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Public Citizen | Preserving Consumer Court Remedies, Access to the Courts - Preserving Consumer Court Remedies, Access to the Courts

Preserving Consumer Court Remedies, Access to the Courts

In re General Motors Corp., et al

On June 19, 2009, Public Citizen and leading national consumer organizations filed an objection in the federal bankruptcy court in New York that is overseeing the GM bankruptcy proceeding, asking the court not to eliminate the rights of consumers who have suffered or will suffer injury or loss caused by defects in GM vehicles to seek compensation from New GM. The groups argued that, under the Bankruptcy Code, GM could not be sold free and clear of product liability claims, and that eliminating the future claims of people who have not yet been injured violates the Constitution.

In its response to the bankruptcy objections, GM announced that the New GM would assume liability for product liability claims for death, personal injury, or injury to property caused by accidents that occur after the bankruptcy closing date and arise from the operation of GM vehicles. The sale documents, however, would still release New GM from liability for claims of consumers who have already been hurt.

On July 5, 2009, the bankruptcy court approved the sale.

In re Chrysler LLC., et al

Public Citizen and leading national consumer groups filed objections in the federal bankruptcy court in New York that is overseeing the Chrysler bankruptcy proceeding, asking the court to preserve the rights of consumers who have suffered or will suffer injury or loss caused by defects in Chrysler vehicles to seek compensation from Chrysler. The groups argued that Chrysler could not be sold “free and clear” of product liability claims, and that eliminating the future claims of people who have not yet been injured violates the Constitution.

After the bankruptcy court approved the sale, the consumer organizations appealed. On June 5, the Second Circuit heard the case and, that afternoon, affirmed the sale. The consumer organizations sought a stay of the sale from the Supreme Court on June 7, and on June 8 filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. On June 9, the Supreme Court denied the stay, allowing the sale to go through.

The groups' objection was filed jointly with three individuals who have cases pending against Chrysler for injuries and deaths caused by Chrysler vehicles. The individual objectors are represented by the law firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco, and Stichter, Riedel, Blain & Prosser in Tampa, Fla..

Wyeth v. Levine

Public Citizen was co-counsel for respondent Diana Levine, a professional musician, who went to the hospital for treatment of a headache and, after being injected with a drug manufactured by Wyeth, left with injuries that led to the amputation of her right arm. Ms. Levine prevailed in a jury trial, and the verdict was sustained byt e Vermont Supreme Court. Wyeth petitioned to the Supreme Court, which took the case to consider whether approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a drugs label preempts state-law product-liability claims for failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions for use. Upholding the jury's verdict, the Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that Ms. Levine's claims were not preempted.

Sole v. Wyner

Public Citizen has filed an amicus brief supporting respondents in this case, arguing that in this case and others like it plaintiffs who win a preliminary injunction should also be entitled to attorney's fees.

Questions Presented are:

  1. Whether the 11th Circuit decision in Wyner v. Struhs, 179 F. App'x 566 (11th Cir. 2006) is correct in holding that a preliminary injunction is relief on the merits, or whether the Fourth Circuit decision in Smyth v. Rivero, 282 F.2d 268 (4th Cir. 2002), is correct in holding that a preliminary injunction is not a ruling on the merits and thus cannot be the basis for prevailing party status?
  2. Whether the Eleventh Circuit was incorrect in affirming the district court's order finding that Respondents are prevailing parties where their request for permanent injunctive relief was denied, although at an abbreviated hearing Respondents were awarded interim relief?

Powerex v. Reliant Energy Services, Inc., et al.

Public Citizen has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Law Professors Arthur R. Miller et al. supporting respondents. The brief addresses the question which the Supreme Court asked the parties to brief: whether the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to review the district court's remand order, notwithstanding 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1447(d) (removing appellate jurisdiction over district court decisions to remand cases back to state court during an early stage in litigation). The brief explains why Thermtron Products, Inc. v. Hermansdorfer, 423 U.S. 336 (1976), which found limited grounds for appeal of a district court's remand order, should be overruled or limited to its facts.

Davis v. U.S. Department of Justice

Public Citizen has filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Judicial Watch, and the National Security Archive, arguing that the Supreme Court should hear this case and allow people to get attorney's fees if they sue and successfully receive documents they have requested from the government under FOIA.

The question presented is:

Does the holding in Buckhannon Board & Home Care, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, 534 U.S. 598 (2001), that the term "prevailing party" requires a judicially sanctioned change in the relationship of the parties in order to be eligible for an award of attorney's fees and costs in two civil rights statutes extend to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552(a)(4)(E), which provides that a plaintiff who "substantially prevails" is eligible for fees?

Los Angeles County v. Max Rettele

  1. Is it clearly established that an officer must immediately call of a valid warrant calling for the arrest of African Americans merely because he observes one or more Caucasians in the house to be searched?
  2. Is it clearly established that, in lawfully executing a search warrant at a residence, it is an unnecessarily painful and/or degrading and/or undue invasion of privacy for officers to order people — who are in bed and who claim to be naked — to show their hands and get out of bed?
  3. Can a Circuit Court of Appeals find that the law is "clearly established" so as to foreclose a finding of qualified immunity to Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001) when even the circuit judges cannot agree on whether a constitutional violation occurred?

Rosario, et al. v. ACCS, et al.

In this appeal, we're asking a federal appeals court to reverse an extraordinary ruling that extended state sovereign immunity (also known as Eleventh Amendment immunity) to a private, for-profit California debt collector that does business in partnership with local Florida prosecutors, but is otherwise completely independent of the State of Florida, maintains no offices in the State of Florida, and would bear sole responsibility for any judgments against it. We argue that a decision affirming the lower court's ruling would run contrary to Supreme Court precedent and create a sweeping new immunity defense for private government contractors of every stripe. The ruling arose out of a consumer class action against a debt collector that operates "bad check restitution programs" for prosecutors.

Consolidation Coal v. Billy D. Williams

Is the Court of Appeals' finding that it is "inherently unfair" to bar a 2001 claim for black lung benefits filed six years after a medical determination of total disability due to pneumoconiosis contrary to the time limits imposed by Congress?

Curry County, et al. v. Robert Dark

In a case alleging discriminatory discharge under the Americans with Disabilities Act, on a motion for summary judgment, Public Citizen is co-counsel for the respondent employee who is waiting to be able to proceed to make his case on the merits in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Board of Education of Hyde Park Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Frank G., et al.

Whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act permits a court to order, as "appropriate" relief, that public school authorities reimburse parents for private school tuition for a disabled child who had never been enrolled in public school and thus had not "previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency," 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412(a)(10)(c)(ii), where the public school district conceded that it had not made a free appropriate public education available to the child, and the child's private school placement was appropriate under the Act.

GEICO Gen. Ins. Co. v. Edo; Safeco Ins. Co. v. Burr; Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Reynolds; State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. v. Willes

In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that consumers who were quoted higher insurance premiums after insurance companies reviewed their credit scores could pursue lawsuits against the companies for "willful" violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The court held that the companies could be found to have acted willfully if they recklessly disregarded the requirements of the law, and sent the case back to a lower court to determine whether the violations were in fact willful. The companies have now sought review by the Supreme Court of the Ninth Circuit's definition of "willfulness" as well as an assortment of other issues. Public Citizen is assisting attorneys for the plaintiff in attempting to persuade the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit's decision.

Peoples v. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Detention Center

In this case, Public Citizen argues on behalf of Cornelius Peoples that corrections officers employed by private prison corporations under contract with the federal government (Federal Bureau of Prisons), who inflict cruel and unusual punishment on prison inmates (violating his Eighth Amendment rights), should be liable for constitutional torts to the same extent as prison guards employed directly by the federal government under the Bivens doctrine.

Winkelman v. Parma City School District, 166 F. App'x 807 (6th Cir. Jan. 25, 2006)

Whether, and if so, under what circumstances, non-lawyer parents of a disabled child may prosecute an Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq., case pro se in federal court.

The Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance Company, Ltd. v. Yumi Ito

In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in granting a defendant's motion for dismissal based on forum non conveniens. The plaintiff, an American citizen injured in a car accident that took place in Japan, sued a Japanese insurance company in California after the company refused to pay for her medical care as required by their contract. The insurance company claimed to withhold payments based on its concerns about the quality of the plaintiff's American doctors. The Ninth Circuit held that because the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion for forum non conveniens, because the lower court fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the plaintiff's claims, and because the insurance company had not established that the majority of relevant witnesses were located in Japan.

John Hancock Life Ins. Co. v. Patten, No. 06-49

In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that an arbitrator had "manifestly disregarded the law" when he dismissed a plaintiff's claim of wrongful termination and employment discrimination because he thought that the arbitration contained a time limit for bringing such claims when it clearly did not. The defendants (John Hancock Life Insurance Co. and some of its subsidiaries) have now asked the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that arbitration awards should not be overturned when an arbitrator deliberately ignores the law, even though the courts of appeals have allowed such review of arbitration awards for half a century. PCLG is assisting counsel for the plaintiff in opposing John Hancock's request that the Supreme Court hear the case.

Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. Reynolds

In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that consumers who were quoted higher insurance premiums after insurance companies reviewed their credit scores could pursue lawsuits against the companies for "willful" violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The court held that the companies could be found to have acted willfully if they recklessly disregarded the requirements of the law, and sent the case back to a lower court to determine whether the violations were in fact willful. The companies have now sought review by the Supreme Court of the Ninth Circuit's definition of "willfulness" as well as an assortment of other issues. PCLG is assisting attorneys for the plaintiff in attempting to persuade the Supreme Court not to take the case.

Kelly v. Martin and Bailey

In this case, a district court in Illinois followed the 8th Circuit's decision in Watson v. Philip Morris and held that Philip Morris was entitled to remove cases brought against it in state court to federal court on the theory that it was acting under the direction of a federal officer in marketing light cigarettes. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether it should grant review of this issue in Watson and has asked the Solicitor General of the United States to file a brief with his recommendations. Meanwhile, the Illinois district court decision has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and Public Citizen has filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs, who want the case remanded to state court.

Watson v. Philip Morris

In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in an astonishing and unprecedented decision, held that cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris is entitled to "remove" cases filed against it in state courts to federal courts, under a statute designed to protect federal officers and employees. We filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs' petition for rehearing in the Eighth Circuit, which was denied with two judges dissenting. The plaintiffs filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court, and we filed another amicus brief supporting their petition. On May 22, the Supreme Court issued an order asking the United States to file a brief stating its position on whether the Supreme Court should review the Eighth Circuit's decision.

Will v. Hallock

Public Citizen represents Susan Hallock and her defunct business, Ferncliff Associates, in a lawsuit against individual U.S. Customs Service agents for their deliberate destruction of computer equipment and the subsequent loss of her business. Her husband, Richard Hallock, had been the victim of identity theft: Unknown to him, his credit card information was used to pay the subscription fee for a website that displayed child pornography. Agents of the Customs Service obtained a warrant and seized the computer equipment. When the equipment was returned to the Hallocks months later, the hard drives of several had been irreparably damaged. As a result, Ferncliff Associates, a computer software business, was forced to go out of business.

Susan Hallock and her business initially brought suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but that suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because of an exemption within the statute that made the FTCA inapplicable. A provision in the FTCA provides that "[t]he judgment in an action under [the FTCA] shall constitute a complete bar to any action by the claimant, by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim." The question here is whether that provision bars Hallock’s claims against the individual Customs Service agents for intentional violation of constitutional rights.

The case was argued in United States Supreme Court on November 28, 2005.

Dolan v. United States Postal Service

Public Citizen was co-counsel and drafted the merits briefs in this case argued before the Supreme Court on November 7, 2005. The issue is whether a claim for personal injury caused by the negligence of a United States Postal Service employee while delivering mail is barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2680(b), the exception to the government’s waiver of sovereign immunity in the Federal Tort Claims Act for claims "arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter."

Defenbaugh v. JBC

In this case, plaintiffs were awarded attorneys’ fees and costs after settling an FDCPA class action. Defendants claimed the fee was unreasonable and appealed to the Ninth Circuit. We wrote the appellee’s brief for consumer lawyers in California, arguing that the district court did not abuse its discretion in using the lodestar method to calculate fees, in determining the number of hours reasonably spent on litigation, or in finding counsel's hourly fees reasonable. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the award of fees and costs.

Smith v. Botsford General Hospital

Amicus brief arguing that Michigan's medical malpractice damages cap does not limit recovery under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act ("EMTALA") because the Michigan law, by its own terms, only applies to traditional malpractice claims, which are distinct from EMTALA claims.

Cornelius Peoples v. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Detention Center

In this case, Public Citizen argues on behalf of Cornelius Peoples that corrections officers employed by private prison corporations under contract with the federal government (Federal Bureau of Prisons), who inflict cruel and unusual punishment on prison inmates (violating his Eighth Amendment rights), should be liable for constitutional torts to the same extent as prison guards employed directly by the federal government under the Bivens doctrine.

Koons Buick v. Nigh - Damages under Truth in Lending Act

Hoffman-Laroche v. Empagran

Scarborough v. Principi - Right to Attorney's Fees

Kyl/Cornyn Attorney Fee Tax Proposal

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