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House Judiciary Committee Endorses Bill That Would Increase Litigation, Burden Judiciary

July 7, 2011

House Judiciary Committee Endorses Bill That Would Increase Litigation, Burden Judiciary

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

The House Judiciary Committee today approved a bill called the “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act,” H.R. 966. However, “LARA” will not do as its title suggests but instead would increase litigation and its costs by encouraging additional legal maneuvers and requiring unnecessary court orders.

Deceptively cloaked in technical terms, the bill revises legal procedural rules that seemingly would interest only lawyers and judges, but would in practice affect ordinary people with valid and important claims. In the end, the legislation is just another way for corporate lobbyists and their allies in Congress to make it difficult for consumers and employees to hold corporations accountable.

This bill would return the litigation process to a time when a former version of a court rule, commonly called Rule 11, was used, typically by corporate defendants, to prolong and create sidebar litigation, distract from the real claims in lawsuits and increase the costs of already-expensive litigation.

Empirical studies and judicial surveys found that the old version of the rule particularly harmed plaintiffs in significant cases involving civil rights and consumer claims. After a judicial advisory body concluded that the old rule wasted resources, it proceeded to revise the rule, with the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the new bill would focus on punishment and fines rather than addressing the individual problems of each case. The revised rule makes sanctions mandatory, effectively removing federal judges’ discretion to decide how to handle allegedly baseless lawsuits. It also removes the “safe harbor” provision from the current rule that gives lawyers the ability to correct or withdraw filings with the court.

The judiciary, as well as consumer, employment and civil rights groups, oppose H.R. 966 because history shows that it would harm the legal system and impair individuals’ access to justice. Nevertheless, it looks like some members in Congress are determined not to learn from the past.

The House should reject this measure.

To read a letter the above-mentioned groups sent to Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, visit: https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/lara-letter-06232011.pdf.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.