settle or the law firm will no longer represent them.  When I asked Aylstock about this, he said, in a much more detailed way, that it depends on an individual analysis for each client.

In general, before withdrawing from representing a client, Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.060 requires attorneys to file a motion setting out the reasons for withdrawing and the client’s name and address.  The motion must be set for a hearing, and the firm must serve the motion on both the client and opposing counsel.

In contingency fees governed by Florida law, Faro v. Romani, 641 So. 2d 69, 71 (Fla. 1994), holds that when an “attorney withdraws from representation upon his own volition, and the contingency has not occurred, the attorney forfeits all rights to compensation.”  Only “if the client’s conduct makes the attorney’s continued performance of the contract either legally impossible or would cause the attorney to violate an ethical rule” is the withdrawing attorney entitled to a fee.

And Rule 4-1.2(a) makes it clear that: “A lawyer must abide by a client’s decision whether to settle a matter.”  Florida also has detailed rules for contingent fees that I found interesting:

(i) Without prior court approval as specified below, any contingent fee that exceeds the following standards are presumed, unless rebutted, to be clearly excessive:

Before the filing of an answer or the demand for appointment of arbitrators or, if no answer is filed or no demand for appointment of arbitrators is made, the expiration of the time period provided for such action:
  • 1.) 33 1/3% of any recovery up to $1 million; plus 2.) 30% of any portion of the recovery between $1 million and $2 million; plus 3.) 20% of any portion of the recovery exceeding $2 million.
After the filing of an answer or the demand for appointment of arbitrators or, if no answer is filed or no demand for appointment of arbitrators is made, the expiration of the time period provided for such action, through the entry of judgment:
  • 1.) 40% of any recovery up to $1 million; plus 2.) 30% of any portion of the recovery between $1 million and $2 million; plus 3.) 20% of any portion of the recovery exceeding $2 million.
If all defendants admit liability at the time of filing their answers and request a trial only on damages:
  • 1.) 33 1/3% of any recovery up to $1 million; plus 2.) 20% of any portion of the recovery between $1 million and $2 million; plus 3.) 15% of any portion of the recovery exceeding $2 million.
An additional 5% of any recovery after institution of any appellate proceeding or postjudgment relief or action is required for recovery on the judgment.

Comments welcome from all sides.  They will not show up immediately, but I will approve them as I see them coming in.

The entire letter follows: 

*CORRESPONDENCE ALSO SENT AS HARDCOPY VIA UPS*

Good Morning,

We hope this email finds you well. We would like to share important an important update regarding your transvaginal mesh claim against Ethicon.

As you know, your case is pending in the Ethicon multidistrict litigation (MDL) in West Virginia, overseen by Judge Goodwin. Despite the fact that your Ethicon case is part of a settlement process, Judge Goodwin has set a series of aggressive deadlines designed to push your case towards a trial.  The imposition of these deadlines creates a problem – complying with them will require significant time and significant expense which, in turn, will make settling your Ethicon claim in the near future more difficult. 

To avoid this problem, we have reached a potential agreement with Ethicon to dismiss your claim without prejudice.  This means that your case will no longer be subject to the deadlines that will decrease any near term settlement amount to you by increasing your costs. Because the proposed dismissal is without prejudice, you are entitled to re-file your case against Ethicon in the event that you ultimately reject your settlement offer.  Ethicon, however, has required that any such refiling not happen for one year from the date of dismissal.  Ethicon wants to insure that the settlement process be allowed to run its course without interference from cases in litigation.

 After considering the pros and cons of this potential agreement with Ethicon, we believe that it is in your best interest to dismiss your Ethicon case without prejudice.  We have written to you separately regarding your Ethicon settlement offer and have recommended that you accept the same, however, you chose to request a further review with the Special Master. Though the Special Master is currently reviewing those requests, we believe that the proposed agreement regarding dismissal without prejudice strikes a balance that allows the settlement process to continue without interference.

Accordingly, unless you direct us not to, we will be dismissing your claim against Ethicon without prejudice.  If you do not want us to dismiss your claim without prejudice in accordance with the above, you must contact us by April 24, 2019, and tell us the same.

If we do not hear from you on or before that date, we will dismiss your claim against Ethicon without prejudice. If you have any questions or concerns, or wish to inform us of your desire not to dismiss you claim, our toll free number is (877) 810-4808. We look forward to hearing from you.

Ann Jaye

Case Manager

Transvaginal Mesh Litigation
Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz

17 E. Main Street, Suite 200
Pensacola, FL 32502

Phone: (850) 202-1010

Toll Free: (888) 255-AWKO (2956)
Facsimile: (850) 916-7449
Email: ajaye@awkolaw.com

 

April 25, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

When Trial is Too "Expensive" for Law Firms

For the last few months, I've been in touch with many TVM and POP mesh plaintiffs as part of a procedural justice study that I'm conducting.  Recently, I've heard from multiple sources that the Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz law firm has been sending out letters to clients who haven't settled, suggesting that they dismiss their case without prejudice to avoid the expense of trial.
 
Who bears trial expenses?  The lawyers, at least initially.  Ultimately, costs and attorneys' fees are deducted from any judgment or settlement.  
 
The text of the letter tells recipients that "Judge Goodwin has set a series of aggressive deadlines designed to push your case towards a trial." Good, right? That's what most plaintiffs want, I suspect.
 
But wait. The letter continues: "The imposition of these deadlines creates a problem--complying with them will require significant time and significant expense which, in turn, will make settling your Ethicon claim in the near future more difficult."  Now, that seems odd.  Why would that be?  A credible threat of trial is what raises settlement values and creates the pressure to settle in the first place.
 
Here's the clincher: the firm wants its clients to dismiss their claim without prejudice to avoid trial. "To avoid this problem" (i.e., the problem of expense for the law firm) "we have reached a potential agreement with Ethicon to dismiss your claim without prejudice. This means that your case will no longer be subject to the deadlines that will decrease any near term settlement amount to you by increasing your costs."
 
Wow.  So, the law firm wants their clients to dismiss their cases so that the firm can avoid the expense of actually having to take a case to trial?  The letter then mentions that the firm "believe[s] that it is in your best interest to dismiss your Ethicon case without prejudice" and notes that it recommends that the client accept "your Ethicon settlement offer."
 
Then, "unless you direct us not to, we will be dismissing your claim against Ethicon without prejudice."
 
I'm speechless.
 
The entire letter has been replicated below: 
 

*CORRESPONDENCE ALSO SENT AS HARDCOPY VIA UPS*

Good Morning,

We hope this email finds you well. We would like to share important an important update regarding your transvaginal mesh claim against Ethicon.

As you know, your case is pending in the Ethicon multidistrict litigation (MDL) in West Virginia, overseen by Judge Goodwin. Despite the fact that your Ethicon case is part of a settlement process, Judge Goodwin has set a series of aggressive deadlines designed to push your case towards a trial.  The imposition of these deadlines creates a problem – complying with them will require significant time and significant expense which, in turn, will make settling your Ethicon claim in the near future more difficult. 

To avoid this problem, we have reached a potential agreement with Ethicon to dismiss your claim without prejudice.  This means that your case will no longer be subject to the deadlines that will decrease any near term settlement amount to you by increasing your costs. Because the proposed dismissal is without prejudice, you are entitled to re-file your case against Ethicon in the event that you ultimately reject your settlement offer.  Ethicon, however, has required that any such refiling not happen for one year from the date of dismissal.  Ethicon wants to insure that the settlement process be allowed to run its course without interference from cases in litigation.

  After considering the pros and cons of this potential agreement with Ethicon, we believe that it is in your best interest to dismiss your Ethicon case without prejudice.  We have written to you separately regarding your Ethicon settlement offer and have recommended that you accept the same, however, you chose to request a further review with the Special Master. Though the Special Master is currently reviewing those requests, we believe that the proposed agreement regarding dismissal without prejudice strikes a balance that allows the settlement process to continue without interference.

Accordingly, unless you direct us not to, we will be dismissing your claim against Ethicon without prejudice.  If you do not want us to dismiss your claim without prejudice in accordance with the above, you must contact us by April 24, 2019, and tell us the same.

If we do not hear from you on or before that date, we will dismiss your claim against Ethicon without prejudice. If you have any questions or concerns, or wish to inform us of your desire not to dismiss you claim, our toll free number is (877) 810-4808. We look forward to hearing from you.

Ann Jaye

Case Manager

Transvaginal Mesh Litigation
Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz

17 E. Main Street, Suite 200
Pensacola, FL 32502

Phone: (850) 202-1010

Toll Free: (888) 255-AWKO (2956)
Facsimile: (850) 916-7449
Email: ajaye@awkolaw.com

 

April 24, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

William C. Powers, Jr. (1946-2019)

Professor William C. Powers, Jr. passed away on March 10.  A torts and products liability scholar, Professor Powers served as President of the University of Texas from 2006 to 2015.  He also served as Dean of the University of Texas School of Law, and was a member of the faculty there for more than 40 years.  Among many other honors, he served as Co-Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Apportionment of Liability and Co-Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical Harm.  The University of Texas recounts his remarkable accomplishments in UT Mourns Former President William C. Powers Jr., Who Fought for the University’s Soulnoting that the university tower was darkened on March 10 in his honor as the university mourns.

Among his most influential articles related to torts and products liability were the following: The Insubstantiality of the "Substantial Factor" Test for Causation, 73 Mo. L. Rev. 399 (2008) (with Joseph Sanders and Michael D. Green); Sports, Assumption of Risk, and the New Restatement, 38 Washburn L.J. 771 (1999); Judge and Jury in the Texas Supreme Court, 75 Tex. L. Rev. 1699 (1997); Some Pitfalls of Federal Tort Reform Legislation, 38 Ariz. L. Rev. 909 (1996); Border Wars, Tex. L. Rev. 1209 (1994); What a Comparative Bad Faith Defense Tells Us About Bad Faith Insurance Litigation, 72 Tex. L. Rev. 1571 (1994); Negligence, Breach of Contract, and the "Economic Loss" Rule, 23 Tex. Tech. L. Rev. 477 (1992) (with Margaret Niver); A Modest Proposal to Abandon Strict Products Liability, 1991 U. Ill. L. Rev. 639; Distinguishing Between Products and Services in Strict Liability, 62 N.C. L. Rev. 415 (1984); and The Persistence of Fault in Products Liability, 61 Tex. L. Rev. 777 (1983).

 

March 17, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

51 Ex-Gymnasts Sue Olympic Committee for Negligence regarding Sexual Abuse by Team Doctor

Plaintiffs filed the complaint in federal district court in Colorado.  Article on the case, Doe v. U.S. Olympic Committee, in Bloomberg -- Ex-Gymnasts Hit Olympic Committee With Sexual Abuse Suit.

 

March 17, 2019 in Sexual Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bayer's Essure Suits Back to State Court Because Preemption Does Not Create Federal Question Jurisdiction

Recent ruling from the Fourth Circuit described in Bloomberg article -- Bayer Must Face Revived Essure Suit in N.C. State Court.  The article notes that as of January 28, nearly 30,000 Essure users are suing Bayer. 

March 17, 2019 in Procedure, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Connecticut Supreme Court Decision Allowing Suit Against Gun Manufacturers for Sandy Hook Shooting

Growth in Biometric Privacy Suits and Related Firm Practice Groups

Monday, February 11, 2019

5th Annual Civil Procedure Workshop Call for Papers

The University of Texas will be hosting the 5th Annual Civil Procedure Workshop on October 25-26, 2019.

The CPW gives both emerging and established civil procedure scholars an opportunity to gather with colleagues and present their work to an expert audience. Scholars will present their papers in small panel sessions. A senior scholar will moderate each panel and lead the commentary. In addition to paper presentations, we intend to engage members of the judiciary and federal civil rulemaking bodies in discussions about current developments in procedure.

Our ongoing goal is for the CPW to strengthen the study of procedure as an academic discipline, and to deepen ties among the academy, rulemakers, and the judiciary.

Confirmed participants for 2019 include Kevin Clermont, Mechele Dickerson, J. Maria Glover, Tara Leigh Grove, Olatunde Johnson, Linda Mullenix, James Pfander, Charlie Silver, Shirin Sinnar, Steve Vladeck, and Patrick Woolley. We welcome all civil procedure scholars to attend. Those wishing to present a paper for discussion should submit a two-page abstract by March 15, 2019.

While we welcome papers from both emerging and senior scholars, preference may be given to those who have been teaching for less than ten years. We will select papers to be presented by April 22, 2019. Please send all submissions or related questions to Bob Bone.

The CPW will provide meals for registrants. Participants must cover travel and lodging costs. We will provide information about reasonably priced hotels as the date approaches. Feel free to contact us with questions.

Bob Bone (UT Austin), rbone@law.utexas.edu

Dave Marcus (UCLA), marcus@law.ucla.edu

Liz Porter (UW), egporter@uw.edu

Brooke Coleman (Seattle U), colemanb@seattleu.edu

February 11, 2019 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sarah Swan on Preempting Plaintiff Cities

Professor Sarah L. Swan (Florida State Law) has posted to SSRN her manuscript, Preempting Plaintiff Cities, Fordham Urb. L. J. (forthcoming).  Here is the abstract:

Within the city-state relationship, states hold an enormous amount of power. Recently, states have been using that power to pass extremely aggressive preemption laws that prohibit cities’ regulatory efforts on many fronts. These new preemption laws most commonly occur in the context of red states limiting the regulatory scope of blue cities, inflaming those already tense city-state relationships and cutting into what many view as the appropriate scope of local autonomy.

But despite this intense clash in the regulatory sphere, when we move away from the world of city regulation and toward the world of city litigation, things look surprisingly different. Although cities have been bringing forward hundreds of quite controversial claims against corporate wrongdoers for harms ranging from the subprime mortgage crisis to the opioid epidemic, such plaintiff city litigation has provoked relatively little state hostility. States have not ratcheted up their response to this exercise of city power in at all the same way as they have for regulation. Rather, states have shown a remarkably limited appetite for preempting plaintiff city litigation.

What accounts for these differing responses? Three main factors are likely in play. First, while regulatory preemption is largely the result of intense political polarization, states have historically viewed litigation against corporate wrongdoers in less partisan terms. Both blue and red states have themselves engaged in this type of litigation, and there is thus an institutional tradition of flexibility in this context. Second, and relatedly, the issues at the heart of plaintiff city litigation are often not as politically divisive as those at the heart of the preempted regulations. Harms like lead paint poisoning and the opioid epidemic have attracted widespread condemnation, while many of the regulation preemption subjects remain hotly contested. Finally, unlike regulation, litigation is not an obvious instrument of governance. It has unpredictable outcomes, it is not an exclusively governmental power, and it relies on existing law.

Since plaintiff city litigation operates mostly outside of state crosshairs, it can provide a space for cities looking to pursue progressive goals. Plaintiff city litigation may not achieve the same immediate governance goals as regulation, but it does have significant political benefits for cities and their residents. Thus, even in an era of rampant regulatory preemption and deep political animosity between cities and states, plaintiff city litigation presents a viable parallel track for cities to continue their pursuit of urban social justice. Although such litigation does not directly address the contentious issues forming the basis of regulatory battles, it does offer a means of protecting vulnerable communities and advancing goals of democratic equality in other ways.

February 8, 2019 in Current Affairs, Mass Tort Scholarship, Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Nikki Chamberlain on Class Actions in New Zealand

Professor Nikki Chamberlain (University of Auckland) has posted her article, Class Actions in New Zealand: An Empirical Study, 24 New Zealand Bus. L. Q. 132 (2018).  Here is the abstract:

This article contains the first empirical study on opt-in class actions, which are referred to as representative actions, filed under r 4.24 of the High Court Rules 2016 in the New Zealand High Court and the New Zealand Employment Court. The findings of this study reveal that opt-in class actions are now part of the New Zealand legal landscape in substance, if not in name. In particular, the data reflects the rise of consumer class actions in New Zealand, which, in part, have been assisted by litigation funders entering into the market. However, despite an increase in opt-in class actions, New Zealand’s civil procedure mechanism for managing class action litigation is inefficient, uneconomic and creates significant uncertainty for all class action stakeholders. This article examines the empirical data, the trends in the data, and the reasons for those trends. It concludes by discussing why reform is required against the backdrop of this study and New Zealand’s procedural process values as contained in the High Court Rules.

 

February 7, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Foreign, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)