Class-Action Lawyers Invoke Novel Doctrine to Avoid SCOTUS Jurisdiction Rulings

supreme courtCivil litigation is waged through a series of small battles between plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel. One initial battle, which can be outcome-determinative, involves where suit can be filed. Plaintiffs’ lawyers want to be in courts in which “friendly” judges preside, while defense counsel want no part of such jurisdictions. U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the past five years, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court (BMS), have thrown a monkey wrench into plaintiffs’ lawyers’ jurisdiction battle plans. But without fail, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and particularly those who specialize in class actions, devise new arguments. They have argued, with mixed results in the lower courts, that precedents such as BMS don’t dictate jurisdiction for nationwide class actions. Some class-action lawyers are also relying on a rarely used federal common law doctrine—“pendent personal jurisdiction.” Continue reading “Class-Action Lawyers Invoke Novel Doctrine to Avoid SCOTUS Jurisdiction Rulings”

In 2019, Federal Appellate Courts Will Address Impact of SCOTUS Jurisdiction Ruling on Class Actions

DC CircuitSince the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court (BMS), litigants and courts have struggled to determine its impact on future cases.  The Court held in BMS that courts may not exercise jurisdiction over nonresident defendants with respect to nonresident plaintiffs’ claims arising from conduct that occurred outside the State. This limits defendants’ exposure to nationwide mass-tort actions to States where they are “at home” and subject to that forum’s general personal jurisdiction.

Class actions are now at the forefront of the fight to define BMS. To date, no federal circuit court has considered whether BMS applies equally to class actions as it does to mass-tort actions. But several circuit courts will have the opportunity to resolve this question in 2019, quite possibly with differing results. A WLF Working Paper published in March 2018 framed the question these courts will have to answer as follows: If joinder of plaintiffs does not establish specific jurisdiction over the defendant for nonresident plaintiffs’ claims (as in BMS), can the result be any different when the nonresident plaintiffs are instead absent members of a class? Continue reading “In 2019, Federal Appellate Courts Will Address Impact of SCOTUS Jurisdiction Ruling on Class Actions”

EPA’s Return to Rigorous Cost-Benefit Analysis Continues with Impending Methane-Rule Revision

EPA-LogoThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to propose changes to the regulation of mercury emissions that can recalibrate the balance between the costs of such controls and the benefits they confer. This action would be consistent with other administrative agency moves, which we have discussed recently here, to elevate the level and quality of economic analysis that past and future regulations must undergo.

The proposal EPA recently sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget characterizes the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule for Power Plants (“MATS rule”) as a needlessly expensive mandate and recommends that its costs and benefits should be recalculated. The MATS rule was aimed at reducing toxic power-plant emissions, but utilities have spent an estimated $9.6 billion a year to comply with the new standards, while the mercury emissions reductions have led to a comparatively small estimated annual benefit of $4 million to $6 million. When signing the Energy Independence Executive Order, the President singled out MATS, stating, “Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers, and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry.” Continue reading “EPA’s Return to Rigorous Cost-Benefit Analysis Continues with Impending Methane-Rule Revision”

Three Federal Agency Proposals Exemplify Revived Commitment to Quantifying Costs and Benefits

redtapeAs part of the White House’s strategy to reform the administrative state, several federal agencies have proposed measures to improve the efficiency and transparency of the regulatory process. In recent months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have requested comments on cost-benefit analysis standards, while the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have proposed an economically significant rule that would require cost-benefit analysis.

Under previous administrations, agencies such as EPA and the Department of the Interior experimented with “social” harms and benefits, eschewing consideration of the economic effects of proposed and enacted regulations. The current administration has a justifiably low opinion of such amorphous measurements, and seeks to refocus regulators on quantifiable harms and benefits. Continue reading “Three Federal Agency Proposals Exemplify Revived Commitment to Quantifying Costs and Benefits”

Environmental Ambulance Chasing: DOJ Urges Court to Scrutinize Clean Water Act Citizen-Suit Settlements

dojenrdThe Justice Department’s (DOJ) policing of class-action settlements in recent months has the potential to serve as a significant check on the plaintiffs’ bar. While DOJ has had the right to express its view of proposed class-action settlements since 2005 pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), only recently has the department’s Consumer Protection Branch exercised its authority to oppose such settlements. Washington Legal Foundation certainly applauds these efforts to intervene in and oppose frivolous, unfair, or inequitable class settlements, but what DOJ has done recently in several environmental citizen suits may be even more significant. Continue reading “Environmental Ambulance Chasing: DOJ Urges Court to Scrutinize Clean Water Act Citizen-Suit Settlements”

No Matter the Cause, “Public Interest” Groups Merit No Shortcuts on Standing to Sue

DC District CourtTo bring a lawsuit, a plaintiff must, before all else, demonstrate standing under the Constitution. Article III requires a plaintiff have “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). Lujan and other U.S. Supreme Court decisions have clarified that cause-oriented organizations get no shortcuts; they must meet roughly the same standing requirements as individuals to bring lawsuits in federal court. A recent U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision, Environmental Working Group et al. v. Food and Drug Administration, exactingly applied those requirements to deny two environmental groups standing to sue, while at the same time signaling that D.C. Circuit organizational standing precedents should perhaps be reconsidered. Continue reading “No Matter the Cause, “Public Interest” Groups Merit No Shortcuts on Standing to Sue”

Show Me the Slack Fill: State’s Overly Pliable Consumer-Fraud Law Courts Dubious Litigation

raisnetsFood Court Follies—A WLF Legal Pulse Series

Litigation involving processed foods and other packaged goods has become so popular that cases are now routinely filed not only over what’s in the package, but also over what’s not in the package. Lawsuits over empty space, colloquially known as “slack-fill,” enrich plaintiffs’ lawyers while according little or no benefit to consumers. These lawyers have flocked to courts that have broadly interpreted already flexible consumer-protection laws. Targeted businesses have started to express their concerns, and elected officials are beginning to listen.

One state where reform is afoot is Missouri. A very recent federal court decision there in a slack-fill suit reflects why that state’s law is under reconsideration. Continue reading “Show Me the Slack Fill: State’s Overly Pliable Consumer-Fraud Law Courts Dubious Litigation”