U.S. Chamber Warns That Cities Are Litigating Too Much

Bloomberg Law
Thursday, March 7, 2019

State legislatures should limit or stop the burgeoning trend of cities and counties hiring outside counsel to litigate everything from opioid addiction costs to environmental contamination, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said March 6.

The report by the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform proposes modifications of state laws to curb nuisance suits—a vehicle commonly used by municipalities to hail corporations into court—and enhanced immunity from such lawsuits.

Lawsuits by local governments can be attractive to cities and counties because litigation can supply financial streams not available from tight state budgets. But such complaints are counter-productive because they usurp the powers of state attorneys general and limit global settlements, the report states.…

But Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy Democracy in New York, dismissed the report as a move to cut off access to the courts to limit corporate accountability.

“Lawsuits by cities and counties, which target corrupt or illegal corporate practices, can prevent and mitigate substantial harm, recoup for taxpayers significant costs caused by corporate law-breaking, and fill large voids caused by otherwise ineffective or weak public protections,” she said.

The center, based at New York Law School, advocates against restrictions on civil litigation and the right to jury trials.

Recovering Costs

Many municipalities caught up in the nationwide current wave of opioid addiction lawsuits also cite their long-standing authority to bring such suits, affirmed in similar litigation brought against tobacco companies decades ago.

They also contend they bear the substantial front-line costs of the epidemic, including first responders and medical examiners who must deal with rising overdoses and deaths in their communities.

The lawsuits, they say, are a way for cities and towns to ensure that recoveries go back to them, unfiltered by state budgetary policy choices.

“Contingency fee arrangements make it possible for underfunded and understaffed local offices to bring litigation that is too large, complex, and expensive for a city to bring on its own,” Doroshow said, adding that corporations can have virtually limitless resources by comparison.

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