Shook, Hardy and Bacon Partners Paul Williams and Victor Schwartz recently discussed with Law Week Colorado a new House bill proposing changes to class actions that may significantly reduce the burden of such litigation on defendants.
Among the key proposals of the bill highlighted in the article:
- caps on plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees;
- stays of discovery pending motions to transfer, dismiss or strike the class allegations;
- stricter certification standards for class members; and
- restrictions on named plaintiffs’ associations with class counsel.
Paul Williams, who focuses on complex litigation in Shook’s Denver and Kansas City offices, told Law Week Colorado, “The individual reform provisions can provide some benefit, but the overall package could make a substantial impact on the current burden placed on companies defending class action litigation today.” Williams said that the bill might be able to reduce the number of “non-meritorious, lawyer-driven” complaints by exposing conflicts of interest and limiting financial incentives to pursue class action and mass tort litigation.
Moreover, the proposed stays on discovery have the potential to limit early discovery that can be time-consuming and financially burdensome for defendants, while allowing courts to identify dispositive issues earlier in the case.
Victor Schwartz, Chair of Shook’s public policy practice in Washington, D.C., told Law Week Colorado that the bill has a “very legitimate chance” of passing in this Congress. The bill, introduced February 9 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on February 15, less than a week later. “That is extraordinarily early if one looks at the history of civil justice reform proposals,” Schwartz said. Rep. Goodlatte is the current chair of the Committee.
“Right now nothing is certain in Washington, D.C., so there is no certainty with respect to this legislation,” Schwartz said. However, he said that the bill will certainly draw attention to “abusive practices” in class action and mass tort litigation.
The deadline for proposed amendments to the bill is March 7, 2017.