In response yesterday’s entry discussing Daniel Fisher’s article on the potential impacts of Concepcion, I got one of the best comments that I’ve ever received on this site. It comes from Portland complex injury and consumer class action attorney David Sugerman, who blogs at www.davidsugerman.com. Of course, I disagree with just about every word of it, but with imagery like a bunch of corporate fat cats “fixing to celebrate the opening of the all-you-can-eat trough of greed,” I could not help but re-post it here:
I’m amused. As I said to defense counsel at a large multi-national firm, I guessed that midway through the second glass of champagne, the defense bar realized it had a real problem. He is apparently looking for a new job or to transition into other areas of practice.
Your one concrete example–retail sales–is, as you know, a less viable class because of problems of ascertainment, notice, locating the class, providing notice and obtaining and distributing relief. And not all retail sales cases survive. You likely recall the Gateway case some years ago with the forced mandatory arbitration clause in the paperwork in the box that was deemed accepted upon registration?
I love the concerted talking points in the defense bar that these cases are not done. Those of us who represent consumers know better.
We also know the torrent about to be unleashed when consumers can no longer take concerted action to stop nickel and diming on high-volume, small amount claims. AT&T, Comcast, banks, utilities, credit card companies are fixing to celebrate the opening of the all-you-can-eat trough of greed.
The argument that Congressional or Executive action *might* change things proves too much. Absent such action, consumer class cases are pretty much done. The argument also illustrates the crass overreaching in SCOTUS’ opinion, with views on federalism and statutory construction that are as breathtaking as the Citizens United case.
This is really not a problem for me because I handle a wide range of consumer and plaintiff problems. But my colleagues in high-priced defense firms who defend consumer class actions for a living are likely to have problems.
So no, if I were a high end defense attorney, I wouldn’t take much comfort in Forbes view or the talking points. It’s going to get bleak out there.
Lest you doubt my dire predictions, let’s set a wager for 12 months from the decision on how many consumer class actions have been filed, how many layoffs in the defense industry, or some other agreed-upon metric that we can revisit next year.
Ok, David, friendly banter on.
First, I must say that I don’t know a single defense lawyer who owns a private jet, but I know several plaintiffs’ lawyers who do, so all this talk about “high-priced” defense firms rings a little hollow to me.
Second, defense lawyers will have jobs for as long as there are plaintiffs’ lawyers around to file lawsuits, and somehow I don’t see the plaintiffs’ bar throwing in the towel this easily. What you may see is simply a shift in the kinds of class actions that get filed in the future, or the industries that are targeted. I say “targeted” because in my experience trends in consumer class actions are more often driven by the creativity of the entrepreneurial trial bar than by any epidemic of corporate greed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t well-publicized scandals involving an epidemic of corporate greed (See Enron), but they tend to generate securities or ERISA class actions, not consumer class actions.
Finally, I’ll wager you, although not for money. Only for pride. (I’m not made of money after all, I’m just a defense lawyer). I’ll bet that not only don’t we see a decrease, but we’ll actually see an increase in consumer class actions over the next year. Sort of like the rash of class actions filed just before CAFA took effect. I’m not sure at this moment how we’ll measure this, but I’d imagine that there’s a consulting firm out there (no doubt worried about the effect Concepcion is going to have on its own bottom line) planning just the kind of research we need.
So, if you’re a consulting firm looking for a project, we’ve got a job for you (pro bono, of course)…