Nov. 14, 2013

House Passes Ill-Conceived Bill That Would Slow Litigation and Increase Costs

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen

The House today approved, by a 228 to 195 vote, the deceptively named Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 2655), which would not do as its title suggests, but instead would slow litigation, eliminate judges’ discretion, and increase court costs.

By encouraging additional legal maneuvers and requiring unnecessary court orders, this legislation would harm people with valid claims. It is another backdoor tactic by corporate lobbyists seeking to make it difficult for consumers and employees to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing.

This bill would return the litigation process to the brief period of time when a former version of a court rule, commonly called “Rule 11,” was used by corporate defendants to prolong and create sideshow litigation. The version of Rule 11 adopted in 1983 distracted from the real claims in lawsuits, increased the costs of already-expensive litigation, unfairly penalized plaintiffs and burdened the judiciary. The impact was so severe that the judiciary fixed it in 1993, after only 10 years. Nevertheless, many House members insist on re-creating a problem that was fixed years ago.

Specifically, this bill would make sanctions mandatory if a court found that a filing in a case was frivolous – effectively removing federal judges’ discretion to decide how to handle the lawsuits over which they are presiding. The bill also would remove an existing “safe harbor” provision rule that gives lawyers the ability to correct or withdraw court filings if they might face a Rule 11 challenge. The proposed rule changes in H.R. 2655 have been proven to harm consumer and civil rights litigation, and likely would do so again.

A judicial advisory body that ultimately revised Rule 11 in 1993 concluded that the older version had wasted resources. The judiciary, as well as consumer, employment and civil rights groups, oppose H.R. 2655 because history shows that it would harm the legal system and impair individuals’ access to justice. By passing this abusive measure, the House failed to heed the lessons from the past.

The Senate should reject this harmful legislation.

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