CCL to Seek Further Review of Adverse Fourth Circuit First Amendment Decision

April 27th, 2022

     In Recht v. Morissey, the Fourth Circuit held today that West Virginia could ban lawyer advertising about drug and medical devices from truthful use of the word "recall," calling it a "loaded," "troublesome," and "misleading," as well as other provisions previously invalidated in a CCL case by a federal district court. CCL president Robert S. Peck pledged to seek rehearing en banc, describing the decision as inconsistent with Fourth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court precedent. 

     The decision accorded significant discretion to the state legislature, even though First Amendment precedent required the state to demonstrate that the problems it addressed were real, would be materially advanced by the chosen methods, and that no less extensive approach would suffice. The decision also upheld disclosure requirements that took up 30 seconds in a 30-second advertisement without providing any rationale for doing so. It also treated a requirement that lawyers tell viewers to consult their physician before discontinuing use of any medication, even when the advertising had nothing to do with medication. Such a requirement has no justification in such a case. It further treated that disclaimer as factual and uncontroversial, even though the district court termed it "medical advice."

     The petition for rehearing en banc is due May 11.

CCL President Participates in AAJ Legal Affairs Committee Meeting

April 22nd, 2022

     CCL President Robert S. Peck participated in the Spring 2022 meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee of the American Association for Justice, where he spoke about his recent argument in the Ohio Supreme Court in Brandt v. Pompa, a constitutional challenge to the damage cap applicable to personal-injury lawsuits.

      In Brandt, under a state statute, the trial court reduced a $20 million jury verdict to $250,000 where the plaintiff had been the victim, as an eleven- and twelve-year-old, of more than 30 sexual assaults by a friend's father, who had drugged her during sleepovers. Peck argued that the statute violated the state constitutional right to trial by jury, but also was unconstitutional as applied to Brandt because the legislature had no justification for treating her differently from those suffering permanent physical injuries, whose damages are not capped.

      The case, argued in late March, is currently under advisement, with a decision expected before the end of the year.

CCL Files Amicus Brief in Support of Delaware Jurisdictional Argument

April 21st, 2022

     In another case of government seeking compensation for Big Oil's misrepresentations about the impact of fossil fuels and its impact on sea levels and crumbling infrastructure, this time brought by the State of Delaware, the Third Circuit will determine whether the case belongs in state or federal court. CCL filed an amicus brief in support of the state's position on behalf of the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

     The briefing follows two decisions within the past week by the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, respectively, supporting Delaware's position. In its amicus brief, CCL argued that states and local government, just like any other plaintiff, have a right to choose the causes of action they seek to pursue and keep a case in state court by virtue of those choices. It further argued that federalism principles support the right of state and local governments to pursue compensation for injuries suffered from large, multinational corporations.

       The oil company defendants will have an opportunity to reply to the state's arguments, as well as its supporting amici, before setting the case for oral argument.

Ninth Circuit Holds Counties' Climate Change Case Belongs in State Court

April 19th, 2022

     Ruling just days after the Fourth Circuit held that Baltimore's lawsuit against Big Oil should return to state court, the Ninth Circuit similarly held that lawsuits brought by three California counties and one city belong in state court. CCL filed an amicus brief in the case supporting that result on behalf of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

      The ruling rejected various claims the oil companies' made that the lawsuit, framed in state law terms, actually asserted various federal causes of action that should be heard in federal court. In joining the Fourth Circuit and a prior similar ruling by the Tenth Circuit, the federal appellate court based in California agreed with its sister circuits that none of the claimed federal causes of action applied. 

       The amicus brief filed by CCL argued that the defendants' claims of federal jurisdiction were invalid, in part, because they had heavily and successfully lobbied against federal laws that might apply to climate change.

        The Baltimore case had returned to the Fourth Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the court had failed to address all the bases for federal jurisdiction asserted by Big Oil, based on its faulty understanding of a law that permitted interlocutory appeals of all bases for a remand order. The defendants are expected to seek further review in the Supreme Court of the new orders from various federal courts of appeals.

Blog Post Reflects on Judicial Nomination Hearings Gone Wrong

April 17th, 2022

      CCL President Robert S. Peck bemoaned the theater and lack of substance in the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court in an Appellate Advocacy blogpost.

       Reviewing some of the questions asked, Peck gave alternative "tongue-in-cheek" answers in place of the more appropriate ones given by Judge Jackson, who demonstrated an unflappable temperament in the face of exceedingly silly and posturing questions. The post can be found at "Tongue-in-Cheek Answers to Bizarre Questions."

CCL Argues Illinois Governor's COVID-Related Grant of Immunity Violates Constitution

April 6th, 2022

     In two separate cases, CCL replied today to state briefs defending the Illinois governor's authority to grant immunity to nursing homes that allegedly did nothing different than they normally do for "rendering assistance" to the state in the pandemic, pointing out that nothing in state law provides that type of extraordinary authority to the executive.

     The dispute arises in two cases in which nursing home residents died after the homes failed to take any relevant precautions to protect the residents from COVID-19. In seeking dismissal of negligence allegations against them, the homes' invoked a temporary executive order from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker that asked health-care providers to render assistance to the state's efforts to combat the pandemic and granted immunity from negligence liability in return.

      CCL argued that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act does not provide the authority claimed by the governor and does not allow him to unilaterally suspend the Illinois Nursing Home Reform Act, particularly where no assistance was rendered to the State. As a result, the grant of immunity violated separation of powers, equal protection, and due process. Moreover, it constitutes a form of special legislation by providing improper economic favoritism without justification.


Fourth Circuit Orders Return of Baltimore Climate-Change Case to State Court

April 6th, 2022

     In a unanimous 93-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered the return of Baltimore's climate-change case against Big Oil to state court. CCL filed an amicus brief in support of Baltimore on behalf of the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

      Baltimore sued oil companies for misrepresenting the environmental impact of fossil fuels, which has resulted in damage to the city's infrastructure. Seeking compensation for the damage, Baltimore filed suit under various state law causes of action in state court. The oil companies removed the case to federal court, claiming that the case actually sounds in federal law. When the district court ordered the case remanded to state court, the oil companies appealed, relying on a federal statute that permits interlocutory appeals when a defendant claims to be acting as a federal officer. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, finding that the oil companies were not federal agents, but the Supreme Court subsequently held that the Fourth Circuit also needed to address the oil companies' other grounds for removal. 

     Today's decision undertook that analysis and held that no grounds existed that would require submission of the case federal jurisdiction. The holding maintains a consistent position from federal courts of appeal that these types of cases are not federal in character.

Blog Post Discusses Influence of Politics in Appellate Decision-Making

April 3rd, 2022

     CCL President Robert S. Peck discussed the continuing impact of political outlooks on appellate decision-making in a post on the Appellate Advocacy Blog of the Law Professor's Blog Network.

     Even so, the theory of the law is that logic and reason control outcomes -- and usually it does, as evidenced by the frequency of 9-0 decisions on an ideologically diverse U.S. Supreme Court. However, on hot-button issues, where either a statute or the Constitution provides no singular answer, the post explains that judges imbue their decisions with the lessons of experience or past determinations that result in diverse views when reading the same language, precedents, and arguments. The post suggests that, while this type of political-outlook influence has always been true, the frequency of it seems to be increasing as the division of judicial philosophies often seem to reflect diverse political views.

     The post can be viewed at The Logic of the Courtroom, the Skewing Influence of Politics.

CCL Argues Diocese Cannot Determine for Itself the Discoverability of Documents

March 31st, 2022

     In a reply brief filed in a New York lawsuit, CCL argued that the Brooklyn Diocese cannot redact a full 18 pages of potential discovery on the grounds that the documents inform the Vatican of a priest's misconduct and should be protected by an imaginary "bishop workplace privilege." Instead, of permitting the religious authority to be the judge of its own discovery determinations, CCL argued for in-camera review and selective redactment because the documents apparently contained factual information about sexual misconduct by the priest at the heart of the case, J.D. v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

     In the case, CCL joined Janet, Janet & Suggs in representing the plaintiff on this discovery dispute. The Diocese argued that the First Amendment permits it to withhold documents that formed the basis for the Church's defrocking of a priest and internal religious governance. In the brief filed today, the Plaintiff disclaimed any interest in the church governance or the defrocking process, only relevant factual information about the priest's similar sexual misconduct over the years. The brief further argued that the First Amendment provides no shield against discovery of such information. 

     The court is expected to hold oral argument on the issue in May.

Peck Argues Rape Victims Suffer Life-Altering, Catastrophic Injuries and Capping their Damages Violates the Ohio Constitution

March 30th, 2022

     CCL President Robert S. Peck told justices of the Ohio Supreme Court that the cap on personal injury non-economic damages cannot constitutionally apply to a rape victim, arguing that the damage-cap statute is an unconstitutional violation of the state constitution's "inviolate" jury trial right and, alternatively, a violation of equal protection and due process as applied to this case.

     Plaintiff Amanda Brandt was sexually assaulted 34 times over a two-year period starting when she was 11, by the father of her best friend, who would spike her drinks to render her unconscious during sleepovers. When it was discovered that he had done so to her and others, he was prosecuted and is now serving a prison term.

     Now 26, after having withdrawn from being among crowds, losing her position as an honor student, becoming homeless, attempting suicide, and facing counseling for the rest of her life, Brandt sued her rapist winning a $20 million verdict for actions that took place while the cap was in effect, but seeing it reduced under the statute to $250,000.

      In arguing the case, Peck pointed out that the word "inviolate" is used three times in the Ohio Constitution. Twice it refers to private property rights, but then qualifies the right, allowing it to be "subservient to public welfare." The jury right is inviolate, however, without qualification, which he said means it is not subject to a balancing test against any state interest.

       Even if the Court were not prepared to overturn a precedent that it has recently filed but that the Attorney General conceded was irreconcilable with years of other precedents that were still good law, Peck told the justices that exceptions to the rule that treated as catastrophic a permanent scar, a lost finger, and other comparatively minor injuries, denied Brandt equal protection and due process for its irrationality. Moreover, the rationale for the cap -- assuring defendants predictability in verdicts and boosting the state economy -- had no bearing where the defendant is a rapist.

        The case is now under advisement with a decision expected later this year.