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Victory — of Sorts — on the Class Action Bill

Victory — of Sorts — on the Class Action Bill
Statement of Joan Claybrook
September 23, 1999

The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 1875, the Interstate Class Action Jurisdiction Act, by a vote of 222 to 207. The following is a statement from Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen:

“While a majority in the House regrettably approved the class action bill today, it was by the thinnest of margins, ensuring that President Clinton’s veto threat will be sustained. The American people now can rest easy that their rights to bring state class action lawsuits to hold Big Tobacco, HMOs, the gun industry, auto makers and drug companies accountable for wrongdoing will not be abridged.

“Today’s vote may signal a watershed in the House; 207 votes in opposition to this measure is many more votes for consumer interests than typically occurs on liability proposals. Members of Congress finally may be getting it – stop imposing federal limits on the legal rights granted to people under their state laws.

“Class actions are an important consumer tool used in a variety of situations, including cases dealing with bank fraud, insurance fraud and defective products. A broad-based coalition of consumer, civil rights, tobacco control, gun control and health groups worked hard to make House members understand the significance of this constitutional protection for consumers provided by states. We are happy to see that 207 House members understood our message.”

In addition to the vote on final passage, there were a number of amendments offered:

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) offered an amendment to exempt any class action from the provisions of the bill that is brought for harm caused by a firearm or ammunition. It was defeated 152-277.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee’s (D-Texas) amendment to exempt from the bill any class action that is brought for harm caused by a tobacco product failed 162-266.

A substitute amendment by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) to an amendment originally offered by Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was agreed to by voice vote. The amendment would bar a plaintiff who is not a named class member in the action from seeking removal of the action to federal court before a class containing the plaintiff has been certified.

Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) amendment to allow a State court to certify a class action after the action has failed to meet class certification requirements in a Federal court was defeated 202- 225.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to delay implementation of the act until the number of vacancies of Federal judgeships is less than 3 percent. It failed 185-241.