Class Action Restriction Bills Passed by House

By Emily Cox
Class Action
Photo by Joey Gannon

Washington, DC — Despite Democratic objections that class action restrictions would hurt the public’s ability to hold corporations accountable, the House of Representatives passed a pair of bills Thursday to make it harder to bring class actions and keep suits in state courts.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 and Innocent Party Protection Act radically limit the scope for class actions, while expanding the scope for finding fraudulent joinder in suits.

Republicans claim these bills will adjust the balance between “abusive plaintiffs” and “innocent defendants.” However, Democrats argue the bills are designed to protect corporate wrongdoers by making it harder for victims to band together. Democrats allege that these bills would make it almost impossible for victims injured by consumer rip-off, fault product design, and pharmaceutical drug mistakes, as well as lead and asbestos poisoning to bring class-action lawsuits.

“I oppose these misguided legislations, because it sends another huge valentine and wet kiss to large corporate polluters and tort-feasors but gives the finger to millions of American citizens who suffer injuries from these defendants,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) said.

Democrats are joined by a large group of legal, environmental, disability, labor, civil rights, and consumer protection organizations in their opposition. They claim the bills would limit the ability to join a class action suit against defendants with exponentially greater resources.

“Christmas has certainly come early for corporate-America,” said Teddy Basham-Witherington, a spokesman for The Impact Fund, a nonprofit public interest law organization.

He went on to that, if passed, the class action restriction bills would “restrict ordinary people from accessing justice, emboldening the worst actors in corporate America.”

Class Action Restriction Bill (H.R. 985)

The class action bill would require plaintiffs to prove potential members have the same type and scope of injury. It also requires asbestos trusts to make details of trust claimants public.

“This doesn’t formally abolish the class-action mechanism,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said. “It’s not the guillotine, but it’s a straight jacket.”

Opponents also argue that the bill provides easy access to asbestos victims’ personal information for scam artists, employers, potential insurers, and debt collectors to potentially exploit.

The bill’s predecessor, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1927), passed the House but was not even considered by the Senate. According to opponents, this bill was far less damaging than the current legislation. Basham-Witherington described the new bill as “H.R. 1927 on steroids.”

Innocent Party Protection Act

This bill would prevent attorneys from adding defendants to a lawsuit to keep the case in state court. Democrats like Jerrold Nadler (NY) feel that it gives corporations another tool to transfer suits to corporate-friendly federal courts.

“The preliminary determination of jurisdiction would become a baseless time-consuming mini-trial before a second trial on the merits,” Nadler said. “While large corporations can accommodate such costs, injured workers, and parents cannot.”

Take Justice Back

The American Association for Justice has established a movement to help individuals take a stand against class action restriction. Take Justice Back has numerous websites to help people act against this unconstitutional legislation.

 

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