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Standing, Legal Injury Without Harm, and the Public/Private Divide

William S. C. Goldstein

Legal injury without harm is a common phenomenon in the law. Historically, legal injury without harm was actionable for at least nominal damages, and sometimes other remedies. The same is true today of many “traditional” private rights, for which standing is uncontroversial. Novel statutory claims, on the other hand, routinely face justiciability challenges: Defendants assert that plaintiffs’ purely legal injuries are not injuries “in fact,” as required to establish an Article III case or controversy. “Injury in fact” emerges from the historical requirement of “special damages” to enforce public rights, adapted to a modern procedural world. The distinction between public and private rights is unstable, however, with the result that many novel statutory harms are treated as “public,” and thus subject to exacting justiciability analysis, when they could easily be treated as “private” rights for which legal injury without harm is sufficient for standing. Public and private act as rough proxies for “novel” and “traditional,” with the former subject to more judicial skepticism. Applying “injury in fact” this way is hard to defend as a constitutional necessity, but might make sense prudentially, depending on the novelty and legal source of value for the harm. Taxonomizing these aspects of “harm” suggests that, even with unfamiliar harms, judicial discretion over value lessens the need for exacting injury analysis.

Retiring Forum Non Conveniens

Maggie Gardner

When it comes to transnational litigation in the federal courts, it is time to retire the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The doctrine, which allows judges to decline jurisdiction in cases they believe would be better heard in foreign courts, is meant to promote international comity and protect defendant fairness. But it was never well designed for the former purpose, and given recent developments at the Supreme Court, it is dangerously redundant when it comes to the latter. This Article seeks to demythologize forum non conveniens, to question its continuing relevance, and to encourage the courts and Congress to narrow its scope of application so that, when the time is right, it may be fully interred.

Sexual Consent and Disability

Jasmine E. Harris

Our nation is engaged in deep debate over sexual consent. But to date the discussion has overlooked sexual consent’s implications for a key demographic: people with mental disabilities, for whom the reported incidence of sexual violence is three times that of the nondisabled population. Even as popular debate overlooks the question of sexual consent for those with disabilities, contemporary legal scholars critique governmental overregulation of this area, arguing that it diminishes the agency and dignity of people with disabilities. Yet in defending their position, these scholars rely on empirical data from over twenty years ago, when disability and sexual assault laws and social norms looked quite different than those of today.

Current scholarly discussions about sexual consent and mental disability suffer from an outdated empirical baseline that masks critical information about the profile and experience of sexual violence. This Article creates a new empirical baseline for modern scholarship on sexual assault and disability. Based on an original survey of all fifty states and jurisprudence from the past twenty years of state sexual assault and rape appeals where the victim has a mental disability, this Article updates and critiques four major claims about sexual consent and disability in the current literature. First, through a review of statutes across the country, it complicates the traditional notion that statutes are unduly vague in their definition of disability, and as a result, either over- or under-emphasize disability. The author advances a new organizing taxonomy for sexual assault statutes addressing consent for people with mental disabilities. Second, this dataset upends the prevailing claim by legal scholars that courts overemphasize standardized evidence such as intelligence quotient (IQ) or mental age when judging a person’s functional capacity to consent to sex. Instead, this Article shows that courts frequently look at adaptive abilities to augment standardized evidence but, in doing so, overvalue certain kinds of adaptive evidence that have low probative value, to the detriment of persons with mental disabilities. Third, legislators and legal scholars focus on people in large institutional settings in their critiques of overregulation, but this new data shows that people in community-based settings are more often the complainants in rape and sexual assault cases. This raises important questions about the types of relationships the state regulates (formal versus informal care relationships), the location of these relationships (community versus institutional settings), and issues of class that intersect with disability and sexual regulation. By not addressing the right issues and contexts, current law leaves people with mental disabilities simultaneously more susceptible to sexual violence and less empowered to exercise sexual agency. Finally, the Article more deeply examines the traditional assumption that people with disabilities rarely have access to testify by considering a rarely-mentioned risk: whether testimony by people with disabilities skews capacity determinations because factfinders cannot see beyond the existence of the disability—a phenomenon which the author terms “the aesthetics of disability.” This Article calls upon scholars, courts, and policymakers to consider difficult questions of regulating sexual consent in ways that are consistent with the current profile and experience of sexual violence for people with mental disabilities reflected in this study.

Toward a Bankruptcy Model for Nonclass Aggregate Litigation

Troy A. McKenzie

In recent years, aggregate litigation has moved in the direction of multidistrict litigation followed by mass settlement without certification of a class action—a form sometimes referred to as the “quasi-class action.” Driven by increased restrictions on class certification, particularly in mass tort cases, the rise of the quasi-class action has been controversial. In particular, critics object that it overempowers lawyers and devalues the consent of individual claimants in the name of achieving “closure” in litigation. This Article presents two claims.

First, the debate about the proper scope and form of aggregate litigation too frequently relies on the class action as the touchstone for legitimacy. References to the class action, however, are more often misleading than helpful. The basic assumptions behind the class action are different in degree and in kind from the reality of the quasi-class action. Overreliance on the class action as the conceptual framework for aggregation carries the significant risk of unintentionally shackling courts in their attempts to coordinate litigation. The very reason the quasi-class action emerged—the ossification of the class action model of litigation—suggests that courts and commentators should look for another reference model when assessing what is proper or improper in quasi-class actions.

Second, bankruptcy serves as a better model for judging when to use, and how to order, nonclass aggregation of mass tort litigation. The entirety of bankruptcy practice need not be imported to realize that bankruptcy may provide a useful lens for viewing aggregation more generally. That lens helps to clarify some of the most troubling concerns about the quasi-class action, such as the proper role of lawyers and the place of claimant consent. Bankruptcy serves as a superior reference model because it starts with an assumption that collective resolution is necessary but tem- pers the collective with individual and subgroup consent and with institutional structures to counterbalance the risk of excessive empowerment of lawyers or particular claimants.

Ad Hoc Procedure

Pamela K. Bookman, David L. Noll

“Ad hoc procedure” seems like an oxymoron. A traditional model of the civil justice system depicts courts deciding cases using impartial procedures that are defined in advance of specific disputes. This model reflects a process-based account of the rule of law in which the process through which laws are made helps to ensure that lawmakers act in the public interest. Judgments produced using procedures promulgated in advance of specific disputes are legitimate because they are the product of fair rules of play designed in a manner that is the opposite of ad hoc.

Actual litigation frequently reveals the inadequacy of procedures created according to this traditional model. To fix the procedural problems that arise in such cases, litigants, judges, lawyers, and legislatures can design procedure on the fly, changing the “rules of the road” as the case proceeds. Ad hoc procedure-making allows the civil justice system to function when ordinary procedure fails, but it challenges the rule-of-law values reflected in the traditional model of procedural design. Instead of being created by lawmakers who operate behind a veil of ignorance, ad hoc procedure is made by actors seeking specific outcomes in pending cases. The circumstances in which ad hoc procedure is created raise concerns about lawmakers’ motivations, the transaction costs of one-off procedural interventions, the wisdom and fairness of those interventions, and the separation of powers.

This Article introduces the phenomenon of ad hoc procedure and considers its place in a world where much procedure continues to be made through the traditional model. Focusing on ad hoc procedural statutes, the Article contends that such statutes’ legitimacy—or lack thereof—depends on different factors than ordinary civil procedure. Unable to claim legitimacy from the circumstances in which it is crafted, ad hoc procedural legislation must instead derive legitimacy from the need to address a procedural problem and the effort to produce substantively just outcomes.

The Participatory Class Action

Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Samuel Issacharoff

The class action has emerged as the settlement instrument of choice in mass harm cases such as the Volkswagen emissions scandal or the Deepwater Horizon aftermath. But the class action has also reemerged in the mass tort context, most notably in the NFL Concussion litigation. After seemingly collapsing following the Amchem and Ortiz Supreme Court decisions of the 1990s, the class action device is getting an important second life in courts today.

This Article argues that the new class action has a feature that should increase its doctrinal acceptability: forms of active class member participation. What we term the “participatory class action” emerges from two developments. The first is the technological transformation in the means of communication with class members, and among the class members themselves. The second is that the current class action almost invariably arises from the initial aggregation and centralization of large numbers of individual suits and putative class actions in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) process. As a result, classes are comprised not simply of lawyers and absent class members, but of hundreds or even thousands of individual claims, with individuals capable of monitoring the class and represented by independent counsel.

With over forty percent of the actively litigated civil cases in federal courts now in the MDL dockets, the transformation in mass resolution is well underway. In these new consolidations, the assumptions of older law about absent class member passivity break down. In the popular typology in academic examination of class actions, class action law should insist on the loyalty of agents and the importance of individual ability to exit as guarantors of systemic legitimacy. In the participatory class action, voice emerges as a critical element, with the capacity of the normally silent class members to assert their interests and their views. As with the need for class action law to move from first-class mail to Twitter, so too must the law embrace the implications of real participation by those represented in the assessment of representational propriety.

Class Actions and Executive Power

Zachary D. Clopton

Decisions about class certification and arbitration have depressed private enforcement class actions, reducing deterrence and enforcement of important substantive rights. Until now, the consequences of these procedural decisions for the separation of powers have not been well explored. An aggressive Supreme Court and an inactive Congress have increased the importance of federal administrative law—for example, administrative attempts to regulate arbitration. Moreover, a reduction in private enforcement compounds the importance of public enforcement. State and federal enforcers may piggyback on (successful or unsuccessful) private suits, and they may employ new tactics to maintain deterrence. While proponents of a robust regulatory state may take solace in these executive rejoinders, they are not without costs. Specifically, executive action may be less transparent, less durable, and more susceptible to political pressures than its alternatives.