CCL's Peck Participates in ALI Remedies Meeting

October 29th, 2021

     In a member consultative group meeting on proposed changes to the Restatement of Law (Torts) on remedies, the American Law Institute is considering changes that both update and advance the law governing remedies in tort cases. The meeting, in which CCL's Robert S. Peck participated, reviewed the first initial draft of parts of the new Restatement.

CCL's Peck Speaks on MDL Issues

October 28th, 2021

     On a luncheon panel sponsored by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice and the Feinberg Center Risk Management and Compensation, CCL President Robert Peck suggested that new procedural rules for cases assigned by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation were not needed, but that some rethinking of the system would help.

     Peck was joined on the panel by University of Connecticut law professor Alexandra Lahav, experienced plaintiffs' MDL attorney Christopher Seegar, Bayer general counsel Scott Partridge, and U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti.

     The panel was organized around the theme of when is an MDL too big. MDLs now constitute more than half the federal docket, in large measure filling a void left by new decisions that discourage the use of class actions. Recent MDLs in the news include lawsuits over opioids, Roundup weed killer, and the BP oil spill.

     While Partridge bemoaned the size of the cases, calling it "bet-the-company" litigation, Seegar advocated allowing some creativity in reaching solutions, giving the example of his work in the NFL concussion litigation. Peck suggested greater use of subclasses and additional judges when MDLs get bogged down due to size and a single presiding judge, as well as recognition of opportunities to allow individualized justice in the context of the aggregation of cases.

     The MDL system was originally intended to clear out common pretrial issues efficiently, but has developed into a means of disposing of the mass of litigation through settlement. Professor Lahav said this was a function of the concept that, if you build it, they will come.

Peck Posts Thoughts on Qualified Immunity

October 24th, 2021

     In his most recent contribution to the Appellate Advocacy Blog, CCL President Robert S. Peck posted a discussion entitled "Qualifying Qualifying Immunity." The blog post discusses two recent U.S. Supreme Court per curiam decisions reinstating qualifying immunity for police officers, as well as CCL's experience with the judge-made doctrine. 

     Despite its long existence, the doctrine of qualifying immunity continues to have uneven application, especially between circuits, and applications that can fairly be described as insensible.

Federal Court Holds Prep Act Does Not Apply to the Non-Use of Countermeasures, Remands Case to State Court

October 22nd, 2021

     In a case in which CCL assisted the Levin Perconti law firm, a federal judge in Illinois granted the plaintiffs' motion to remand the case to state court where the defendant nursing home had removed it to federal court. Martin v. Petersen Health was brought on behalf of a nursing home resident who died as a result of exposure to COVID-19. The defendant removed the case to federal court, claiming that it was acting on behalf of the federal government and that the federal PREP Act completely preempted the cause of action.

     In rejecting both claims, the federal court found that nursing homes were highly regulated but under Supreme Court precedent the homes cannot claim to be operating at the direction of a federal officer by complying with regulations. It further held that the PREP Act provides an exclusive remedy in federal court in Washington, DC for lawsuits based on the administration or use of approved countermeasures during a national health emergency. However, it does not provide a defense for the non-use of those countermeasures, as plaintiffs had pleaded. The court ordered the case returned to state court, where the defendant was free to assert any federal defenses it might have.

CCL Files Opening Brief in Texas Cap Challenge

October 20th, 2021

     In a federal constitutional challenge to the Texas damage cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, CCL filed its opening brief, arguing that the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was overdue for application to the States and invalidates the statutory limit on damages. 

     Under the Incorporation Doctrine, the Supreme Court has applied selective provisions of the Bill of Rights to the States, starting with the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause in 1925. The pace of incorporation quickened in the 1960s under the Warren Court, but then fell into a period of stasis. However, over the past ten years, the Supreme Court has rediscovered incorporation, starting with gun rights under the Second Amendment. Recent decisions have seen incorporation of the Excessive Fines Clause from the Eighth Amendment and application of the unanimous criminal jury verdict provision in the Sixth Amendment.

      One provision that the Court has not addressed in more than a century is the Seventh Amendment, which preserves the right to a jury trial in civil cases. The CCL brief demonstrates that the Seventh Amendment meets the criteria for incorporation, perhaps more urgently than other provisions.

       The Seventh Amendment establishes that juries are the judges of damages. A legislative revision of its assessment of damages, the brief further argues, interferes with the jury's prerogatives as established at common law prior to the promulgation of the Constitution. The Seventh Amendment constitutionalizes that authority and immunizes it from legislative interference, the brief further contends.

        Simultaneous opposing briefs were filed by the Texas Attorney General, defendant health-care providers, and the Texas Hospital Association. All parties have until December 3 to file reply briefs. The case, Winnett v. Frank, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.