Friday, December 1, 2023
Those of you who have been following the opioid lawsuits know that on Monday, December 4, 2023, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether to allow the billionaire Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma to glom on to Purdue's bankruptcy without declaring bankruptcy itself.
But do you know what's at stake for mass torts? Professors Abbe Gluck (Yale), Adam Zimmerman (USC Gould), and I explore that question in a new paper forthcoming in Yale Law Journal Forum. As we explain, the case provides a critical opportunity to reflect on what is lost when parties in mass torts find the “behemoth” litigation system unable to bring mass disputes to a close, when they charge multidistrict litigation as a “failure,” and when defendants contend that sprawling lawsuits across national courts have thrown them into unresolvable crisis that only bankruptcy can solve. Harrington v. Purdue Pharma L.P. is just one of many recent examples of extraordinarily unorthodox and creative civil procedure maneuvers—in both the bankruptcy and district courts—that push cases further away from the federal rules and the trial paradigm in the name of settlement.
Unlike ordinary state and federal trial courts, bankruptcy courts don’t generally lay blame for millions of deaths; they efficiently distribute resources. Petitioners in bankruptcy aren’t called “victims” or “plaintiffs”; they are “creditors” with limited voting rights over the distribution of an estate. Bankruptcy courts don’t develop state tort doctrines. They don’t engage in broad discovery designed to reveal accountability and spur policy reform. They rarely utilize juries or hear testimony from tort victims anxious to have their day in court; instead, testimony tends to focus on the debtor’s financial health.
Yet diverse defendants—many of whom, notably, are not even in financial distress—from Catholic Diocese and Boy Scout abuse cases, to Johnson & Johnson talc, 3M’s earplugs, Revlon hair straighteners, and many more, have now looked to the bankruptcy court to use its inherent authority to invent new forms of procedure to find a path to global peace. Bankruptcy courts are attractive in part because they possess some powers that, ironically, state and Article III federal courts do not—they are the only American courts that can overcome federalism’s jurisdictional boundaries; they are only courts with the power to commandeer both state and federal litigants into a single forum and halt all other civil litigation no matter what court it is in. They also have stretched their own equitable powers to allow innovative corporate maneuvers, as in Purdue, that cabin liability and preclude future litigation even for entities not in financial trouble. But bankruptcy court is not supposed to be a superpower of a court that trumps all others in public litigation; it is instead, an Article I court designed for efficient, private resolution of claims, centered on capturing private value for private actors–not the elaboration and development of law and public norms.
You can read more here if you're interested.
And if you're wanting to catch up on the issues before SCOTUS next week, check out Charlotte Bismuth & Jonathan Lipson's podcast, Bankruptcy for Billionaires, where the three of us talk about MDL, opioids, and bankruptcy.
December 1, 2023 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Sexual Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, December 1, 2022
16th Annual Judicial Symposium on Civil Justice Issues at the Law & Economics Center, George Mason University Scalia Law School
The Law & Economics Center at George Mason University Scalia Law School posted on its webpage videos of all the panels at the 16th Annual Judicial Symposium on Civil Justice Issues. Panels addressed the following issues:
- Emerging Issues in Civil Justice;
- Emerging and Evergreen Issues in Class Actions;
- Judicial Gatekeeping and Developments Under FRE 702 and in State Rules of Evidence regarding Admissibility of Expert Testimony;
- What Can and Should Jurors Consider When Awarding Damages?;
- What Information Should Flow to Juries? A Case Study in Drug Device Approvals and 510K Clearances;
- The Evolution of Third-Party Litigation Financing;
- Developments in Public Nuisance and Locality Litigation;
- Bankruptcy Law and Mass Tort Litigation Liabilities; and
- The Economics and Law of Arbitration.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
For the mass tort and MDL enthusiasts of the world, I hope you'll be able to join me, Chris Seeger, and Judge John Koeltl on Tuesday, October 20, at 2pm EST via zoom for a discussion hosted by NYU's Civil Justice Center.
We'll be talking about MDLs and how to improve them, with topics ranging from so-called claims census, the need for remands, leadership's ethical obligations to nonclient plaintiffs, the role of the MDL judge in non class MDLs (and during settlements), and ways to reinvigorate the jury trial in the midst of the covid19 pandemic. I'll also be highlighting some of the critiques that I have of the system as well as ways that we might address them.
We plan to take audience questions after each of our topics and I'd love to hear from you.
Registration is free (I think) and has been approved for 2 hours of CLE credits in the areas of professional practice.
Monday, May 25, 2020
As our readers tend to know, MDLs prioritize efficiency. That is, after all, what the statute was designed to do--promote efficient resolution.
But what's often unknown is the best way to promote efficiency and whether efficiency might have unintended consequences.
Back in 2019, the American Bar Association (ABA) called for courts to appoint special masters regularly in MDLs. Its report claimed that multidistrict proceedings in particular could “benefit from specialized expertise,” and that “[e]ffective special masters reduce costs by dealing with issues before they evolve into disputes and by swiftly and efficiently disposing of disputes that do arise.”
The ABA’s resolution thus urged judges to appoint special masters in complex cases at “the outset of litigation” and permit them to do everything from oversee discovery and pretrial litigation to conduct trials based on parties’ consent, allocate settlements, and administer claims. Failing to do so, it cautioned, “[r]egardless of the reason,” “may disserve the goal of securing ‘a just, speedy, and inexpensive determination.’” Neither this reproach nor the ABA’s empirical claims included empirical support, however.
My co-author, Margie Williams, and I set out to investigate. But we didn't just look into special masters, we considered everyone that judges allocate power or authority to in MDLs: magistrate judges, claims administrators, lien resolution administrators, and even banks. We posted our article, Judicial Adjuncts in Multidistrict Litigation, on SSRN today and the paper will appear in Columbia Law Review this December. But for those of you who'd prefer the quick version, here's a summary of our findings:
Proceedings with special masters lasted 66% longer than those without them.
Using a duration model allowed us to investigate this statistic further by controlling for a proceeding's outcome (settlements uniformly took longer), personal-injury claims (which likewise took longer), and the number of actions in a proceeding (the more actions, the longer the proceeding lasted).
Nevertheless, appointing a judicial adjunct of any kind made the proceedings continue longer than they otherwise would, all else being equal.
Designating a judicial adjunct meant that the proceeding was 47% less likely to end. And for every additional adjunct appointed, there was an 11% decrease in the probability of a proceeding ending.
Of course, magistrate judges are salaried court employees. Appointing them does not add to parties' cost. But parties must pay for special masters, claims administrators, etc., which raises questions about costs. After all, Rule 1 isn't just concerned with efficiency; it's concerned with securing "the just, speeding, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding." Here, however, we ran into a roadblock:
Compensation information was either undisclosed or affirmatively sealed for 62% of private adjunct appointments.
Some of the payments that we could unearth ran into the millions. In the Actos proceeding, for instance, Special Master Gary Russo charged over $4.7 million and Deputy Special Master Kenneth DeJean charged over $1.3 million. And special settlement masters Ken Feinberg, Michael Rozen, John Trotter, and Cathy Yanni collectively charged over $9.4 million to administer the Zyprexa settlement.
Even though we couldn't always identify the amounts charged, we were able to discern that plaintiffs alone bore the costs for 54% of private adjuncts, meaning that in over half the the appointments, defendants did not contribute.
To try and figure out why judges appoint judicial adjuncts if proceedings with adjuncts cost more and last longer, we conducted confidential interviews with plaintiff and defense attorneys, special masters, claims administrators, magistrate judges, and district court judges with a wealth of MDL experience.
Interviews revealed two competing narratives. In one version, courts outsourced to effectively manage complex cases behind the scenes and closely monitored those appointed. In the other, repeat players in both the bar and the private-adjunct sector came to mutually beneficial arrangements that exposed real-life problems over capture, self-dealing, bias, transparency, and ad hoc procedures.
You'll just have to read the paper for those juicy tidbits (and there are plenty). They can be found in Part IV.
We did create some pretty fascinating data visualizations that were just too detailed to work in the article, so I thought I might share those with you here instead. I'd just ask that before you quibble with our categorizations that you read the caveats and explanations that we provide in the paper itself. But of course we'd welcome feedback. The following visualization provides what I think of as a snapshot of the lifecycle of an MDL, with critical events like centralization, settlement, and dispositive decisions included alongside judicial adjunct appointments, which are also color coded. A different version of the graphic that's less "busy" appears in the paper. Clicking on the graphic will bring up an interactive version that allows you to see more details.
As our readers surely know, it's difficult to pinpoint all of the factors that make a proceeding complex. Nevertheless, we tried! Of course, we can't measure things like the difficulty of proving causation, but we did code for the way the proceedings were resolved (as judged by the majority of the actions--some individual settlements may have occurred, for instance, even in proceedings we marked as "defense wins"); whether the proceeding included personal-injury allegations, whether the defendants were related to one another (e.g., parent-subsidiary), and the number of actions in the proceeding.
The following visualization includes some of those factors, pairing them alongside the days to a proceeding's closure, the number of actions in the proceeding, and the number of judicial adjuncts in the proceeding. Again, we provide some important qualifiers in the paper itself.
Here are two: First, we use the official closed date rather than the settlement date because many of our adjuncts were appointed post-settlement to help administer the settlement program. Thus, the date the the court formally closes the proceeding remains an important milestone. (You can still see settlement dates in the above graphic.)
Second, in some proceedings, the number of actions filed on the court docket may well undercount the actions affected by the MDL. This is because global settlements often include state-court plaintiffs and unfiled claims, judges have begun to create shadow dockets, and parties institute tolling agreements so that claims do not actually appear on the docket. Unfortunately, systematic data is not publicly available to remedy these deficiencies.
Even with those caveats in place, you might find this interesting--I certainly did:
Again, clicking on the graphic above will open an interactive version.
I hope this post is enough to interest you in the paper itself. We offer a number of theoretical contributions and suggestions to help chart a path forward that may interest MDL judges and attorneys.
As always, we welcome your comments.
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)
Thursday, September 26, 2019
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):
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)
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
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!
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Article in Bloomberg -- Surge in Biometric Privacy Suits Causes Firms to Boost Specialty.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
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.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Theoretical Inquiries in Law has just published a symposium volume on FiftyYears of Class Actions - A Global Perspective.
It's chock full of interesting ideas and features a keynote from Professor Arthur Miller (NYU). Here's the table of contents (if the PDF links below don't work, the full volume is available at the link above):
|Yael Braudo, TIL Editorial Board
|Keynote Address - The American Class Action: From Birth to Maturity
|Arthur R. Miller
|Publicly Funded Objectors
|Elizabeth Chamblee Burch
|Can and Should the New Third-Party Litigation Financing Come to Class Actions?
|Brian T. Fitzpatrick
|The Global Class Action and Its Alternatives
|Zachary D. Clopton
|Class Actions in the United States and Israel: A Comparative Approach
|Alon Klement, Robert Klonoff
|Regulation Through Litigation — Collective Redress in Need of a New Balance Between Individual Rights and Regulatory Objectives in Europe
|Towards Collaborative Governance of European Remedial and Procedural Law?
|Class Action Value
|When Pragmatism Leads to Unintended Consequences: A Critique of Australia’s Unique Closed Class Regime
|Vicki Waye, Vince Morabito
|Rethinking the Relationship Between Public Regulation and Private Litigation: Evidence from Securities Class Action in China
|Robin Hui Huang
|The Regime Politics Origins of Class Action Regulation
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Skadden Arps has posted its Class Action Chronicle for Summer 2017, which includes updates on Third-Party Litigation Funding, Class Certification Decisions, and Class Action Fairness Act Decisions.
Friday, June 2, 2017
HR 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017, has now passed the House and is pending in the Senate's Committee on the Judiciary. How might that bill affect plaintiffs involved in mass torts like mesh, Essure, Yaz, Mirena, NuvaRing, Ortho Evra, Power Morcellator, or the many hip implant suits?
Simply reading the bill, I'm afraid, won't help too much. It's shrouded in legalese. As such, I've marked up the bill to explain in non-legalese which provisions help and hurt mass-tort victims and consumers.
Many of the class action provisions in HR 985 don't affect mass-tort plaintiffs at all since those lawsuits rarely proceed as class actions (albeit, there are some notable exceptions, like the NFL concussion cases and the injuries incurred during the clean-up of the BP oil spill; both litigations were certified as settlement class actions).
There is, however, a possibility for judges to use class actions as a means to step in and ensure that plaintiffs are being adequately represented (and that resulting settlements are fair, reasonable, and adequate). How? Through the issue class action. Unfortunately, as HR 985 is currently written, it would completely eliminate that possibility.
I've studied MDLs for many years now and have written articles that are critical of both repeat player plaintiffs' attorneys and the manner in which judges sometimes handle these cases. Over the past four years, I've collected data on and analyzed 73 multidistrict proceedings. Although I'm still in the process of writing a book about my findings, one thing has become glaringly clear to me: the systematic lack of checks and balances in our courts seem to profit everyone but the plaintiffs.
Analyzing the deals repeat players make, the “common-benefit” attorneys’ fees that the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys receive to run the proceedings, and the judicial rulings in mass-tort cases consolidated over 22 years and settled over 12 years reveals a disturbing pattern: repeat plaintiff and defense attorneys persistently profit from the current system.
Corporate defendants end sprawling lawsuits and lead plaintiffs’ lawyers broker deals that reward them handsomely and sometimes pay litigants very little. For example, in litigation over the acid-reflux medicine, Propulsid, only 37 of 6,012 plaintiffs (0.6 percent) recovered anything through the strict settlement program. Their collective recoveries totaled no more than $6.5 million. Yet, the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys received over $27 million in common-benefit attorneys’ fees, vividly illustrating the worry that a corporate defendant might trade higher fees for less relief to plaintiffs.
So, is reform needed? Absolutely. Is HR 985 the right ticket? No, not as it's currently written.
As such, I've marked up the bill in a way that begins to instill the necessary reforms and eliminates (or changes) provisions that set up further (and unnecessary) roadblocks for plaintiffs. It also explains what the proposed provisions do in plain English: Download HR985 Burch Mark-up
If you want some version of HR 985 to pass, please consider forwarding this revised version to your Senator and do not support the bill as it reads now.
For those who care more about the legalese, I was contacted by a House subcommittee to provide nonpartisan, academic commentary on the bill, which I did. That write up is included here (note, however, that this is a commentary on the original House bill and some changes have been made to the current bill that address a few of the concerns I raised): Download Burch Final Comments on Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
There's no need to take just my word for it, though. Every other academic that I know of opposes this bill, as has the Federal Rules Committee. This committee, formally known as the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, just happens to include Neil Gorsuch, now Justice Gorsuch (of the U.S. Supreme Court), whose views are reflected in the letter below as well.
And here are links to other academic commentary -
Professor John C. Coffee, Jr. (Columbia Law School): Download Coffee - How Not to Write a Class Action “Reform” Bill _ CLS Blue Sky Blog
Professor Howard Erichson (Fordham Law School): Download Erichson-hr985-letter
Professor Myriam Gilles (Cardozo Law School): Download Gilles Letter to James Park on HR 985
Friday, May 12, 2017
An Iowa class action (subject to CAFA's local class exception) has been approved by the Iowa Supreme Court. Here is the report from Iowa radio. You can find the opinion here: Freeman v. Grain Processing Corporation.
The court considers arguments that individual defenses ought to defeat class certification, as well as arguments based in the Supreme Court's opinions in Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods and rejects them. It explained:
GPC argues that class certification will deny it the fair opportunity to contest whether individual homeowners have suffered injury or damage. We disagree. The plaintiffs have proposed a formula for damages. GPC can contest the appropriateness of that formula before the jury. If a special jury verdict is entered approving this formula and that verdict is supported by substantial evidence, then potentially this formula can be used in subsequent claims administration by the court while preserving GPC’s due process and jury trial rights. If no damage formula is approved, then there would have to be subsequent individual trials on damages. Either way, GPC’s rights would be protected. (33)
One additional aspect of the case is worth noting. The Court specifically differentiates this nuisance class action, which alleges injury in the form of property damage, from a personal injury action and distinguishes some federal precedent on that basis. As I show in a forthcoming article in NYU Law Review called Mass Tort Class Actions: Past, Present and Future, that is a common pattern for mass tort classes that have been certified for litigation. For example, the first asbestos class actions certified were property damages classes. In that article, I review all the mass tort class actions considered by the federal court from the promulgation of the class action rule through Amchem, and explain how they relate to developments in tort law during the same period. I will be posting this article to SSRN in July.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
With everything else that's dominated the news, it's easy to place the "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act" on the back burner. But to forget that it's still an active bill (having now passed the House and pending before the Senate) would be a mistake.
Professor Myriam Gilles (Cardozo) and I recently published an op-ed with Bloomberg Law, which appeared in yesterday's Product Safety & Liability Reporter and will be in next week's Class Action Litigation Report titled Congress's Judicial Mistrust. You can read it here: Download Bloomberg Law - Congress's Judicial Mistrust.
We explained our legal positions more fully in our respective letters to the House Judiciary's subcommittee. Download Burch Final Comments on Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, Download Gilles Letter to James Park on HR 985.
Friday, March 3, 2017
Bruce Kaufman, the senior legal editor at Bloomberg BNA, has written a very informative series of articles examining the prospects that the House, Senate, and President will enact wide-ranging tort and civil justice "reform" legislation. This legislation includes:
- HR 985, the "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act"
- HR 725, the "Innocent Party Protection Act"
- HR 469, the "Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act"
- HR 720, the "Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act" or "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act"
- and HR 906, the "Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act"
All three articles are worth a careful read. Links and downloads included below, courtesy of Bruce and Bloomberg BNA.
- Part 1: Trump to Weigh Litigation Changes, Download BNA - Trump to Weigh Litigation Changes Long Coveted by Business
- Part 2: Push to Enact Civil Justice Bills Follows Industry Playbook, Download BNA - Push to Enact Civil Justice Bills Follows Industry Playbook
- Part 3: Trump Seen as Supportive of Business-Backed Litigation Bills, Download BNA - Trump Seen as Supportive of Business-Backed Litigation Bills
For those of you who missed the academic roundup on HR 985, you can find it here.
Floor debate on at least four of the bills (including the now merged HR 985 and HR 906, class actions and asbestos) is scheduled to begin as soon as the week of March 6. A seventh bill on medical malpractice reform, HR 1215, may be voted on the week after March 6.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
With House Bill 985 (the "Fairness" in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017), the controversy over current class action practice has escalated. I've been an outspoken critic of the cozy relationships that plaintiffs' lawyers and defense lawyers have developed not only in class actions, but in multidistrict litigation, too. Yet, as I (along with a number of other academics) have discussed, HR 985 doesn't fix what's ailing the system. Instead, it seeks to eliminate most class actions, tramples bipartisan consensus in the appellate courts and federal rules committee, and ineptly tells judges how to do their jobs.
This past January, I attended a conference at Tel Aviv University called Fifty Years of Class Actions--A Global Perspective. As part of that conference, I wrote a paper titled Publicly Funded Objectors, which calls for data collection and suggests that if the U.S. is truly serious about fixing what ails class actions, then it needs to publicly fund those who police them best--nonprofit organizations. I posted the paper on SSRN today.
Now that we have 50 years of class action practice under our belt, we know that practice suggests the need for tune-ups: sometimes judges still approve settlements rife with red flags, and professional objectors may be more concerned with shaking down class counsel than with improving class members’ outcomes. The lack of data on the number of opt-outs, objectors, and claims rates fuels debates on both sides, for little is known about how well or poorly class members actually fare. This reveals a ubiquitous problem—information barriers confront judges, objectors, and even reformers.
Rule 23’s answer is to empower objectors. At best, objectors are a partial fix. They step in as the adversarial process breaks down in an attempt to resurrect the information-generating function that culture creates. And, as the proposed changes to Rule 23’s handling of objectors reflect, turmoil exists over how to encourage noble objectors that benefit class members while staving off those that namely seek rents from class counsel.
Our class-action scheme is not the only one that relies on private actors to perform public functions: citizens privately fund political campaigns, and private lobbyists provide research and information to lawmakers about public bills and policies. Across disciplines, the best responses to those challenges have often been to level up, not down. As such, this Essay proposes a leveling up approach to address judges’ information deficit such that they can better perform their monitoring role. By relying on public funds to subsidize data collection efforts and nonprofit objectors’ information-gathering function, we can disrupt private class counsel’s disproportionate influence.
Put simply, we keep the baby and just throw out the bathwater.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Academics have been busy this week providing commentary on HR 985, the "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017." Here's a round-up of the commentary thus far (and please do let me know if I've missed someone).
John Coffee (Columbia): Download Coffee - How Not to Write a Class Action “Reform” Bill _ CLS Blue Sky Blog
Howard Erichson (Fordham): Download Erichson-hr985-letter
Myriam Gilles (Cardozo): Download Gilles Letter to James Park on HR 985
And mine, Elizabeth Chamblee Burch (Georgia): Download Burch Final Comments on Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
For those of you who like up to the minute commentary, several academics and reporters keep very active twitter accounts that track the bill: @adam_zimmerman, @elizabethcburch, @HowardErichson, @PerryECooper
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Class actions and MDL have real problems that need fixing. I have written about these problems at length, most recently in Aggregation as Disempowerment. But the new bill that just passed the House Judiciary Committee does not fix any of the real problems. Instead, it is a crass attempt to undermine any effort by plaintiffs to seek justice in mass disputes.
The bill, H.R. 985, the "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017," seeks to reduce defendants' exposure to liability for mass harms by tightening the standard for class certification, imposing an ascertainability requirement, delaying the payment of class counsel fees, limiting the use of issue class actions, expanding diversity jurisdiction, mandating Lone Pine orders in MDL, banning trials in MDL, and capping MDL personal injury attorneys' fees at 20%, among other things. As Beth Burch noted, the bill does not make things fairer for those who have been wronged.
I would like to see thoughtful reforms to help courts distinguish meritorious from non-meritorious claims. I would like to see thoughtful reforms to protect claimants from unfair settlements in both class actions and MDL. And I would like to see thoughtful reforms to ensure that fees reflect what lawyers actually accomplish, not inflated settlement valuations. The abuses in class actions and non-class mass litigation happen mostly in settlement, not litigation and adjudication. But that is not what this bill would address. Instead, its provisions are aimed mostly at protecting defendants from the kinds of class actions and mass litigation that actually empower consumers, employees, citizens, and others to fight corporate and government wrongdoing.
Even where the bill aims at real problems (such as its provision to expand diversity jurisdiction to reach plaintiffs suing diverse defendants but who join with a non-diverse plaintiff), it goes too far, failing to match its solution to the problem of magnet jurisdiction in nationwide mass disputes.
In my letter to Congressional leaders, I attempt to explain which of the provisions of H.R. 985 are especially problematic, and why. If you're interested, you can find the letter here:
Monday, February 13, 2017
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would substantially curtail the usefulness of class actions and multidistrict litigation, but would not make things "fairer" for class members.
Alison Frankel has a great write-up on the proposal that includes my preliminary comments along with Professor Myriam Gilles's comments. I'm heartened that representatives are reaching out to academics, because I have a number of concerns with the bill's proposals. If you are likewise concerned, then you should weigh-in, too. The House is marking up the bill on Wednesday.
My comments are available here: Download Final Comments on Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The parties litigating over Volkswagen's emissions defeat device have submitted a proposed class action settlement to Judge Breyer for his approval. After the parties confer with him on June 30, he'll hear arguments over whether to approve that settlement on July 26.
The proposed settlement is available here: Download 1. The settlement money available to class members is a fund of $10,033,000,000, which is based on an assumed 100% buyback of all eligible vehicles and leased eligible vehicles.
If approved, parties who wish to object or opt out must do so before September 16, 2016 (p. 27 describes the opt-out process, which will have to be approved in conjunction with the notice to class members, and p. 28 describes the objection process). Class members must likewise complete and submit a valid claim form before September 1, 2018, and decide on their chosen remedy by December 30, 2018. Put differently, class members will need to take affirmative action to receive relief. Failing to submit a claim or to opt out means that their claims will be extinguished under the settlement (and through general res judicata principles).
The proposal provides VW owners with several options. They can:
- sell their car back to VW for the "vehicle value" (a term of art defined in the settlement on p. 16);
- receive restitution payments calculated based on a percentage of the vehicle value (some owners are eligible for loan forgiveness up to 30% of the vehicle value and owner restitution payment) - an estimate of those settlement payments is available here - Download 7
- terminate their car leases with no early termination penalty;
- modify their vehicle, which should help fix the emissions problems based on the different vehicles;
- or may receive both a restitution payment and a vehicle modification.
An overview of the options available to class members and proposed allocation plan is available here: Download 2
And the proposed short form notice, which is refreshingly straightforward is available for download here: Download 3. The longer notice is here: Download 4. And detailed information on the proposed 5-step claims program and administration is available here: Download 5.