Don’t let the name fool you. The Fairness in Class Action Litigation of 2017 (H.R. 985), sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is anything but fair.
The law pretends to protect you from greedy lawyers, but it is actually a wish-list of new regulations intended to kill class actions before they start — all to protect greedy businesses from you.
Look who’s behind it: The pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest lobbying group. It is not a government agency.
And this is not the first time.
You can thank Rep. Goodlette for banning coupon settlements and reducing payouts for consumers by forcing more class actions into federal court with his “Class Action Fairness Act of 2005” (CAFA).
His latest bill would go much further.
For example, the first part of the bill prevents you from filing a class action unless everyone “suffered the same type and scope of injury.”
So if your bank steals a $5 overdraft fee, and $10 from your neighbor, a class action could be dismissed because your injuries were different. Even if you file a lawsuit and get your $5 back, your friend would not.
Oh — but before you get that $5, the courts would have to spend a few months auditing every single payment to every single person. The courts already oversee settlement distribution. Adding new requirements just slows down payouts to you as a way of jamming up the federal courts.
It would also obliterate civil rights class actions, in which each person suffers different types of injuries from discrimination. Under this bill, Brown v. Board of Education would’ve never happened. It is why the courts already reject “commonality in damages” rules.
The bill also imposes weird, ridiculous restrictions like prohibiting you from hiring the same class action lawyer twice. That would be like saying you can’t hire the same doctor twice. It doesn’t make sense.
Like a doctor specializes in medicine, a lawyer specializes in the law. This is why only a few lawyers can file certain types of class actions. Restricting who can hire a lawyer unjustly restricts your right to justice.
Don’t get me wrong — some settlements are terrible, some lawyers take huge cuts of the payout, and some victims never get paid — but destroying class action lawsuits is not the solution to greedy lawyers.
The solution is fixing loopholes in Rule 23, rather than sneaking in a bill that undercuts the only law that allows you to file a class action.
Rep. Goodlette proposed a nearly identical bill last year, but it died in the Senate. This time, all bets are off. It sailed through the House Judiciary Committee with a vote down party lines, although no lawmakers who voted for this bill will publicly support it — perhaps hoping that no one would notice?
If so, they were wrong. The bill is aggressively opposed by the American Bar Association, 120 civil rights groups, 70 consumer justice organizations, 87 law firms, 38 groups for people with disabilities, and many more.
At the very least, they want a public hearing.
Please contact your government representatives to vote against H.R. 985, also known as the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation of 2017.” If you don’t already have your elected officials on speed-dial, please visit http://www.usa.gov/elected-officials to find out how to get in touch.