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.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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)

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)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Eri Osaka on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Compensation Scheme

Professor Eri Osaka (Toyo University) has posted to SSRN her manuscript, Current Status and Challenges in the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Compensation Scheme: An Example of Institutional Failure?  Here is the abstract:

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster brought widespread and long-term damage. Soon after the accident, the government hastily set up the Fukushima nuclear disaster compensation scheme under the existing law to deal with a large number of compensation claims by the victims. It published the compensation guidelines and established the nuclear damage alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process to promote the voluntary efforts by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) as well as victims to resolve their nuclear damage disputes. It also has been pouring public money into TEPCO.

This paper examines whether the scheme has been functioning well, in other words, whether the victims have been compensated through the scheme. Section 2 gives an overview of the scheme. It begins with the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, the basis of the current scheme. Next it explains the responsibilities fulfilled by the government and TEPCO under the scheme. It also briefly addresses the current discussion on the scheme reform. As it turns out, the current scheme is far from successful. Then, Section 3 focuses on litigation as a realistic tool to change the malfunctioning scheme under existing conditions. It introduces a discussion of the current development of cases pursuing just and equitable relief for the nuclear damage victims. However, litigation is not a panacea. Section 3 also discusses its obstacles and possible solutions.

 

February 6, 2019 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Environmental Torts, Foreign, Mass Disasters, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Recent Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Hearings in Los Angeles

Saturday, July 29, 2017

WSJ Article on the Waning of the Era of Tort Lawsuits

Article in the Wall Street Journal -- We Won't See You in Court: The Era of Tort Lawsuits is Waning, by Joe Palazzolo.

July 29, 2017 in Lawyers, Procedure, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Skadden Summer 2017 Class Action Chronicle

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.

July 23, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Lawyers, Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Judge Weinstein, 50 Years on the Bench

Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York, who is noted for his opinions in many mass torts including Agent Orange, has surpassed 50 years on the bench.  Shibani Gokhale, At 95, Weinstein Keeps Going After 50 Years on Bench, Law.com (July 13, 2017).

July 15, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Lawyers, Procedure, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Note to Mass Tort Plaintiffs on HR 985

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.

Here's a link to that letter:  Download Federal Rules Committee Letter
As well as to the American Bar Association's letter opposing HR 985:  Download ABA's Letter on HR 985

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

June 2, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

HR 985 and Congress's Judicial Mistrust

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 ActDownload Gilles Letter to James Park on HR 985.

 

April 4, 2017 in Class Actions, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Litigation Reform's Legislative Prospects

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.

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.

March 3, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Asbestos, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Procedure, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Publicly Funded Objectors

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.

February 25, 2017 in Class Actions, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Academic Roundup on HR 985

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

 

February 21, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

H.R. 985: An Attempt to Undermine Class Actions & MDL

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:

Download Erichson HR985 letter

 

February 18, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Fairness" in Class Action Litigation Act

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

February 13, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

WWE Seeks Rule 11 Sanctions in Concussion Lawsuit

Article on law.com -- Attorney Accused of Copying NFL Concussion Complaint in Suit Against WWEby Scott Graham.

 

December 27, 2016 in Games, Procedure, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bradt and Rave on The Information-Forcing Role of the Judge in Multidistrict Litigation

Professors Andrew Bradt (UC Berkeley Law) and D. Theodore Rave (U. Houston Law) have posted to SSRN their article, The Information-Forcing Role of the Judge in Multidistrict Litigation, Cal. L. Rev. (forthcoming).  Here is the abstract:

In this article, we address one of the most controversial and current questions in federal civil procedure: What is the proper role of the judge in the settlement of mass-tort multidistrict litigation, or MDL? Due to the Supreme Court’s hostility to class actions, MDL proceedings have begun to dominate the federal civil docket. To wit, nearly half of the federal civil caseload is MDL. Although MDL is structurally different from a class action, the procedure replicates — and in many ways complicates — the principal-agent problems that plagued the class action. Like a class action, nearly all MDL cases are resolved by a comprehensive global settlement agreement, but, unlike a class action, in MDL the judge has no authority to reject a settlement agreement as unfair to the potentially thousands of parties ensnared in the litigation. Here, we argue that, given this limitation, the judge should act as an “information-forcing intermediary,” who reserves the right to offer a non-binding opinion about the fairness of the settlement to send an easy-to-understand signal directly to the parties about their lawyers’ performance. Such a signal will mitigate many of the agency problems inherent to MDL and allow parties to exercise informed consent when choosing whether to accept a settlement. More generally, this article is a call for judges to embrace an information-forcing role at the head of consolidated MDL proceedings.

September 18, 2016 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Repeat Players in Multidistrict Litigation

As our readers surely know, despite its bulky name, multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) is in the news constantly: litigation over Volkswagen's defeat device, GM’s ignition defect, Toyota’s sudden acceleration, asbestos, and medical drugs and devices (pelvic mesh, Yasmin/Yaz, NuvaRing, Vioxx) are just a few of the higher profile MDLs.

MDL now comprises over 36% of the entire federal civil caseload (that number leaps to 45.6% if you exclude social security and prisoner cases), yet courts and Congress have made it more difficult for these cases to proceed as certified class actions. This litigation doesn’t go away without class certification as many tort reformers believe, it simply persists with far less judicial oversight.

Few rules and little appellate oversight on the one hand, plus multi-million dollar “common-benefit fees” for the lead lawyers who shepherd these cases toward settlement on the other may tempt a cadre of repeat attorneys to fill in the gaps in ways that further their own self interest. (Because there are so many cases involved, judges appoint "lead lawyers" to litigate and negotiate on behalf of the entire group of plaintiffs; if their individual attorney isn’t a lead lawyer, then that attorney has little say in how the litigation is conducted.)

To shed light on some of these issues, my co-author, Margaret Williams, and I have posted a revised version of our paper, Repeat Players in Multidistrict Litigation: The Social Network (forthcoming, Cornell Law Review) on SSRN.  

We collected data on who the lead attorneys are (plaintiff and defense side) in all product-liability and sales practice cases that were pending on the MDL docket as of May 2013 (those cases covered a 22-year span), built an adjacency matrix, and employed a two-mode (actors and events) projection of a bipartite network (also known as an affiliation network) to graph the ties between lawyers judicially appointed to leadership positions (the actors) in multidistrict proceedings (the events).  (For the non-statistically inclined, this social network analysis is somewhat akin to the kind that Facebook has popularized.)

The point was to reveal what the naked eye cannot see: how those attorneys and MDLs connect to one another. (Detailed, searchable PDFs of the social network with the players and litigations are available here). We also collected data on the publicly available nonclass settlements that repeat players brokered, reviewed news and media accounts of those litigations, and analyzed the common-benefit fees awarded to the lead plaintiffs' lawyers.

Here’s a summary of our key findings:

  • Repeat players are prevalent on both the plaintiff and the defense side.
  • No matter what measure of centrality we used, a key group of 5 attorneys maintained their elite position within the network.These 5 attorneys may act as gatekeepers or toll takers, for example. This matters considerably, for lead lawyers control the proceeding and negotiate settlements. They can bargain for what may matter to them most: defendants want to end lawsuits, and plaintiffs’ lawyers want to recover for their clients and receive high fee awards along the way.  
  • By identifying settlement provisions that one might argue principally benefit the repeat players, we examined the publicly available nonclass settlements these elite lawyers designed. Over a 22-year span, we were unable to find any deal that didn’t feature at least one closure provision for defendants, and likewise found that nearly all settlements contained some provision that increased lead plaintiffs’ lawyers’ common-benefit fees. Bargaining for attorneys’ fees with one’s opponent is a stark departure from traditional contingent-fee principles, which are designed to tie lawyers’ fees to their clients’ outcome.
  • Based on the evidence available to us, we found reason to be concerned that when repeat players influence the practices and norms that govern multidistrict proceedings—when they “play for rules,” so to speak—the rules they develop may principally benefit them at the plaintiffs’ expense.

A highly concentrated plaintiff and defense bar is nothing new, nor is the disquiet about where that concentration may lead. As scholars have long recognized, repeat play tends to regress our adversarial system from its confrontational roots toward a state of cooperation.

In the criminal context, prosecutors and public defenders routinely work together through plea bargaining, leading them toward mutual accommodation; incumbents form a primary community of interest, whereas clients present secondary challenges and contingencies. As such, adversary features are often overshadowed by regulars’ quid pro quo needs. As Professor Jerome Skolnick has explained, those working group relationships become a social control problem only once they reach a “tipping point where cooperation may shade off into collusion, thereby subverting the ethical basis of the system.” (Social Control in the Adversary System, 11 J. Conflict Resol. 52, 53 (1969)).

As I’ve argued in a separate article, Monopolies in Multidistrict Litigation, we've reached that tipping point in MDL, and these circumstances warrant regulation. Even though MDL judges are the ones who entrench and enable repeat players, they also are integral to the solution.

By tinkering with lead-lawyer selection and compensation methods and instilling automatic remands to a plaintiff’s original court after leaders negotiate master settlements, judges can capitalize on competitive forces already in play. Put simply, the antidote is to reinvigorate competition among plaintiffs’ attorneys and I’ve set forth several specific proposals for doing so in Part III of Monopolies in Multidistrict Litigation.  

For interested judges, that article's appendix also contains a Pocket Guide for Leadership Appointment and Compensation, a Sample Leadership Application form, and sample orders for suggesting remand and replacing leaders who ignore adequate representation concerns.

August 16, 2016 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Ethics, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Pharmaceuticals - Misc., Prempro, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement, Vioxx | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Hillel Bavli on the Logic of Comparable-Case Guidance in the Determination of Awards for Pain and Suffering and Punitive Damages

Hillel Bavli (Ph.D. Candidate in Statistics in Law & Governance, Harvard; Counsel, Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP) has posted to SSRN his article, The Logic of Comparable-Case Guidance in the Determination of Awards for Pain and Suffering and Punitive Damages, U. Cin. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016).  Here is the abstract:

Little guidance is provided to fact-finders in arriving at awards for pain and suffering and punitive damages. Such awards are therefore highly variable. This article explains why methods involving comparable-case guidance — information regarding awards in comparable cases as guidance for determining damage awards — are generally effective in reducing unpredictability and improving the reliability of awards for pain and suffering and punitive damages. The article addresses major objections to such methods, and provides relevant legal context and direction for implementation.

July 2, 2016 in Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Trial | Permalink | Comments (0)