Peck Argues Products Liability Case in Second Circuit

October 1st, 2012

On October 1, CCL’s Robert Peck argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit should uphold the liability and damages awarded to Vito Saladino in a products liability action. Saladino, who worked for American Airlines in loading and unloading baggage at JFK airport in New York, was catastrophically injured and rendered a quadriplegic when the hood of the baggage tractor in which he was a passenger flipped up and hit him in the head. He sued the tractor’s manufacturer, which then sued American Airlines. A jury assigned 30 percent responsibility to the manufacturer and 70 percent responsibility to the airlines and awarded damages of $40 million. In the appeal, Saladino v. Stewart and Stevenson Services, Inc., the defendants raise questions about whether the jury inappropriately required a warning about the likelihood that the hood on this manufacturer’s vehicle, unlike that of 96 other tractors from other manufacturers used by American Airlines, had hinges that permitted the hood to breach the passenger compartment, whether substantial alterations to the vehicle absolved the manufacturer of responsibility, whether Mr. Saladino was a knowledgeable user who did not need to be warned about the hood, and whether the damages awarded were excessive. The case is under advisement.

Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Icicle Seafoods, Inc. v. Clausen

October 1st, 2012

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari in Icicle Seafoods, Inc. v. Clausen, thereby letting a $1.3 million punitive damage award stand. CCL’s Robert Peck represented Dana Clausen, an engineer injured on an Icicle Seafoods’ Bering Star vessel based in Alaska, before the Supreme Court. Under ancient maritime law, the owner of the vessel is responsible for “maintenance and cure,” the admiralty equivalent of workers compensation. After Icicle Seafoods failed to discharge this obligation and falsely filed for injunctive relief against Clausen in federal court to get out of its obligation, Clausen brought suit in Washington state court. A jury awarded Clausen and $37,420 for wrongfully withheld maintenance and cure, $453,100 for negligence under the Jones Act, and $387,558.00 in attorney fees and $40,547.57 in costs. In addition, the jury found Icicle’s misconduct warranted $1.3 million in punitive damages. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the award in all respects. Icicle then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, claiming that the punitive damages were unconstitutionally excessive and should have been limited to a 1:1 ratio with the maintenance and cure compensation of $37,420. The Court’s denial of the petition allowed the full award to stand.

A report on the case can be found at SCOTUS Blog and California Punitive Damages, An Exemplary Blog.

Peck Reviews Upcoming SCOTUS Term on Capitol Hill

September 28th, 2012

CCL’s Robert Peck spoke to the congressional Civil Justice Caucus about some of the cases raising issues of civil justice in the upcoming Supreme Court term on September 28. The session, held in the Rayburn House Office Building, focused on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case involving whether U.S. courts could exercise jurisdiction over human rights abuses that took place in Nigeria against plaintiffs who had now been granted political asylum in the United States, as well as a quartet of class action issues raised in Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Comcast v. Behrend, Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, and The Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles. Debating the significance and likely outcomes of the cases with Mr. Peck was Victor Schwartz, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon and general counsel of the American Tort Reform Association.

CCL Argues In Maryland’s Highest Court

September 10th, 2012

CCL’s John Vail, at oral argument, urged the Maryland Court of Appealsto abolish the common-law doctrine of contributory negligence and adopt comparative negligence. “The doctrine [of contributory negligence] is not justice. This Court’s failure to act will perpetuate the injustice,” Vail told the Court of Appeals, according to a report in the Maryland Daily Caller. The Maryland Daily Caller described the oral argument as “an extraordinary session that lasted nearly two hours.”

The case is Coleman v. Maryland Soccer Association, No. 9 (Md. 2012).

Victory In Constitutional Challenge To Louisiana Law Restricting Compensation for Harm

September 9th, 2012

A trial court in Louisiana has ruled that Louisiana law limiting non-economic damages recoverable in medical malpractice cases violates the Louisiana Constitution. The case is Arrington v. Galen-Med, Inc., No. No. 97-4329, Div-B. CCL’s Valerie M. Nannery assisted with briefing in the trial court, and presented oral argument as well.

Victory in ERISA Reimbursement Case in Eighth Circuit

September 7th, 2012

ERISA does not allow a plan to impose an equitable lien on settlement funds that are not in a law firm's possession, the federal Eighth Circuit ruled today. The unanimous decision marks another win in ERISA litigation for CCL, which represented a plaintiff’s firm in litigation against an ERISA plan. The ERISA plan argued that the law firm was itself responsible for reimbursing the plan for medical expenses incurred by an ERISA beneficiary, which was a client of the law firm. But the court of appeals, like the district court before it, rejected that argument. The court of appeals also affirmed an award of attorneys’ fees in favor of the plaintiffs’ firm.

CCL’s Jeffrey White was lead appellate counsel for the law firm in this appeal, Trustees of Drury Indus., Inc v. Goding, No. 11-2885 (8th Cir. Sep. 7, 2012).

ERISA Victory in the Seventh Circuit

August 21st, 2012

A federal appeals court has vacated an injunction issued by a district court against an attorney and his clients which had barred them from pursuing an Illinois state court claim against an employee health and welfare benefit plan governed ERISA. The unanimous panel agreed with CCL, which represented the attorney on appeal, that the injunction barring the state-court suit did not qualify under an exception to the Anti-Injunction Act and thus was improper. The decision suggests a path for seeking a fair share of fees under the equitable “common-fund” doctrine in state court litigation.

CCL’s Robert S. Peck was lead appellate counsel in the case. With him on the briefs was Jeffrey White. The case is Trustees of the Carpenters’ Health & Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis v. Darr, Nos. 10-1682, 10-1793 & 10-2579 (7th Cir. Aug. 21, 2012).

Victory in Missouri Supreme Court

July 31st, 2012

In Watts v. Lester Cox Medical Center, the Missouri Supreme Court held that a law limiting compensation for non-economic harm violated the right of trial by jury under the Missouri Constitution. The Court also overruled a 20-year-old precedent that had reached the opposite conclusion. In addition, the Court ruled that the trial court abused its discretion in adopting a periodic payment schedule for future medical damages that failed to assure full recovery.

CCL’s Andre M. Mura was lead appellate counsel for the plaintiffs in this case.

AMA News, Media Matters, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch have coverage of the decision.

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Review of $270 Million Class Action Verdict After Staying State Court Proceedings

June 27th, 2012

The Supreme Court has denied review in Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Jackson, 131 S. Ct. 3057 (2011), after Justice Scalia first issued an order blocking the verdict for plaintiffs from going into effect. With the denial of review, the stay order has lifted. No dissents issued from the denial.

SCOTUSblog has coverage of the denial here, which begins: “An effort by four major tobacco companies to nullify a $270 million program to encourage Louisiana smokers to quit ended quietly in the Supreme Court Monday, as the Justices simply denied review and passed up a chance to clarify the constitutional status of controversial class-action lawsuits. That denial was perhaps the highest-visibility order on a lengthy closing-day list that included 11 new grants[.]”

Petitioners’ counsel included Mr. Alan E. Untereiner of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck,

Untereiner & Sauber LLP; Mr. Paul Clement of Bancroft LLP; and Mr. Miguel Estrada of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. CCL’s Robert S. Peck and Andre M. Mura represented the respondents.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd. v. Nicastro

June 27th, 2012

The Supreme Court issued a splintered 4-2-3 decision in this (specific) personal jurisdiction case, J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd. v. Nicastro, 131 S. Ct. 2780 (2011)—the first decision to address this issue in a quarter century. CCL’s John Vail, Andre M. Mura, and Valerie M. Nannery represented the respondent. The ABA Journal has initial coverage.