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)

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)

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Are you a plaintiff involved in a women's health mass tort? Or do you know people who are?

Today's post is really a plea for help with a new project that I've just started.  I've created a new survey that allows plaintiffs to tell me about their interaction with the court system and their attorneys.

I’m hoping to hear directly from plaintiffs who are involved in women’s health mass torts like pelvic mesh, breast implants, NuvaRing, Mirena, and Yasmin/Yaz. 

If you're a plaintiff involved in one of those cases, please consider taking this short survey.  It will ask you questions about whether you had opportunities to tell your side of the story and present evidence, how you felt your lawyer handled your case, how you felt about the process and your outcome, and whether you used third-party funding.

If you're a lawyer or reporter, I'd love your help publicizing the project. Participants' answers will be kept completely confidential, and I am not asking for details that would be covered by a confidentiality provision in a settlement.  

I am not affiliated with the courts or with the lawyers on either side in any way and I do not have any clients of my own.  I don’t consult for any of the lawyers in these cases, and all of my funding comes from the University of Georgia—not from a private company or interest.  In other words, I have no financial ties that affect the way I conduct my research.

Here's more information about me and the research I am doing: https://www.elizabethchambleeburch.com/womens-mdls

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me--if confidentiality is important, please use masstortsuga@gmail.com rather than my University of Georgia email.  

Screenshot 2018-12-04 12.45.43

December 4, 2018 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Medical Devices - Misc., Pharmaceuticals - Misc., Prempro, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Judge Reduces Roundup Verdict Against Bayer to $78.5 Million

Article in the Wall Street Journal -- Judge Reduces Jury Award Against Bayer's Roundup to $78.5 Million, by Sara Randazzo and Jacob Bunge.  

October 23, 2018 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What duties do lead counsel owe plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation?

There is a persistent question in multidistrict proceedings: what duties do lead lawyers owe to individual plaintiffs who have no direct attorney-client relationship with them?

That's the question at the heart of a recent opinion by Judge David Herndon in the Yazmin/Yaz litigation, although the opinion itself is about whether remand to state court is appropriate. (Spoiler: Judge Herndon thinks it's isn't.)

After the negotiating parties in the underlying MDL reached a global settlement for the ATE (arterial thromboembolism) cases, Judge Herndon issued a series of orders designed to usher plaintiffs into the deal.  One of those was a Lone Pine order that required every non settling plaintiff to produce fact sheets, over three years worth of pharmacy and medical records, and a case-specific expert on general and specific causation--all within three months.  Those who didn't comply faced dismissal.

As you might guess, the plaintiffs currently suing missed that deadline and their various attorneys failed to respond to Bayer's motion to dismiss.  As such, with new counsel, they are now suing lead counsel (Micheal S. Burg, Roger Denton, Michael A. London, and Mark R. Niemeyer) for legal malpractice under Illinois common law.

What question lies at the heart of the case?  You guessed it: what duties do lead lawyers owe to non-client plaintiffs in a multidistrict proceeding?

Returning for a moment to the question of federal jurisdiction, given the way that the complaint is framed, jurisdiction appears to lie under CAFA, 28 USC 1332(d)(2) (it's pled on behalf of a class).  But the parties take different routes.  Disgruntled plaintiffs argue that it's a mass action that contains fewer than 100 people (despite it being pled as a class action), and defendants argue that it presents federal question jurisdiction under 1331.  Relying on Grable and Gunn, the court agrees.

I confess, I'm not yet convinced that these state-law malpractice claims implicate a federal issue under Grable.

Either way, as Judge Herndon (and lead lawyers) framed it, even if the dissatisfied plaintiffs sued individually, federal question jurisdiction would lie over their claims, thereby allowing defendants to remove and send it to Judge Herndon. Judge Herndon, you may recall, presided over the original claims and appointed the leaders in the first place.

There hasn't been a ton written on the fiduciary question, but Professor Charlie Silver's work comes readily to mind.  In his article, The Responsibilities of Lead Lawyers and Judges in Multidistrict Litigation, he writes:

Given that both lawyers who represent individual claimants and lawyers who handle class actions are fiduciaries, it would be surprising to discover that lead lawyers in MDLs were not. . . . Given the dearth of authority directly on point, judges may take guidance from other bodies of law.  If they do, they will quickly conclude that lead attorneys are fiduciaries.  Mass tort lawyers are fiduciaries, and so are lawyers who represent plaintiff classes.  These examples are the most analogous to lead counsel. 

My own view is similar.  Without imposing fiduciary duties on lead lawyers, all sorts of mischief could result.  Of course, whether lead lawyers in Yasmin/Yaz breached those duties in a way that amounts to malpractice is a separate question.  But, given the lengths they've taken to have the malpractice claims heard before Judge Herndon, leaders clearly think they have a much better chance there than in IL state court.

Casey et. al. v. Roger Denton, et. al. is worth following.  Here are a few of the relevant documents:

Download Casey v. Denton - 53 - 08.11.17 - Order on Motion to Remand

Download Casey v. Denton - 1 - 05.16.17 - Ex. 2 Casey Complaint

Download Casey v. Denton - 1 - 05.16.17 - Notice of Removal

August 16, 2017 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Current Affairs, Mass Tort Scholarship, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

James Henderson on the Impropriety of Punitive Damages in Mass Torts

Professor James Henderson (Cornell Law) has posted to SSRN his article, The Impropriety of Punitive Damages in Mass Torts, 52 Ga. L. Rev. (forthcoming).  Here is the abstract:

Punitive damages have been around for centuries in classic one-on-one tort actions and are here to stay. Mass torts, of more recent origin and not without difficulties, have matured to the point that this article is comfortable referring to most of them as traditional. Notwithstanding the legitimacy of both institutions when employed separately, loud warning signals should sound when, as with drinking and driving, they are combined. Potentially destructive mixes of punitive damages and mass torts have, unfortunately, been prevalent in traditional, fault-based mass tort actions. The difficulties are mostly administrative. Although punitive damages are conceptually compatible with fault-based mass torts, courts administer punitive awards in ways that are so capricious as to generate gross unfairness and inefficiency. And if for that reason the warning signals should be loud in connection with punitive awards in traditional mass torts, they should be downright deafening if and when courts consider awarding punitives in what this article refers to as emerging, nontraditional, enterprise-liability-based forms of mass tort.

Given that these serious difficulties cannot be eliminated by marginal reforms, this article argues that punitive damages are manifestly inappropriate in, and must be eliminated from, all forms of mass tort. Of course, a broad proscription would require courts to overrule precedent in connection with traditional mass torts, and this article explains how this could be accomplished. By contrast, such a proscription would come early enough in the development of emerging forms of mass tort to nip punitive awards in the bud without the need to overrule longstanding precedent. Thus, if courts are going to eliminate punitive awards in mass torts, now is the time for them to act.

August 6, 2017 in Mass Tort Scholarship, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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, 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)