Over the years, I've owned a couple of different editions of Consumer Class Actions, from the National Consumer Law Center. Although geared towards plaintiffs, defense lawyers will find it useful too. It comes with a CD-ROM and a number of different forms. On many issues, it's just as useful as Newberg on Class Actions. It has a better index too.
In August, I began my most recent post about the federal MDL Panel like this: "Every litigator should have a working knowledge of the ins and outs of federal multidistrict litigation."
That post contained some good, free resources for learning about MDL procedures. Now there are more, as detailed in Mark Herrmann's recent post at Drug and Device Law, "A Multidistrict Litigation Compendium."
In Herrmann's post, you'll find links to the following:
the MDL Panel's website
"An MDL Bibliography" from Drug and Device Law
The recent Tulane Law Review symposium issue on "The Problem of Multidistrict Litigation."
A post summarizing the MDL Panel's procedure
A post explaining "how to estimate how long it will take the MDL Panel to decide motions, and how long it will take transferee courts to schedule their first status conferences"
All very useful resources for learning more about federal multidistrict litigation.
This month's Trial magazine has news from a March conference at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law called "Justice and the Role of Class Actions." A quick summary--
Class actions are "evolving, not dying." If the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) was supposed to bring an end to class actions, it hasn't.
Class actions "should not be regarded as ideological battles" between the plaintiffs' lawyers and big business, since companies can use class actions to "shut down future litigation and control costs."
Cases about arbitration continue to work their way toward the Supreme Court, which so far hasn't accepted cert on the issue of whether companies can force consumers to "waive [their] right to participate in class actions."
Another way to frame the same issue: can states prohibit companies from banning class actions in their contracts, or does the Federal Arbitration Act preempt such state laws?
According to a representative of the defense bar, plaintiffs' lawyers have been creative in trying to "circumvent Rule 23 preponderance of the evidence requirements," for example, by submitting statistical proof "to try and get around the fact that each case is different."
Businesses should remember that the Internet has given consumers a powerful voice to share everything from recommendations to boycotts. In the process, it has also given potential plaintiffs an effective tool for organizing. When calculating the PR value of settling versus litigating, a corporate defendant should carefully consider that some kinds of settlements may be more valuable than others.
The Netflix and Netgear settlements, for example, have been criticized as clever marketing ploys disguised as consumer redress. Under the Netflix settlement as initially proposed, after customers got their month of free upgraded service, they would be automatically enrolled in an upgraded program and charged an additional monthly fee unless they unsubscribed.
Objectors organized an impressive resistance and developed an alternative settlement, expected to be approved shortly, with terms far more favorable to consumers.
In my experience, organized Internet opposition to class-action settlements is the exception, not the rule. Its likelihood increases in proportion to the precentage of class members who are Internet-savvy. The two examples that Cepelewicz cites, both involving two Internet-dependent companies, demonstrates this point.
In cases involving Internet-savvy class members, lawyers for both sides must be prepared to respond on the Internet to any opposition that develops there. As the Netflix case demonstrates, such opposition can swiftly take on a life of its own. In the Internet age, ignoring a tidal wave of online criticism is an extremely bad policy that may lead to a rejection of the settlement by the court.
Rather than ignore online criticism, lawyers should set up a website to address it. The website can be used not only to respond to speficic criticism, but also to explain why the settlement is beneficial to the class as a whole. This is the same issue lawyers will be required to address later at the preliminary and final approval hearings.
If lawyers use the Internet to respond publicly to criticism, they will be communicating their message in a format that Internet-savvy class members can best understand. Even better, if those Internet-savvy class members are writing about the settlement online, online etiquette will compel them to link to the lawyers' online response, guaranteeing that the lawyers' message will be heard. There's no better way to correct misinformation in the online age.
At Coast to Coast, Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams do a well-produced radio-style talk show that's available as a podcast. A recent show, "The Class Action Fairness Act," provides an interesting update about some of the issues surrounding the new class-action law that are either currently being litigated in appellate courts or are on the horizon. Howard Bashman of How Appealing was one of the guests.
When the law was passed more than a year ago, I made some predictions about how the new law might affect law firms and businesses. One of the things that made the Coast to Coast show enjoyable was that I could find out how my predictions were holding up. All things considered, I think I'm doing pretty well.
In addition to that, the panel was fairly balanced and the discussion didn't go on too long. Overall, it was a very good show.
Have you been wondering about the basics of class-action litigation under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? If so, take a look at the series of podcasts on this issue by Neil Wehneman, the hardest-working law student in podcasting--
Have you been wondering whether summary judgments are constitutional in light of the fact that the plaintiff might be deprived of a jury trial? At Crime & Federalism, Mike Cernovich posts about a new law-journal article that concludes that summary judgments are, in fact, unconstitutional--a point which you should feel free to preserve for appeal in opposing your next summary judgment, but which I guarantee you'll lose at the trial court level.