Group Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing Civil Justice Bills

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Groups Strongly Oppose Attacks on Civil Justice

Dear Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers:

On February 2, the House Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to mark up several bills that collectively would make it more difficult for Americans to enforce their legal rights, and would place unreasonable burdens on the federal judiciary and federal enforcement officials.  The undersigned organizations strongly oppose these bills as harmful and unnecessary.

H.R. 720: The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA).

LARA would make major, substantive changes to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, bypassing both the Judicial Conference of the United States and the U.S. Supreme Court in the process. Rule 11 provides judges with authority to sanction attorneys for filing frivolous claims and defenses. It provides judges with discretion to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if sanctions are appropriate. LARA would remove this judicial discretion, mandating sanctions.  LARA would reinstate a rule put into effect in 1983 that was so unworkable it was rescinded in 1993 after many problems and nearly universal criticism.  Among those problems were: the rule had a chilling effect on the filing of meritorious civil rights, employment, environmental, and consumer cases; the rule was overused in civil rights cases as sanctions were sought and imposed against civil rights plaintiffs more than against any other litigants in civil court; and the rule burdened the already strained federal court system with satellite litigation over compliance with the rule.  These burdens adversely affected cases of all types, including business-to-business civil litigation. Congress should be looking for ways to decrease, not increase, wasteful burdens on the courts, and should avoid rules changes that have a discriminatory impact on civil rights, employment, environmental, and consumer cases.

H.R. 725: The Innocent Party Protection Act.

This bill would upend long established law in the area of federal court jurisdiction, specifically addressing the supposed overuse of“fraudulent joinder” to defeat complete diversity jurisdiction in a case.  It was previously known as the “Fraudulent Joinder Prevention Act.”  However, this bill is not about fraud.  It is a corporate forum-shopping bill that would allow corporations to move cases properly brought in state courts into federal courts.  Corporate defendants support this bill because they prefer to litigate in federal court, which usually results in less diverse jurors, more expensive proceedings, longer wait times for trials, and stricter limits on discovery.  For plaintiffs, who are supposed to be able to choose their forums, this legislation would result in additional time, expense, and inconvenience for the plaintiff and witnesses.  Moreover, there is no evidence that federal courts are not already properly handling allegations of so-called “fraudulent joinder” after removal under current laws.  The bill would result in needless micromanagement of federal courts and a waste of judicial resources.  While it purports to fix a non-existent problem, it creates problems itself. 

H.R. 732: Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act.

Under existing laws, settlement terms that result from federal enforcement actions can sometimes include payments to third parties to advance programs that assist with recovery, benefits, and relief for communities harmed by lawbreakers, to the extent such payments further the objectives of the enforcement action.  This bill would cut off any payments to third parties other than individualized restitution and other forms of direct payment for “actual harm.” That restriction would handcuff federal enforcement officials by limiting their ability to negotiate appropriate relief for real harms caused to the public by illegal conduct that is the subject of federal enforcement actions.  This bill would be a gift to lawbreakers at the expense of families and communities suffering from injuries that cannot be addressed by direct restitution.

We urge you to oppose each of these bills.  For more information, please contact Joanne Doroshow at the Center for Justice & Democracy, joanned@centerjd.org or Susan Harley at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, sharley@citizen.org.

 Very sincerely,
 

Alliance for Justice

American Association for Justice

Americans for Financial Reform

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Brazilian Worker Center

California Kids IAQ

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Justice & Democracy

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Central Florida Jobs with Justice

Coal River Mountain Watch

Comite Civico Del Valle

Committee to Support the Antitrust Laws

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Consumers Union

Daily Kos

DMV EJ Coalition

Earthjustice

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Environmental Working Group

Farmworker Association of Florida

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings

IDARE LLC

Impact Fund

Louisiana Bucket Brigade

M&M Occupational Health and Safety Services

Martinez Environmental Group

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients)

National Consumers League

National Employment Lawyers Association

Natural Resources Defense Council

New Haven Legal Assistance Association

Ohio Citizen Action

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Oregon Environmental Council

Progressive Congress Action Fund

Protect All Children's Environment

Public Citizen

Public Justice Center

Public Law Center

RootsAction.org

Sierra Club

Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards

Texas Watch

The Workers' Rights Center

U.S. PIRG

Western New Council on Occupational Safety and Health

WisCOSH, Inc.

Workplace Fairness

Worksafe

Join Our Fight!

The Center for Justice & Democracy is the only national consumer organization in the country exclusively dedicated to protecting our civil justice system. If you'd like more information, please contact us.

Connect with us

CIVIL JUSTICE ISSUES IN YOUR STATE