A Message from the Director
King of Torts
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Federal Government Relations
Trial-Lawyer Tax Break
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Watch and listen to Jim Copland present his new report
online and listen to special guests Senator Jeff
Sessions, Rep. Lamar Smith, Victor Schwartz, and Edwin
Meese give their remarks on the report.
PRESS RELEASE >>
to Howard Husock, Vice President for Policy Research
at the Manhattan Institute, interview Jim Copland on
Trial Lawyers Inc.: K Street
Lawyers' Lies and
the Lying Lawyers Who Tell Them, James Copland Townhall.com, 02-23-10
Trial Lawyers Still Love Specter, James Copland,
Lawyers: Democrats' Other Money Machine, James Copland,
Washington Examiner, February 10, 2010
the Plaintiffs Bar Bought the Senate, Wall Street
Journal, James Copland, 02-09-10
Why Liberals Are Lawyers' Puppets, The
Washington Times, 2-17-10
KOA's "The Mike Rosen Show"
Blog Talk Radio's "Take AIM"
Bill Cunningham Show"
with Vicki McKenna"
Talk Radio Network's "America's
WBAL's "C4 Show"
Radio Free Washington
WVON's "The Charles Butler
WBT's "The Tara Servatius
Fox News "Strategy Room"
U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin
(D-Trial Lawyers), The Madison St. Clair Record, 2-21-10
Plaintiffs Bar Buys the Senate,
John Stossel, Fox Business, 2-9-10
Group Rates Trial Bar as Most Influential, The
Not Tort Reform?, Waterbury Republican American,
Litigation Lobby, Revealed, Shopfloor.com,
Bar Buys the Senate John Stossel, Fox Business,
Institute Probes Lobbying Efforts of Lawyers, John
O'Brien, Legal Newsline, 2-9-10
Criticizes Influence of Plaintiffs' Lawyers, David
Ingram, Blog of the Legal Times, 2-9-10
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: EXPANDING LIABILITY
SUE YOU, SUE ME
Congress Is Working to Undo Limits on How, When, and Whom Lawyers Can Sue
Until recently, the main purpose of Trial Lawyers, Inc.s involvement
in federal politics was to block reform legislation that would deny it various
lucrative lines of business. In 1995, for example, Bill Clinton, an ally of
trial lawyers, vetoed the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA),
which was designed to stop class action strike suits against companies
whenever their stocks price sharply declined. But Congress overrode the
veto, and the new law has helped improve the securities
When, in 1996, Congress tried to pass a product-liability law designed to curb
frivolous suits by limiting punitive damages, it, too, met with a Clinton veto,
even though he had supported such legislation as governor of Arkansas.
This time, however, Congress lacked the votes to override.
Clintons successor, George W. Bush, was a president friendly to litigation
reform: as governor of Texas, he had successfully steered comprehensive tort
reform through the Texas Legislature. But with one
exception, he was unable to get traction against the lawyer lobbys Washington
power, which doomed his efforts to reform medical-malpractice law by imposing
national caps on damages, as it did his efforts to
shift thousands of questionable, if not fraudulent, asbestos claims out of the
courts and into an administrative system. Bushs
one success was the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA),
which prevented plaintiffs lawyers from shopping large, national
class actions to the most lawsuit-friendly jurisdictions in the country by allowing
defendants to remove them to federal court.
the Democratic Party currently controlling both Congress and the White House,
the litigation industry is taking a somewhat different tack. No longer satisfied
with fending off efforts to reform lawsuit abuse, the plaintiffs bar is
now actively seeking to expand its business opportunities. One of the bills
backed by Trial Lawyers, Inc.the first passed by the new Congressextends
the time that plaintiffs have to file suit, allowing attorneys to dredge up
long-dormant claims. Other legislation would facilitate
legal fishing expeditions by permitting claims to go forward that
rested upon the shakiest of allegations. Still other
proposed acts of Congress would expand the universe of parties that plaintiffs
can sue. One of them would lift a prohibition against
suing the government itself, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.
Led by Ledbetter
Perhaps the clearest evidence of Congresss new penchant for generating
litigation is the transformation of Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee at a
Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama, into a Democratic
symbol of victimization by corporations. Invited to speak on the second night
of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, right before keynote speaker Mark
Warner, the former governor of Virginia, Ledbetter
was the subject of a 2007 decision by a divided U.S. Supreme Court that denied
her sex-discrimination claim against her former employer on the grounds that
she had filed her complaint too late. The Ledbetter
decision prompted a media outcryInjustice 5, Justice 4 declared
a New York Times editorialand then-candidate
Barack Obama adopted Ledbetters cause as his own.
DEPUTIZING TRIAL LAWYERS
Of the legislative gifts that Congress has bestowed on Trial Lawyers,
Inc., one of the most bounteous is the rightinscribed in qui tam,
or whistle-blower statutesto police frauds allegedly
committed against the federal government. After the False Claims Act (FCA),
enacted in 1863, was expanded in 1986, it became
big business for the plaintiffs bar. Since then, whistle-blower
actions have produced more than $20 billion in claim payments.
The qui tam provisions of the FCA permit private attorneys representing
whistle-blowers to obtain damages, on the governments behalf, of
three times the amount of money lost in the alleged fraud. The whistle-blower
and his attorney can collect up to 30 percent of these sums.
The resulting windfalls can total tens of millions of dollars.
of the potential for abuse of such statutes, the courts have worked to
limit their reach by insisting that the targets of fraud suits actually
intended to defraud the governmentas the U.S. Supreme Court did
in its unanimous 2008 decision in Allison Engine Co. v. United States.
The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009,
signed into law in May 2009, overturns Allison Engine, even with
respect to those cases that stem from conduct that occurred before the
acts passage. The new law dramatically expands the plaintiffs
bars reach in qui tam suits by allowing lawyers to go after subcontractors
to businesses that do government work, though they never worked directly
for the government themselves or intended to commit fraud.
The bills sponsor, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy
(D-Vt.), has received more than twice as much money from lawyers since
2005 as he has from any other industry, and those donations overwhelmingly
come from the plaintiffs bar. Two of Leahys
top four donors are California plaintiffs firmstoxic-tort
giant Girardi & Keese and personal-injury powerhouse Cotchett, Pitre
& McCarthyand hes also received hefty sums from the American
Association for Justice, the political action committee of the plaintiffs
An even more audacious power grab for Trial Lawyers, Inc.s qui
tam business was attempted by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) during the markup
of health-care reform legislation in the House. Doggett tried to insert
language into the bill that would allow suits involving Medicare to be
filed on behalf of the U.S. government, even when it objected. Fortunately,
Republicans on the committee insisted on removing the provision.
Like Leahy, Doggett received campaign contributions from lawyers in this
electoral cycle that were at least double those from any other industry,
his largest donor being Nix, Patterson & Roach, the giant Texas asbestos-litigation
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed the Supreme Courts decision,
and made that reversal retroactive to the day before the decision was issued,
became law in January 2009. It was the first piece
of legislation signed by the new president, who proclaimed that Ledbetter was
just a good hard worker who did her job . . . for nearly two decades before
discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing
the very same work.
The presidents statementlike most media accounts of the caseis
simply false. In fact, Ledbetter admitted in deposition testimony that [d]ifferent
people that I worked for along the way had always told me that my pay was extremely
low relative to the pay of other workers. Ledbetter
further noted that she had learned from a superior of a pay discrepancy in 1992,
some six years before taking early retirement and filing her lawsuit;
and that she had learned the specific amount she was underpaid in 1995, three
years before filing, at which time she complained that she needed to earn
an increase in pay . . . to get in line with where my peers were.
In determining that Ledbetters claim was filed outside the six-month
statute of limitations specified by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,
the Supreme Court noted that Ledbetter had failed to argue that the statute
of limitations should have started running only after she learned of her injury,
an equitable tolling rule long recognized in other contexts by the
Court. The Courts decision also emphasized that
Ledbetter might have had a valid discrimination claim under another statutethe
Equal Pay Actthat has a longer statute of limitations.
Thus, Ledbetter probably did have some legal recourse, notwithstanding her failure
to sue earlierand the fact that her former supervisor, a key witness in
the case, had died while she delayed in pursuing her claim.
Politicians under the sway of Trial Lawyers, Inc., however, were undeterred
by these facts. The law enacted in Ledbetters name could have clarified
the period in which a Title VII suit can be filed by stating that it would start
only upon discovery of the alleged discrimination, a rule that would not have
been in conflict with the Courts actual decision. Instead, the first act
of the 111th Congress gutted the statute of limitations in pay-discrimination
claims entirely. It now effectively allows potential plaintiffs to wait years
before suing, as paycheck after insufficient paycheck piles up, adding to the
damages that can be claimed and forcing employers to maintain old employment
records indefinitely. Moreover, the new law dramatically
expands the class of potential litigants in such suits by changing the long-standing
rule that a claimant had to be an actual victim of discrimination; the new law
states that anyone affected by the discrimination being alleged
In addition to extending the period in which employees may file pay-discrimination
claims, the new Congress is considering legislation that would make it dramatically
easier to file suits across the board. As noted earlier,
the 1938 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure abolished traditional pleading requirements
for filing a civil lawsuit and implemented a system of notice pleading
whereby a litigant merely has to place a defendant on notice of
being sued and of the factual and legal claims against him.
Notice pleading, combined with new, liberal discovery rules that enabled plaintiffs
lawyers to demand essentially any document or file that might be remotely relevant
to a lawsuit, licensed fishing expeditions
in federal courts: plaintiffs could file first, seek documents at defendants
expense, and determine whether they actually had a case once the documents came
In recent years, the Supreme Court has tried to place outer boundaries on these
expeditions. In a 2007 case, Bell Atlantic v. Twombly,
plaintiffs lawyers filed a class action alleging that local telephone
companies had conspired to restrain trade in violation of the antitrust laws.
The Court determined that the plaintiffs allegations, even if true, could
not sustain a valid claim because the plaintiffs did not allege enough
factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made among
the phone companiesa legal requirement for finding such an antitrust violation.
The new Congress is considering legislation that would make it dramatically
easier to file suits across the board.
In May 2009, the Supreme Court considered another case, Iqbal v. Ashcroft,
in which a Pakistani Muslim detained after the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks alleged that he had been mistreated while in custody. Iqbals lawsuit
targeted various federal officials, including the attorney general of the United
States and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Court determined
that Iqbals complaint was insufficient to support a claim under Twombly,
since the legal standard required proof of intentional discrimination by the
individuals named, who would have had to be driven by animus toward the plaintiff,
and Iqbal alleged no facts that would permit even an inference of discriminatory
Needless to say, Twombly and Iqbal, though cases of limited applicability,
sent shock waves through the plaintiffs bar by threatening to imperil
lawyers strategy of launching fishing expeditions. To fix
this problem, Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specterwhose son Shanin is a
major Philadelphia plaintiffs lawyer and a vocal public critic of tort
reformintroduced a bill, the Notice Pleading
Restoration Act of 2009, which would overturn the
Supreme Courts decisions in Twombly and Iqbal. Even critics
of those decisions, however, have noted that Specters poorly drafted bill
would likely interfere with statutory pleading requirements well beyond the
scope of the Courts recent decisions.
Specter has not limited himself to protecting Trial Lawyers, Inc.s fishing
license; he has also been working hard to ensure that plaintiffs lawyers
can cast their lines in new waters. Notwithstanding stricter rules imposed on
securities suits by the 1995 PSLRA and the kickback
conspiracy convictions that put the two most prominent securities class action
attorneys, Mel Weiss and Bill Lerach, in federal prison,
recent financial crisesthe bursting of the dot-com bubble, the subprime-mortgage
debacle, and the subsequent collapse of major financial institutionshave
left ample opportunity for the securities litigation industry to thrive).
In 2008, however, the Supreme Court decided not to extend the judicially created
right to sue over alleged securities fraud to plaintiffs suing third
parties. In that case, Stoneridge v. Scientific
Atlanta, the Court considered a class action filed by the stockholders of
a cable company that had inflated its books. However, their suit was not against
the cable company itself but rather its vendors. The Court noted there was no
evidence that Congress intended to authorize private securities litigation against
third parties under an aiding and abetting liability theory and
that doing so would expose a new class of defendants to litigation
risks, raise the costs of doing business, deter [o]verseas
firms . . . from doing business here, raise the cost of being a
publicly traded company under our law, and shift securities offerings
away from domestic capital markets.
securities class actions do little more than arbitrarily shift dollars from
one group of shareholders to another. In such suits, one group of shareholders,
which bought or sold shares in a given time period, sues the company whose shares
they own. Unfortunately, suing the company means essentially suing all the other
shareholders. Generally speaking, then, small, diversified shareholders, who
are about as likely to be holders as buyers of any given security, particularly
if they are invested in pension or mutual funds, are also as likely to be defendants
as plaintiffs in such litigation. In addition to failing
to compensate the victims of a successfully executed fraud, securities class
actions are ineffective at deterring fraud, since research shows that securities
class actions settlement values are unrelated to the merits of the underlying
cases. Securities lawsuits, therefore, serve mainly
to enrich the plaintiffs bar by extracting massive settlements from companies
experiencing stock-price turbulence.
Nevertheless, last summer Senator Specter introduced the Liability for Aiding
and Abetting Securities Violations Act of 2009, which
would overturn Stoneridge and create an explicit, open-ended private
right of action against anyone who provided substantial assistance
to anyone else guilty of violating any rule or regulation under
any of the vast number of securities laws. Specters
bill would go far beyond the narrow facts of the Stoneridge case to create a
whole new class of securities class action defendantsand a whole new spectrum
of legal shakedown opportunities for Trial Lawyers, Inc.
section | next section>>
159. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-67,
109 Stat. 737 (1995).
160. See Doug Abrahms, Veto Override Makes High-Tech Firms Happy,
Wash. Times, Dec. 23, 1995, at A13.
161. See, e.g., Marilyn F. Johnson et al., Do the Merits Matter More?
The Impact of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, 23 J.L. Econ.
& Org. 627 (2002).
162. See Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996, H.R.
956, 104th Cong. (1996) (vetoed May 2, 1996).
163. See Pamela Becker, Congress and States Take Action on Tort Reform,
Mechanical Engineering, Apr. 1, 1995.
164. See, e.g., H.B. 668, 75th Legis., Gen. Sess. (1995) (codified as
Tex. Bus. & Com. Code art. 17.42-.50 (2008)) (deceptive trade practices);
H.B. 971, 75th Legis., Gen. Sess. (1995) (codified as Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. art.
4590i) (medical malpractice and expert witness qualifications); S.B. 25, 75th
Legis., Gen. Sess. (1995) (codified as Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code art.
41) (punitive damages); S.B. 28, 75th Legis., Gen. Sess. (1995) (codified as
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code art. 33, 95) (joint and several liability and
premises liability); S.B. 32, 75th Legis., Gen. Sess. (1995) (codified as Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code art. 15 ) (venue).
165. Cf. Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act,
H.R. 534, 109th Cong. (2005).
166. Cf. Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, S. 3274, 109th Cong.
167. S. 5, 109th Cong. (2005) (codified as 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d), 1453,
168. See Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, S. 181, 111th Cong. (2009)
169. See Notice Pleading Restoration Act of 2009, S. 1504, 111th Cong.
170. See Liability for Aiding and Abetting Securities Violations Act
of 2009, S. 1551, 111th Cong. (2009).
171. See Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Liability Act of 2009, H.R.
1478, 111th Cong. (2009).
172. Cf. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007),
superseded by statute, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L.
No. 111-2,123 Stat. 5 (2009).
173. See Posting of Carter Wood to PointofLaw.com, http://www.pointoflaw.com/archives/2008/08/lilly-ledbetter.php
(Aug. 26, 2008 10:32 EDT).
174. See 550 U.S. at 628-29.
175. Editorial, Injustice 5, Justice 4, N.Y. Times, May 31, 2007.
176. See Stephanie Mencimer, Lilly Ledbetter: Obamas Newest
Ad Star, Mother Jones, Sept. 23, 2008.
177. See Pub. L. No. 111-2, § 5 (This Act, and the amendments
made by this Act, take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007 . . . .).
178. Obama Signs Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, USA Today,
Jan. 29, 2009, available at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2009/01/62099146/1.
179. Joint Appendix at 233, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550
U.S. 618 (2007) (No. 05-1074), available at http://www.lawmemo.com/docs/us/ledbetter/appendix.pdf.
180. See id.
181. Id. at 231-32.
182. The Supreme Court first recognized the equitable tolling doctrine in Bailey
v. Glover, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 342, 348 (1874).
183. See 550 U.S. at 639-40 & n.9 (Ledbetter originally asserted
an EPA claim, but that claim was dismissed by the District Court and is not
before us. If Ledbetter had pursued her EPA claim, she would not face the Title
VII obstacles that she now confronts.).
184. See id. at 630-31 n.4 (Ledbetters claims of sex discrimination
turned principally on the misconduct of a single Goodyear supervisor, who, Ledbetter
testified, retaliated against her when she rejected his sexual advances during
the early 1980s, and did so again in the mid-1990s when he falsified
deficiency reports about her work. . . . Yet, by the time of trial, this supervisor
had died and therefore could not testify. A timely charge might have permitted
his evidence to be weighed contemporaneously.).
185. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e5(e)(3)(A) (2008).
186. See id.
187. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
188. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, 34.
189. See, e.g., United States v. AT&T Co., 461 F. Supp. 1314,
1341 (D.D.C. 1978) (If the purposes of the Rules, and of pretrial discovery
generally are to be effectuated, actual discovery must be expected to be somewhat
of a fishing expedition . . . .).
190. 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
191. See id. at 553.
192. 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009).
193. See id. at 1951.
194. See Larry Rulison, Lawyers, Malpractice and Money, Philadelphia
Bus. J., June 11, 2004, available at http://philadelphia.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2004/06/14/story1.html.
195. S. 1504, 111th Cong. (2009).
196. See Michael C. Dorf, Should Congress Change the Standard for
Dismissing a Federal Lawsuit?, Findlaw.Com, July 29, 2009, http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dorf/20090729.html.
197. See Pub. L. No. 104-67, 109 Stat. 737 (1995).
198. See Jonathan D. Glater, High-Profile Trial Lawyer Agrees to Guilty
Plea, N.Y. Times, Mar. 21, 2008.
199. See Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta, Inc.,
552 U.S. 148 (2008).
200. Id. at 163-64.
201. See, e.g., Donald C. Langevoort, Capping Damages for Open-Market
Securities Fraud, 38 Ariz. L. Rev. 639, 64657 (1996) ([B]uy
and hold strategies make it somewhat more likely that [small, diversified investors]
will be non-trading shareholders of an issuer defendant . . . than members of
the plaintiff class who stand to gain from the settlement or judgment.).
202. See, e.g., Janet Cooper Alexander, Do the Merits Matter? A Study
of Settlements in Securities Class Actions, 43 Stan. L. Rev. 497 (1991)
(concluding that settlement value in securities fraud cases is not a function
203. See, e.g., John C. Coffee, Jr., Memo to Congress: Reform and
Its Perils, N.Y.L.J., Nov. 15, 2007, at 5 (asserting that transaction costs
in securities litigation consume approximately 50 percent of recoveries).
204. S. 1551, 111th Cong. (2009).
205. See id. at § 2.
206. 31 U.S.C. § 37293733 (2008).
207. See False Claims Act Amendments of 1986, Pub. L. 99-562, 100 Stat.
208. See Bill Myers, Blowing Whistle Pays Off Big for Fortunate Few,
Wash. Examiner, May 28, 2009.
209. See 31 U.S.C. § 3730 (d)(2).
210. See Myers, supra note 208.
211. 128 S. Ct. 2123 (2008), superseded by statute, Fraud Enforcement
Recovery Act of 2009, Pub. L. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617 (2009).
212. Pub. L. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617.
213. See id. at §§ 4(b)(1)(B), 4(b)(2)(A)(ii).
214. See Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?type=C&cid=N00009918&newMem=N&cycle=2010
(last visited Jan. 13, 2010).
215. See id. at http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cycle=2010&cid=N00009918&type=C&mem=
(last visited Jan. 13, 2010).
216. See Walter Olson, Inside the Health Care Bill, Forbes.com,
July 22, 2009, http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/22/medicare-republicans-reform-bill-opinions-contributors-walter-olson.html.
217. See Center for Responsive Politics,
(last visited Jan. 13, 2010).