Many civil rights and mass torts lawsuits, including cases similar to the one at the heart of Amelia Elkins Elkins, could never happen if Congress passes H.R. 985, the so-called “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.”
In Amelia Elkins Elkins, a “courtroom drama” retelling a Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the Elkins family turns to the courts for justice after the matriarch’s untimely death. This fictional lawsuit is similar to real lawsuits happening across the country that stem from unsafe vaginal mesh products made and/or marketed by companies like Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon, and Bard. H.R. 985, if passed into law and signed by Trump, would make it harder to bring these types of cases to court by changing the procedures for multidistrict litigation, including by imposing new requirements on where cases can be filed, forcing trial courts to stop cases mid-way through for endless appeals, hampering the settlements of medical device lawsuits, and forcing plaintiffs into trials in courts unfamiliar with their cases unless “all parties” consent to one.
Horrifyingly, H. R. 985 would also impede civil rights lawsuits by making it harder for plaintiffs to bring class actions (an efficient type of lawsuit in which many plaintiffs with similar injuries bring a single case in court). The proposed law imposes a virtually impossible standard for plaintiffs to meet in order to qualify as a “class” for litigation, requiring the proposed class to show that “each member has suffered the same type and scope of injury.” Plaintiffs in class actions have very similar injuries, but not necessarily the same injury because every person’s situation and experience of discrimination is unique.
These are just a few of the many problems with H. R. 985, which is moving eerily fast through Congress. Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill out of committee without even holding a public hearing. If H.R. 985 becomes the law, we won’t be able to remedy many civil rights violations or hold corporate wrongdoers accountable for the harm they cause to the public.
If you are in the United States, please call your representative in Congress. Please tell them that H. R. 985 is unfair and should not be passed into law. The bill is named the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017,” but don’t let its title fool you. There is nothing fair about a law that protects corporations that make unsafe products and helps bigots get around our civil rights laws.
Here’s how you find out who your representative is. If your representative is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you can see how they voted here (PDF). There is still time to stop this bill because the full House hasn’t voted on it yet.
Here’s the press release in which H. R. 985’s prime sponsor, Rep. Goodlatte (R-Va), crows about passing it out of committee (achieved without a public hearing) and misstates what the bill does.
For more information on how H.R. 985 threatens our access to justice, check out Litigation and Trial.
Please spread the word about this incredibly unfair and dangerous bill. Thank you!