Busi­ness-friendly House backs bill to de­ter suits

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Kevin Frek­ing

The Repub­li­can-led House on Fri­day backed leg­is­la­tion that re­quires judges to sanc­tion at­tor­neys and other par­ties who file friv­o­lous law­suits in fed­eral district court, a move that sup­port­ers said will pro­tect in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses from un­nec­es­sary le­gal costs.

The bill doesn’t change the stan­dard that fed­eral judges use to de­ter­mine whether a law­suit is friv­o­lous, but it would en­sure penal­ties for those who file such suits. A key pro­vi­sion of the bill elim­i­nates a party’s abil­ity to avoid sanc­tions by vol­un­tar­ily with­draw­ing claims within 21 days. The vote was 230-188. In a busi­ness-friendly cam­paign, House Repub­li­cans are push­ing through sev­eral bills de­signed to over­haul the le­gal sys­tem, but those ef­forts face a harder time in the Se­nate, where leg­is­la­tion gen­er­ally needs sup­port from 60 sen­a­tors to pro­ceed.

The bill’s spon­sor, Rep. La­mar Smith, R-Texas, ar­gued that his bill if en­acted into law would pre­vent the fil­ing of thou­sands of friv­o­lous law­suits.

“Th­ese ab­surd law­suits cost many in­no­cent fam­i­lies their sav­ings and of­ten ruin their rep­u­ta­tions,” Smith said.

The Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion op­poses Smith’s bill. It said anec­do­tal ex­am­ples of friv­o­lous law­suits are not backed by re­search that would demon­strate any in­crease in such filings. The ABA also said many of the anec­dotes re­lied on by sup­port­ers ac­tu­ally stemmed from cases brought in state courts and would not be af­fected by the leg­is­la­tion.

Rep. John Cony­ers, D-Mich., said the land­mark case Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, in which “sep­a­rate but equal” ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties for racial mi­nori­ties were de­clared in­her­ently un­equal, might never have been heard if the re­quire­ments of Smith’s bill were in place in the 1950s. He said that is be­cause the le­gal ar­gu­ments in the case were novel and not based on ex­ist­ing law.

Cony­ers also said the bill would strip the ju­di­ciary of its dis­cre­tion and in­de­pen­dence.

“The bill will chill le­git­i­mate civil rights lit­i­ga­tion,” he said.

Busi­ness groups such as the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce ap­plauded the House vote.

“When this bill be­comes law, it will hold plain­tiffs’ lawyers ac­count­able for fil­ing friv­o­lous claims so they can­not sim­ply with­draw a law­suit with­out con­se­quence, re­sult­ing in fewer bo­gus law­suits,” said Lisa A. Rickard, pres­i­dent of the cham­ber’s In­sti­tute for Le­gal Re­form.

The vote fol­lowed House pas­sage of a bill Thurs­day evening that would add hur­dles to fil­ing a class-ac­tion law­suit in fed­eral court.

That bill would re­quire in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing to par­tic­i­pate to show they suf­fered the same type and mag­ni­tude of per­sonal in­jury or eco­nomic loss as the lead plain­tiffs.

CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP 2016

Rep. La­mar Smith, R-Texas, ar­gues that his bill would pre­vent the fil­ing of thou­sands of friv­o­lous law­suits, but the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion says it is backed by flimsy doc­u­men­ta­tion.

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