Statement of Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director, Center for Justice & Democracy
On House Passage Of Anti-Civil Justice Legislation
New York – On March 9, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives began the shameful process of trying to rig our courts against everyday Americans. We strongly condemn passage of H.R. 985, the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act,” and H.R. 725, the “Innocent Party Protection Act” on March 9. Each bill passed without any Democratic support and with noteworthy bi-partisan opposition to both bills. We also strongly condemn passage of H.R. 720, the "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act" on March 10. This bill passed almost entirely on party lines.
H.R. 985 would destroy class actions and greatly harm asbestos victims. In a series of letters to the House, well over 100 national and state organizations expressed strong opposition to this legislation, including a broad array of prominent consumer, civil rights, church, immigration, labor, environmental, health, food and product safety, employment, housing, senior citizen, children’s, low-income, and veteran organizations, among others.
This legislation would end nearly all class action lawsuits, which are brought when a company practices a pattern of discrimination or receives a large windfall through small injuries to large numbers of people. Because class actions allow people to band together to challenge wrongdoing, they are among the most important ways harmed, cheated and violated individuals have to hold large corporations accountable. This legislation would wipe out one of the most important tools for justice in America.
H.R. 985 would also delay compensation to dying asbestos victims for no reason, ensuring that many victims will die before families are compensated. It would also require the posting of private information about their lives on public websites, making them vulnerable to crooks and identity thieves. The asbestos industry lied for decades about the harm caused by asbestos, fought against liability for the harms caused, and, to this day, fights against banning asbestos in the United States. This toxin still kills up to 15,000 Americans each year. H.R. 985 is nothing but another industry attempt to torment victims and avoid responsibility for the grave harms they have caused.
H.R. 725 allows corporations to force state cases into federal court that have no business being there. This bill is nothing more than corporate forum-shopping legislation. It bosses around and micromanages federal judges for absolutely no reason. It will add time, expense and enormous inconvenience to everyday people who bring cases in local courthouses, only to find themselves in federal court. That is why 60 consumer, environmental, labor, civil rights and a range of other groups asked the House to vote against H.R. 725.
H.R. 720 would change federal rules to take power and authority away from judges. It would do so by removing all discretion currently provided to judges who are considering whether to sanction a frivolous claim or defense. In other words, sanctions would be mandatory. But this bill is not about frivolous lawsuits. It is about stopping legitimate cases against companies that harm people. We know this because this absurd rule was tried once before. Based on its well-documented impact, it was rescinded after near universal criticism. The rule had a chilling effect on the filing of meritorious civil rights, employment, environmental, and consumer cases and burdened the already strained federal court system with satellite litigation over compliance with the rule.
These are ridiculous bills, as is the other anti-civil justice bill soon to be considered by the House, all of which were written in back rooms without the benefit of a single hearing. They take away important rights that we have under federal and state law. No voters sent politicians to Washington to do that.