Procedural Barriers to Court

  • October 10, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Jeffrey S. Vogt, Legal Director, Solidarity Center

    Since the modern “rediscovery” of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), starting with Filártiga v. Peña-Irala in 1980, corporations have been named as defendants in ATS cases. That corporations could be held liable under the ATS for jus cogens violations of customary international law had for years generated little controversy. In 1997, in Doe v. Unocal Corp, the first major ATS case against a corporation, the question as to whether corporations, as opposed to natural persons, could be held liable under ATS was not at issue. By 2008, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Romero v. Drummond Company, could quickly dispense with the issue holding that, “The text of the Alien Tort Statute provides no express exception for corporations[.]” This acceptance came to a halt when in 2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, held that corporations could not be held liable under the ATS because corporate liability was not sufficiently developed under customary international law (as opposed to US law). The US Supreme Court avoided addressing the issue when Kiobel was before it in 2013, instead finding a lack of jurisdiction over the Dutch, corporate defendant due to a presumption against extraterritoriality. Notably, not all courts followed Kiobel; the Seventh Circuit, in the 2011 case of Flomo v. Firestone National Rubber Company, kept the doors open to corporate ATS cases.  

  • April 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Alexandra D. Lahav, Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut and Author of In Praise of Litigation

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill – passed along partisan lines in the House – that threatens the way Americans have enforced the law for seventy five years. The bill is called the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (FICALA) and its results are likely to strike a major blow against class actions and aggregate litigation. 

    The recent hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch highlighted the threat that current lawmakers pose to the administrative state – the apparatus that has, since the New Deal, allowed the executive to pass regulations that support our voting rights, clean air and water, workplace safety and more. But in the discussions one thing seems to have been missing: a major way that regulations are enforced in the United States is by individuals and groups bringing lawsuits. Congress has enabled these lawsuits by creating private rights of action in areas as diverse as employment discrimination and internet privacy.

    For the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has been eroding these regulations by creating barriers to suit: forced arbitration has been repeatedly upheld (even when it goes against state contract law), requirements for bringing a claim have increased and collective actions are harder to certify. If most of the enforcement of the law is left up to us, through the courts, the process of shutting the courthouse door also means that regulations will not be enforced. Now Congress is taking its turn to shut the courthouse door.

  • March 31, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Dan Karon, Karon LLC

    A German auto manufacturer lies about its cars’ emissions and swindles billions. Too bad. An energy company cooks the books and steals millions of people’s retirement money. So sad. A chemical company dumps toxic waste into a river and kills thousands of children downstream. Pound sand.

    If Congress passes H.R. 985—the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act—these horrifying scenarios will be just the beginning. The bill reads like a Chamber of Commerce wish list because it is. It will kill all class actions and will sacrifice the valuable, necessary and commendable work that consumer attorneys have performed for decades. It will gut human-rights cases, eviscerate employment-abuse cases and kill defective-drug and products cases. Its carnage is too expansive to list here. The bill will leave nothing but an unpoliced wasteland, where unaccountable corporations will exploit their new world order, knowing that no one can stop them.

    If this all sounds too horrible to be real, I am sorry—it is. Despite all the scares that the class-action bar has agonized through, this congressional blow not only will crush people’s right to justice, but also will decimate plaintiffs’ and defense firms overnight. If you think I am kidding, read the bill.

    How did we get here? Simple. Bad plaintiffs’ lawyers brought too many bad cases. But these sewer lawyers neither resemble nor represent the plaintiffs’ bar—lawyers who risk comfort, safety, and security every day by committing to a contingent-fee model, where the upside of bygone days no longer exists. We do this because it is important, because we care, and because we want to make a difference. These motivations may seem silly or unimaginable to lawyers who have never done this type of work, who have never risked their practice, and who favor getting paid per hour to getting paid perhaps. Plaintiffs’ work is not for everybody.

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice

    *This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

    Banks and payday lenders have had a good deal going for a while: They could break the law, trick their customers in illegal ways, and not have to face any consumer lawsuits. Armed by some pretty bad 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, they could hide behind Forced Arbitration clauses (fine print contracts that say consumers can’t go to court even when a bank acts illegally), even when it was clear that the arbitration clauses made it impossible for a consumer to protect their rights.

    But the free ride is coming to an end. After an extensive study, that proved beyond any doubt how unfair these fine print clauses have been for consumers, the CFPB is taking a strong step to reign in these abusive practices. In a new rule, the CFPB says banks can no longer use forced arbitration clauses to ban consumers from joining together in class action lawsuits. That means banks can no longer just wipe away the most effective means consumers often have for fighting illegal behavior.

    This is a common sense rule that will go a long way in combating some of the financial industry’s worst practices.

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Julie Wilensky, Director of the California Office of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and member, National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)

    On March 26, the North Carolina General Assembly convened a special legislative session to preempt a local ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte, which had amended its antidiscrimination law to explicitly include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The state legislature introduced and rapidly passed HB 2, North Carolina’s extraordinarily broad “Bathroom Bill,” which Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the same day. The focus of HB 2, and much of the debate and dialogue surrounding it, is about forcing transgender people to use sex-segregated restrooms according to the sex listed on their birth certificate, instead of the restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. HB 2 also prohibits local governments in North Carolina from enacting their own anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and from establishing minimum wages other than for the local government’s own employees.

    Advocates have filed suit challenging aspects of HB 2 as violating the U.S. Constitution as well as Title IX, a claim vindicated by the Fourth Circuit’s April 19 decision in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. That decision confirms that Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding, protects the rights of transgender students to use sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. Quite simply, HB 2 requires North Carolina’s local governments and schools receiving federal funding to discriminate against transgender and gender nonconforming people in violation of federal law.

    HB 2 also takes the extreme step of expressly revoking the right for workers to bring state-law discrimination claims in state court North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act. For many years, the North Carolina courts have recognized a common law right to file suit for wrongful termination based on the public policy under the Act. Taking this right away is an unprecedented and extreme step. While HB 2 states that North Carolina’s Human Relations Commission will have the authority to “investigate and conciliate charges of discrimination,” state officials have not provided guidance on how this will be implemented, and this is no substitute for a worker being able to file a lawsuit in state court.