TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Grey on Immunizing Nursing Homes

Betsy Grey has posted Against Immunizing Nursing  Homes to SSRN.  The abstract provides:

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for approximately one third of the over 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. Facing liability from that widespread harm, the facilities have sought immunity protection from tort liability. In particular, they have sought protection under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which is designed to extend immunity from liability claims arising from various Covid-19 countermeasures developed and used during the pandemic.

Importantly for this essay, the lawsuits filed against nursing homes have centered on their failure to take mitigation measures, rather than on harm from their affirmative use of mitigation measures. Initially, courts held that PREP Act immunity does not apply to these failure-to-act claims. In the waning days of the Trump Administration, however, HHS issued an opinion that (together with other HHS statements) interprets the statute otherwise, broadening immunity even to cover the failure to take mitigation measures. That interpretation has been followed by at least one federal district court. This essay questions the wisdom of HHS’s opinion. It argues that it misreads the words and purpose of the PREP Act’s immunity provisions, and undermines accountability of the nursing home industry, creates the wrong incentives for the industry, and may leave victims without any compensatory remedy. This issue should reach appellate courts soon. If the interpretation continues to be followed by the courts, then the Biden Administration should rescind the opinion so that tort law may continue to protect one of society’s most vulnerable populations.

June 24, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Nestle v. Doe

The USSC just issued its most-recent opinion on the Alien Tort Statute in Nestle v. Doe.  At JD Supra, Dechert's Andrew Boutros & Jay Schleppenbach review the decision.  The highlights:

  • In its just-issued opinion in Nestle USA, Inc. v. Doe, No. 19-416, slip op. (2021), the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding from Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U. S. 108 (2013), that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply extraterritorially.
  • Allegations that “financing decisions” that took place in the United States related to Ivory Coast cocoa farms that allegedly used child labor were insufficient to make plaintiffs claims domestic; these were just allegations of “general corporate activity” not sufficiently related to the actual wrongdoing alleged.
  • The Court did not resolve the question on which it originally granted certiorari, which was whether Alien Tort Statute exempts corporations from suit altogether.

June 23, 2021 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Gold Reviews Smith on the Structure of Remedial Law

Andrew Gold has posted to SSRN his review of Stephen Smith's Rights, Wrongs, and Injustices:  The Structure of Remedial Law.  The abstract provides:

This paper is a draft review of Stephen Smith’s recent book -- Rights, Wrongs, and Injustices: The Structure of Remedial Law (Oxford University Press, 2019). The book offers a groundbreaking and deeply insightful theory of the remedies in private law. On Smith’s account, remedies are judicial rulings, and they are issued because they provide people with new reasons for action. This review will focus on a jurisprudential puzzle that lies at the center of the book. Rights, Wrongs, and Injustices provides an original account of the authority in court orders. I will suggest that the book is right that the authority in court orders is distinctive, but wrong in its analysis of what grounds that authority. Considering this question, however, sheds significant new light on the law of remedies and on private law as a whole.

June 22, 2021 in Books, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 21, 2021

Kinzler's Highway Robbery

Peter Kinzler has just published Highway Robbery about the battle over no-fault automobile insurance in Congress.  The blurb provides:

In Highway Robbery Peter Kinzler delivers a fast-paced behind-the-scenes account of two federal legislative efforts twenty years apart—one from the political left and one from the right—to reform America’s auto insurance system to make it fairer and more affordable. He explains how the legislation was designed to achieve those objectives and describes the political challenge of trying to overcome the entrenched special interest opposition of those who stood to lose billions—trial lawyers and insurers—if the new no-fault system were adopted.

Highway Robbery provides readers with both a primer on how fault and liability auto insurance, no-fault, and no-fault choice insurance policies work and who benefits most from which system. Peter Kinzler, with years of experience as a congressional staffer and in the private sector, is the perfect guide through these important policy and political fights, enlivened with revealing firsthand sketches of the legislators, staffers, academics, and lobbyists who played major roles in these attempts as well as their interplay with each other. Drawing upon his decades of engagement with the issues Kinzler shows how thoughtful and skilled members of Congress, good staff, and thorough academic research can lay the groundwork for important reform legislation; in doing so he provides a model for restoring Congress’s effectiveness, whenever it chooses to resume exercising its constitutional authority as the legislative branch of government.

Highway Robbery details how the trial bar used the levers of political power first to undermine state no-fault laws and then to use the weaknesses they had implemented in the laws to undermine passage of federal legislation. It also describes the surprising alliance in opposition between the trial bar and famed consumer advocate Ralph Nader. No-fault continues to hold the promise of better compensation and dramatic premium reductions, with the largest savings available to those who need them most—low- and moderate-income drivers. The most likely scenario for further federal consideration of auto insurance reform would be in the context of congressional action on universal health insurance.

The book is available at Amazon on Wednesday and can be pre-ordered here.

June 21, 2021 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Judge Jack Weinstein 1921-2021

With sadness I note the passing of Judge Jack Weinstein, a legendary federal judge and the most-recent honoree of the Prosser Award.  The Daily News has the notice.

June 15, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 11, 2021

Penney on Chilling Effects

Jon Penney has posted to SSRN Understanding Chilling Effects.  The abstract provides:

With digital surveillance and censorship on the rise, the amount of data available online unprecedented, and corporate and governmental actors increasingly employing emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and facial recognition technology (FRT) for surveillance and data analytics, concerns about “chilling effects”, that is, the capacity for these activities “chill” or deter people from exercising their rights and freedoms have taken on greater urgency and importance. Yet, there remains a clear dearth in systematic theoretical and empirical work point. This has left significant gaps in understanding. This article has attempted to fill that void, synthesizing theoretical and empirical insights from law, privacy, and a range of social science fields toward a more comprehensive and unified understanding.

I argue that conventional theories, based on fear of legal or privacy harm, are narrow, empirically weak, cannot predict or explain chilling effects in a range of different contexts, and neglect its productive dimensions—how chilling effects shape behavior. Drawing extensively on social science literature, I argue that chilling effects are best understood as a form of social conformity. Chilling effects arise out of contexts of ambiguity and uncertainty—like the ambiguity of public or private sector surveillance—but have deeper psychological foundations as well. In moments of situational uncertainty, people conform to, and comply with, the relevant social norm in that context. Sometimes this means self-censorship, but most often it means more socially conforming speech or conduct. A theory of chilling effects as social conformity has important normative, theoretical, and empirical advantages, including greater explanatory and predictive power, clarifying what chilling effects theory is for and what it produces, as well as providing a basis to navigate competing and differing chilling effect claims. It also has implications, I argue, for constitutional standing as well as the First Amendment chilling effects doctrine.

June 11, 2021 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 7, 2021

Miller & Oberdiek's Introduction to Civil Wrongs and Justice in Private Law

Paul Miller and John Oberdiek have posted Introduction to Civil Wrongs and Justice in Private Law.  The abstract provides:

This introduction to Civil Wrongs and Justice in Private Law (Paul B. Miller & John Oberdiek, eds., Oxford University Press, 2020) provides a thematic overview of the significance of civil wrongs to debate over conceptual and normative questions in private law theory, as well as a discussion of the contributions to the volume. The volume includes chapters by the editors and María Guadalupe Martinez Alles, Ahson Azmat, Nicolas Cornell, Christopher Essert, Lee Fennell, Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, Andrew Gold, John Goldberg, Ori Herstein, Larissa Katz, Gregory Keating, Liam Murphy, David Owens, James Penner, Jeffrey Pojanowski, Matthew Shapiro, Adam Slavny, Stephen Smith, Findlay Stark, Victor Tadros, and Benjamin Zipursky.

June 7, 2021 in Books, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 4, 2021

Baker, Avraham & Sebok on the MDL Revolution and Consumer Legal Financing

Lynn Baker, Ronen Avraham & Tony Sebok have posted to SSRN The MDL Revolution and Consumer Legal Financing.  The abstract provides:

Third-party consumer legal funding, where financial companies advance money on a nonrecourse basis to assist individual plaintiffs with living expenses, is an increasingly popular and controversial part of American litigation. And consumers with mass tort claims pending in Multi-District Litigations (MDLs) constitute the fastest growing sector of those seeking assistance from this billion-dollar funding industry. Policy makers, mass tort plaintiffs’ lawyers, and scholars have increasingly raised concerns about exorbitant interest rates and have called for regulations to protect vulnerable consumers from “predatory lending.” To date, however, the policy debate has largely relied on anecdotes and speculation because funders have not been forthcoming with facts. This Article begins to fill that important informational void.

We were given unique, unrestricted access to the complete archive of 225,293 requests for funding from 2001 through 2016 from one of the largest consumer litigation financing firms in the U.S., and we are the first to explore the anatomy of litigant finance in mass tort cases. We find that the Funder systematically offers mass tort claimants larger advances and more favorable terms along multiple dimensions than it does for consumers with motor vehicle accident claims. Our data analyses involving both categories of claimants offer reassurance about numerous asserted abuses in the funding industry and lead us to recommend that restrictions not be imposed on the availability or cost to consumers of this funding. Rather, we propose that existing market competition be enhanced by the adoption of laws that would ensure greater simplicity, transparency, and consistency in the pre-funding disclosures made to consumers and by removing the prohibitions that most states’ Rules of Professional Responsibility currently impose on lawyers’ ability to provide financial assistance to their clients.

June 4, 2021 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Baker & Silver Defend Private Claims Resolution Facilities

Lynn Baker & Charles Silver have posted to SSRN In Defense of Private Claims Resolution Facilities.  The abstract provides:

This contribution to a Symposium in honor of Francis McGovern's life and accomplishments is a natural occasion on which to assess some of the normative arguments for and against private claims resolution facilities (CRFs). He was one of the most prominent figures in the world of multi-claimant litigation and settlements. We were privileged to work alongside him in various matters and to consider him a friend. We miss him dearly.

The Article begins, in Part II, by describing three core models of private CRFs that are commonly observed in mass tort settings, often in combination: individual settlements by in-house counsel, victim compensation funds, and group settlements (inventory and global). Our view is that variations in the design of CRFs often have functional explanations as responses to the desires and needs of the parties. When the parties differ in their preferred arrangements, the design of a CRF will inevitably reflect inequalities in bargaining power between the parties. That is expected, as each CRF is the product of compromise. With regard to each of the three core models, this second Part will discuss when and why the defendant might prefer it, then go on to discuss its benefits and costs to the plaintiffs (and plaintiffs’ counsel). Part III then addresses two criticisms that scholars have levied against one or more of these types of private CRFs: that private CRFs deny claimants corrective justice, and that judicial supervision is needed to protect claimants’ autonomy and to police agency failures on the plaintiffs’ side. We argue that the first criticism is mistaken because it wrongly contends that corrective justice requires the use of courts, and that the second is erroneous because market forces should encourage plaintiffs’ attorneys to protect claimants’ autonomy as fully as claimants want and tend to reduce agency costs to an efficient level in multi-claimant settlements no less than in single-client matters. The Article concludes in Part IV with some final thoughts on the limited potential of judicial review to improve private CRFs.

June 3, 2021 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Judge Calabresi Lauded as He Teaches His Final Torts Class

Judge Guido Calabresi, who was instrumental in creating the law and economics movement in tort scholarship, has taught his final Torts class at Yale.  Calabresi continued teaching Torts even after moving to the bench; he taught Torts for six decades.  More than 160 of his former students came to celebrate him on his final day.  Yale has the story.  Thanks to former TortsProf blogger Sheila Scheuerman for the tip.

June 1, 2021 in TortsProfs | Permalink | Comments (0)