House Passes Bill Targeting `Frivolous' Lawsuits: Sends Class-Action Cases to Federal Court
Boyer, Dave, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The House yesterday passed a bill that Republicans said would discourage "frivolous" class-action lawsuits by requiring most of the cases to be filed in federal court.
The measure passed 222-207 largely along party lines, with 15 Republicans voting against it and 18 Democrats casting "yes" votes. Republicans beat back several Democratic amendments, including a provision that would have singled out tobacco companies from being treated as any other industry facing a class-action suit.
Advocates of the bill said it would provide much-needed reform to the legal system and prevent lawyers from "shopping" for sympathetic state court judges who certify class-action suits too easily. Critics said the measure would make it harder for consumers to win such lawsuits and would further burden and already overloaded federal judiciary.
Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat and co-author of the bill, said the measure will provide "much-needed reform in an area that has been subjected to substantial abuse." He said some state judges allow "an almost anything goes approach" for class-action litigation and are guilty of "drive-by certification."
Said Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican: "Hundreds of frivolous lawsuits are filed in favorable state courts and used as high-stakes, court-endorsed blackmail devices against companies that usually settle rather than face a long and arduous court battle."
Opponents said the bill would protect corporations and trample states' rights.
"For some reason, our Republican colleagues are always eager to protect state wrongs," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat. "This bill would take all class actions filed in state courts and rip them out of the hands of the state judiciary."
The legislation faces an uncertain road in the Senate, where a companion bill sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has had one subcommittee hearing and no further action is scheduled.
Further, President Clinton has threatened to veto the legislation.
The House bill provides that federal courts will hear interstate class actions where any member of the proposed class is a citizen of a state different from any defendant. Cases in which defendants are states or state officials, or where the class has fewer than 100 members and the amount in controversy is less than $1 million, would stay in the state court. …