NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Topics

Complex Litigation

Results

Ethical Rules of Conduct in the Settlement of Mass Torts: A Proposal to Revise Rule 1.8(G)

Katherine Dirks

The American Bar Association’s widely adopted Model Rule 1.8(g) requires that attorneys handling aggregate settlements obtain the consent of each client before the settlement is finalized. This method is well suited to cases involving small-scale tort litigation with few parties, but Rule 1.8(g) does not meet the complex demands of mass torts, which can involve thousands of plaintiffs represented by a handful of law firms. Rule 1.8(g) creates a procedural obstacle to the efficient settlement of mass torts while obfuscating the ethical role of plaintiffs’ counsel in these settlements. This Note proposes a modified Rule 1.8(g), drawing upon a successful procedure used in asbestos bankruptcies. By incorporating these mechanisms from the Bankruptcy Code into the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, an alternative Rule 1.8(g) would reduce the costs of mass tort settlement, improve the clarity of the aggregate settlement rule, and protect clients from ethical misconduct by their attorneys.

National Juries for National Cases: Preserving Citizen Participation in Large-Scale Litigation

Laura G. Dooley

Procedural evolution in complex litigation seems to have left the civil jury behind. Reliance on aggregating devices, such as multidistrict litigation and class actions, as well as settlement pressure created by “bellwether” cases, has resulted in cases of national scope being tried by local juries. Local juries thus have the potential to impose their values on the rest of the country. This trend motivates parties to forum-shop, and some commentators suggest eliminating jury trials in complex cases altogether. Yet the jury is at the heart of our uniquely American understanding of civil justice, and the Seventh Amendment mandates its use in federal cases. This Article makes a bold proposal to align the jury assembly mechanism with the scope of the litigation: In cases of national scope, juries would be assembled from a national pool. This proposal would eliminate incentives for parties to forum-shop, and it would make the decisionmaking body representative of the population that will feel the effects of its decision. The Article argues that we would see greater legitimacy for decisions rendered by a national jury in national cases. Moreover, it argues that geographic diversification of the jury would enhance the quality of decisionmaking. Finally, national juries would preserve the functional and constitutional values of citizen participation in the civil justice system.

The Choice-of-Law Problem(s) in the Class Action Context

Genevieve G. York-Erwin

Numerous scholars have noted that choice of law in the federal courts is a mess; this is particularly true in the damage class action context. Unfortunately, proposed solutions address only half of this “choice-of-law problem”: They focus either on removing the barriers choice of law creates for certification or on preserving choice of law’s traditional allocation of regulatory authority among the states, but no proposal has taken up both issues. The time has come to address this problem in full. Given the current climate of political and economic change, Congress should amend the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) to revitalize the class action as a meaningful regulatory mechanism while still deterring the state court excesses that spurred CAFA’s enactment. My two-pronged proposal would do exactly that—facilitate certification of meritorious consumer cases while ensuring fair and effective allocation of regulatory authority between interested states.

The Implementation of “Balanced Diversity” Through the Class Action Fairness Act

Jacob R. Karabell

In 2005, Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), which gave federal courts jurisdiction over class actions with both minimal diversity and an amount in controversy exceeding $5 million. In the wake of CAFA, federal courts have struggled to formulate appropriate standards of proof when the defendant removes a class action to federal court and the plaintiff seeks to remand the case to state court. This Note argues that if a defendant looks to remove such a class action, it should have to demonstrate that the amount in controversy is met by a preponderance of the evidence—regardless of whether the plaintiff’s complaint requests a specific amount of damages. In addition, if a plaintiff wants to utilize either of CAFA’s “federalism exceptions” to federal jurisdiction, it should have the benefit of a rebuttable presumption that a class member’s state of residence is her state of citizenship. This two-part approach comes closest to effectuating the “balanced diversity” that Congress intended in CAFA.

Class Certification in the Age of Aggregate Proof

Richard A. Nagareda

Few pretrial motions in our civil justice system elicit as much controversy as those for the certification of class actions. This Article offers the first account of the challenges courts face today in light of an important series of federal appellate decisions that direct the district courts to resolve competing expert submissions on the class certification question during the pretrial stage, even when the dispute overlaps with the merits of the litigation.

Across broad swaths of class action litigation today, plaintiffs rely on aggregate proof—evidence, typically of an economic or statistical nature, that presupposes the cohesiveness of the aggregate unit for litigation and, from that perspective, seeks to reveal quantitatively a common wrong attributable to the defendant. Debates over the proper role of aggregate proof arise in what otherwise might seem disparate disputes over class certification across securities, antitrust, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and employment discrimination litigation. Too often, however, courts have taken at face value the evidentiary form that aggregate proof assumes in motions for class certification.

This Article urges a new conceptualization of the challenges in class certification facing courts today. The real question about aggregate proof in class certification is not one that speaks to the relationship between the court and the factfinder in the (usually hypothetical) event of a class-wide trial. Rather, the institutional relationship that really matters is the one between the court and the legislature as expositors of governing law. Properly understood, aggregate proof frequently offers not so much a contested view of the facts but, more fundamentally, a contested account of governing law—one eminently suited for judicial resolution and appellate correction de novo, without concern about possible intrusion into the role of the factfinder.

This Article exposes how renewed attention to the judicial duty to “say what the law is” can lend coherence to the law of class certification, offering the first extended assessment of such controversial recent litigation as the civil RICO class action against the tobacco industry in connection with its marketing of light cigarettes and the employment discrimination class action—the largest certified class in history— against Wal-Mart concerning the pay and promotion of its hourly female employees. The Article concludes by relating the analysis of class certification tolarger changes in the civil justice system that seek in various ways to address the reality of settlement, rather than trial, as the endgame of litigation.

Aggregate Reliance and Overcharges: Removing Hurdles to Class Certification for Victims of Mass Fraud

Shawn S. Ledingham, Jr.

Victims of consumer fraud often struggle to bring their claims as nationwide class actions under traditional state fraud laws due to (1) the application of many states’ laws to potential class members’ claims and (2) the fact that fraud claims generally raise a significant individual factual issue—whether the claimant personally relied on the defendant’s misrepresentation. The civil remedy provisions in RICO offer an attractive alternative. RICO overcomes the first hurdle by providing plaintiffs with a single federal law under which to file suit. This Note demonstrates that RICO allows plaintiffs to overcome the second hurdle as well. Rather than showing that they incurred harm when they purchased products in reliance on a misrepresentation, plaintiffs can achieve class certification by framing their injury as a harm common to all purchasers of a product: specifically, an increase in the price of the product due to artificially increased demand. Recently, several classes have moved successfully for certification using this approach. This Note provides a theoretical framework to justify this method. Rather than committing the same error as most courts and commentators by viewing this approach as an extension of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance from securities fraud cases, I argue that there is no need to presume reliance because the Supreme Court’s holding in Bridge v. Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. makes clear that individual, personal reliance is not necessary to prove causation in RICO claims. Instead, plaintiffs can satisfy RICO’s causation element through statistical analyses that prove aggregate reliance—reliance on the fraud by a large enough number of individuals to increase the price of the product above the price that it would have been absent the fraud. As all purchasers of the product experience the same price differential, the statistical analyses provide common proof of causation of identical harm, eliminating problematic individual inquiries and opening the door to certification of nationwide consumer fraud class actions.

Are We Sailing in Occupied Waters?: Rethinking the Availability of Punitive Damages Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Lauren E. Hume

Litigants’ briefs in the myriad cases arising from the Deepwater Horizon explosion
raise questions about the extent to which the Oil Pollution Act’s two savings clauses
preserve additional remedies, such as punitive damages. A large number of comprehensive
federal frameworks include savings clauses that anticipate supplementing
the statute with additional federal or state law. When these clauses are
ambiguous, the statute and precedent may not suffice to resolve the ambiguity. This
Note explores how economic policy, specifically optimal deterrence theory, may be
used to resolve whether the Oil Pollution Act’s ambiguous maritime savings clause
preserves or precludes maritime punitive damages. Optimal deterrence theory bolsters
the Supreme Court’s recent repeated affirmances of using maritime punitive
damages to supplement federal statutes, providing a firmer justification for the
argument that two lower courts wrongly held that the Act precludes the maritime
damages for oil spill injuries. Having resolved the ambiguity caused by the interaction
between maritime punitive damages and the Oil Pollution Act with optimal
deterrence theory, I conclude by proposing a framework that courts could use to
determine when and how to award maritime punitive damages for oil spill injuries
in particular cases, integrating the common law remedy with the statutory scheme.

Sunlight and Settlement Mills

Nora Freeman Engstrom

Accident compensation, and particularly auto accident compensation, is typically
thought to take one of two dichotomous forms: either no-fault or traditional tort.
Further, conventional wisdom holds that while pure no-fault may be an option in
theory, it is not one in practice. No pure no-fault auto regime has ever been enacted
in the United States, and states these days are repealing, rather than enacting, modified
no-fault legislation. Yet something peculiar is happening on the ground. Far
out of the light of day, high-volume personal injury firms that I call “settlement
mills” are quietly achieving many of no-fault’s objectives—speeding recoveries,
lowering systemic costs, and delivering relatively standardized sums to an apparently
expanded set of clients—while ostensibly operating within traditional tort.
What settlement mills are accomplishing, then, is in some respects astonishing—and
certainly commendable. Yet, the fact settlement mills’ distinctive operations are out
of the light of day and rarely revealed to clients is problematic, raising profound
issues of informed consent and highlighting severe information deficiencies in the
market for legal services. A well-designed disclosure regime can preserve settlement
mills’ substantial benefits, ameliorate their unique costs, and, more broadly,
improve the tort system’s operation and address the vexing problem of attorney
choice.

Distributing Justice

Adam S. Zimmerman

This Article explores the procedural concerns that arise when regulatory agencies mimic class actions by collecting big monetary judgments on behalf of victims. Over the past decade, agencies have collected over $10 billion to compensate people hurt by massive frauds, false advertising, and defective drugs, using proceeds from penalties levied against regulatory violators. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission regularly seeks awards against large public companies and distributes the money to injured investors through “Fair Funds.” The Federal Trade Commission similarly seeks restitution against parties profiting from unfair trade practices and distributes awards to consumers. Even the U.S. Postal Service distributes the ill-gotten profits of scam artists to victims of mail fraud. However, unlike private lawsuits, agencies afford few safeguards for the victims they compensate. Agencies lack adequate procedures to hear victims’ claims, identify conflicts between different parties, or coordinate with other kinds of lawsuits. I argue that agencies should continue to play a role—albeit a limited one—in compensating victims for widespread harm. However, when agencies compensate victims, they should adopt rules similar to those that exist in private litigation to resolve differences between victims, improve judicial review, and coordinate with private lawsuits. I propose three solutions to give victims more voice in their own redress, while preserving an agency’s flexibility to enforce the law: (1) that agencies involve representative stakeholders in settlement discussions through negotiated rulemaking; (2) that courts subject agency decisions to hard look review; and (3) that courts and agencies coordinate overlapping settlements before a single federal judge.

The Federal Rules of Civil Settlement

J. Maria Glover

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were originally based upon a straightforward model of adjudication: Resolve the merits of cases at trial and use pretrial procedures to facilitate accurate trial outcomes. Though appealing in principle, this model has little relevance today. As is now well known, the endpoint around which the Federal Rules were structured—trial—virtually never occurs. Today, the vast majority of civil cases terminate in settlement. This Article is the first to argue that the current litigation process needs a new regime of civil procedure for the world of settlement.

This Article begins by providing a systemic analysis of why the Federal Rules inadequately prevent settlement outcomes from being distorted relative to the underlying merits—as defined by reference to substantive law—of a given dispute. It then explains how the Federal Rules can actually amplify these distortions. Indeed, notwithstanding the well-worn adage that settlement occurs in the “shadow of the law,” scholars have shown that non-merits factors exert significant influence on settlement outcomes. However, these insights have not been considered together and combined with a systemic focus on the ways in which the influence of these factors on settlement outcomes is actually a product of the basic structural features of the Federal Rules. This Article takes these next steps to explain that the “shadow of the law” that is cast on settlements is fading. Further, this Article discusses a new phenomenon in the current litigation environment—namely, that litigants’ increased reliance on prior settlements as “precedent” for future settlement decisions may move settlement even further out of the “shadow of the law” and into the “shadow of settlement” itself.

This Article then traces these problems to three foundational assumptions underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, all of which have become outmoded in a world of settlement. In rethinking these assumptions, it provides a new conceptual account that contextualizes previously isolated procedural reform proposals as challenges to these foundational assumptions. It also explains how these reformefforts ought to be refined and extended with a specific view toward systematically redesigning the basic model and operation of the Federal Rules for a world of settlement. Lastly, it sets forth new proposals that seek to reorient current rules expressly toward the goal of aligning settlement outcomes with the merits of underlying claims.

What emerges is a new vision of procedure—one in which the application of pretrial procedural rules do not merely facilitate trial but are designed to provide litigants with guidance regarding the merits of claims and are used to align settlement outcomes more meaningfully with the dictates of the substantive law. In describing this vision, this Article lays the groundwork for the design of a new Federal Rules of Civil Settlement.