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Posts Tagged ‘trial lawyer’

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)…

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UC Irvine Law School Dean and noted constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky authored an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times critical of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion titled Supreme Court: Class (Action) Dismissed.  Dean Chemerinsky argues that Concepcion is part of an alarming trend in decisions by the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc that blatantly favor business interests over the rights of consumers and prevent access to justice to injured persons. 

Although Dean Chemerinsky’s article is worth a read, perhaps even more interesting are the user comments to the article, which frame the debate as being as much about business interests versus trial lawyers as it is about business interests versus consumers.

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Mark Moller of the Cato Institute posted this commentary today arguing that true originalists should not be so quick to extol the virtues of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), which is often hailed as a conservative victory in tort reform.  Moller and various other conservative commentators argue that the Act, which expands the statutory grant of federal diversity jurisdiction of the federal courts over certain class actions, is unconstitutional.  He concludes that “[t]ort reformers who are faithful to the original meaning of the Constitution must confront the uncomfortable fact that the Constitution takes key provisions of CAFA, the tort reform movement’s greatest legislative achievement, off the table.” 

The argument mirrors one made by Florida personal injury lawyer David J. Sales, who, in an October article, remarked that CAFA is a “decidedly anti-federalist” measure that erodes States’ judicial powers in favor of greater federal jurisdiction.  (See ClassActionBlawg Commentary here).  

Could it be that the class action case of The American Trial Lawyers Association and The Federalist Society v. United States is just around the bend?

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