The “No-Safe-Level” Theory Is Just as Bad in the Real World as in Litigation

RobertWrightFeatured Expert Contributor, Mass Torts—Asbestos

Robert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA

Plaintiffs who allege cancer from asbestos often rely on the theory that there is no safe level of exposure.  Because there is no safe level, any exposure can be considered a cause of disease, so the theory goes (I’ve written for this blog on the theory here.).  That causation theory has been criticized on the ground it conflates causation with the risk of injury.  The flaws with that theory when it’s applied to asbestos litigation become all the more apparent when it is applied in other, real-world contexts.  The concept of no safe level can cause policy makers to exaggerate risks and can even lead to unnecessary injuries. Continue reading “The “No-Safe-Level” Theory Is Just as Bad in the Real World as in Litigation”

California Court Decision Offers Hope for Procedural Brake on Lawyer-Driven Class Actions

poolThis year’s rankings by civil-justice reform organizations (here and here) of states’ legal systems once again placed California near the bottom (or top, depending on how the listings are done) of the pack.  One of the California Supreme Court’s final decisions of 2017, which imposes liability on a pharmaceutical company for harm allegedly caused by a generic competitor’s copycat product, solidifies that hostile reputation going into a new year.

We write today, however, not to pile on (though we wholeheartedly share others’ California concerns), but to spotlight a December 4, 2017 California Court of Appeal ruling that is not only contrary to the state courts’ pro-litigation image but also bucks a national trend on a key class-action law issue. The question at issue in Noel v. Thrifty Payless, Inc. was whether a court can certify a class of plaintiffs when no objective method exists to ascertain who is or is not a class “member.” Continue reading “California Court Decision Offers Hope for Procedural Brake on Lawyer-Driven Class Actions”

Food Court Follies: Misled-By-Maple Class Action Against Quaker Oats Preempted

maple and brown sugarIn all the blogging we’ve done on food-related consumer-protection litigation over the past five years, we’ve said very little about one of our favorite federal constitutional doctrines, federal preemption. That’s because the Food Court Bar has filed the vast majority of its claims in California, which has a statute, the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law, that explicitly incorporates all federal food laws and regulations. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have been able to defeat most preemption arguments by asserting Sherman Act violations, remedies for which would impose the same requirements as would federal law. Preemption defenses can prevail only when state law (or a state court decision) imposes obligations in conflict with federal law.

But in a series of recent suits against Quaker Oats Company, plaintiffs’ lawyers took a shot at imposing controls on oatmeal-product labeling that went beyond what federal rules required. Perhaps they thought the Central District of California would give them a pass, or that they could convince the court through some legal slight-of-hand. Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, who is presiding over the consolidated class actions, wasn’t buying it, however. On October 10, 2017, he dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims as preempted by federal law. In re Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal Litigation. Continue reading “Food Court Follies: Misled-By-Maple Class Action Against Quaker Oats Preempted”

Federal Judicial Advisory Panel to Assess Multidistrict Litigation Rules Proposals

US courtsAccording to a November 8, 2017 National Law Journal article, the chairman of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Rules of Civil Procedure “suggested creating a subcommittee to take up a package of proposals to amend multidistrict litigation procedures” at a meeting this week. The article noted that the Advisory Committee had received a number of requests for rulemaking on the subject.

Lawyers for Civil Justice (LCJ) submitted one of the requests, asking the Advisory Committee to amend selected Rules to adapt their application to cases consolidated for pre-trial proceedings. Washington Legal Foundation wrote to the Advisory Committee in late September, supporting LCJ’s rulemaking request and attaching two recent WLF publications (read them here and here) that positively underscore the unique challenges and pitfalls posed by multidistrict litigation.

The Advisory Committee’s subcommittee will be undertaking challenging and important work, and we commend the Committee for its response to the request made by LCJ and other organizations.

Update: Plaintiffs in Subway Not-Foot-Long Class Action Throw in the Napkin

1ftIn September WLF’s Cory Andrews applauded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s rejection of a settlement of a consumer-fraud class-action suit against Subway. The suit alleged that not all Subway foot-long sandwiches measured a full 12″. The WLF Legal Pulse post did note, however, that on the basis of “new” information from an employee of one of Subway’s vendors, the plaintiffs refiled their suit in a Wisconsin federal court after the appeals court’s dismissal.

We learned today, thanks to the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) (which kindly referenced our September post) and the Legal Newsline story ILR referenced, that the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their suit late last month. Not surprisingly, the plaintiffs’ quiet surrender garnered substantially less attention than the filing of their original lawsuit in 2013.

Court Order Imposing $9 Million Sanction Paints Sordid Tale of Ethically-Challenged Lawyering

middle districtThe lure of easy money, as the late Glen Frey once sang, has a very strong appeal. It routinely inspires less-than-ethical behavior from those who pursue it. Lawyers are certainly no exception, as a recent investigation and resulting federal court sanctions order reflects. The October 18, 2017 opinion, weighing in at 148 pages, is a meticulously detailed indictment of two attorneys’ abusive pursuit of easy money from the never-ending Florida tobacco litigation.

The sordid tale’s roots trace back to the disastrous 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, Engle v. Liggett Group. This per curiam (i.e. unsigned) opinion decertified a class of 700,000 smokers. It also held that a generic conclusion reached by the initial Engle jury—that cigarettes are defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous—would have preclusive effect in all future, individual lawsuits filed by the decertified class of Florida smokers. Continue reading “Court Order Imposing $9 Million Sanction Paints Sordid Tale of Ethically-Challenged Lawyering”

Trial Judge Tosses Jury Verdict in Talcum Powder Mass-Tort Suit for Lack of Causation

RobertWrightFeatured Expert Contributor, Mass Torts—Asbestos

Robert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA

In a case that has generated national publicity, Judge Maren E. Nelson of the Los Angeles County Superior Court granted Johnson & Johnson’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after a jury awarded plaintiff $417 million, including $347 million in punitive damages, in a case alleging injury from exposure to talc.  (See Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Cases, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC628228, JCCP No. 4872, Oct. 20, 2017 Order.)

The trial court’s order is significant in several respects, but in particular because it rejects plaintiff’s attempt to establish causation based on epidemiologic studies that do not show a relative risk of at least 2.0 for the specific cancer alleged by plaintiff. Continue reading “Trial Judge Tosses Jury Verdict in Talcum Powder Mass-Tort Suit for Lack of Causation”