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ALEC Tort Reform Report

ALEC Tort Reform Report

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Published by Mike Dean

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Published by: Mike Dean on Feb 10, 2012
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02/10/2012

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Tort Reform Bills: ALEC Corporate Legislation, Not “Jobs Bills”
Governor Mark Dayton vetoed four Republican-backed tort reform bills today that would havemade it more difficult for Minnesotans to hold large corporations accountable. Sen. JulianneOrtman said that this legislation comes from her experience as a lawyer, but the language isalmost identical to ALEC model legislation protecting corporations. This is either the state’s biggest coincidence or ALEC is in fact writing legislation that Minnesota Republicans are tryingto pass into law.We know these tort reform bills to be ALEC priorities not only because of the similarities inlanguage between the Minnesota legislation and ALEC model bills, but also because theseattacks on consumer protections are highlighted in ALEC’s “The State Legislator’s Guide: TortReform Boot Camp” report.Republicans claim these are “jobs bills,” but what they really do is protect corporate specialinterests from being held accountable by the public for wrongdoing.One of the bills (SF 149) makes it more difficult for citizens to pursue class action lawsuitsagainst corporations. The bill delays evidence gathering until any appeals about the legitimacy of the class have been exhausted. In
Walmart v. Dukes
, Walmart held up a class action lawsuit filed by women with employment discrimination claims for nine years by fighting the legitimacy of their class. [Care2, 02/05/12] SF 149 would prohibit class action lawsuit filers from interviewingwitnesses and gathering documents, meaning that as years go by witnesses will forget thespecifics of what happened, making a claim even harder to prove.SF 429 would discourage Minnesota citizens from seeking compensation when their rights areviolated and attorneys from taking those cases. The whole reason behind attorney fee provisionsis that the damages awarded are usually small, so the consumer cannot afford to pay an attorneyand/or the attorneys will not take the cases if they won’t be compensated. SF 429 does nothingmore than disincentivize attorneys from taking consumer protection cases, whether or not theyhave merit.The final two tort reform bills vetoed by Governor Dayton also do nothing more than protectcorporations at the expense of Minnesotans. SF 530 limits the liability of corporate defendants by regulating interest payments owed to consumers who win personal injury or wrongful deathlawsuits and SF 373 reduces the statute of limitations for Minnesotans to file claims againstcorporations from six to four years.
SF 149 (2011): Class Action
This legislation would eliminate long-standing consumer protection laws in Minnesota, andeliminate the ability of ordinary citizens to use their constitutional right to a remedy when youare defrauded or deceived by an ALEC corporation.
 
 
This bill would undermine the ability for victims of unscrupulous business practices to form a‘class’ with other victims, by forcing each individual to prove that he/she was a victim or thatthey were harmed by the specific business practice in question. For example, in the case of deceptive advertising, a group of consumers would have to prove that the deceptive advertisingcaused them to purchase the advertised goods or services when they may otherwise have not,which would be difficult or impossible to prove.This legislation is an ALEC priority because class action lawsuits are the most efficient andeffective way to hold corporations accountable when they commit fraud, are deceptive in their  business practices or falsely advertise their products or services to consumers. Whencorporations are fraudulent, deceptive or misrepresent themselves or their services the victimsoften number in the hundreds or thousands. Rather than bring each case forward individually,which would be inefficient, expensive and time consuming, a group of consumers can cometogether as a ‘class’ of victims and bring a civil case against the wrongdoer in order to seek aremedy for their loss.
Senate author:
Sen. Ortman
Status:
Vetoed by Governor Dayton on Friday, February 10, 2012
Class Action Improvements ActSF 149, 2
nd
Engrossment (02/08/12)
(h) Appeals. The courts of appeals shall hear appeals from orders of district courts grantingor denying class action certification or denyinga motion to decertify a class action under thissection if a notice of appeal is filed within tendays after entry of the order. While an appealunder this subdivision is pending, all discoveryand other proceedings in the district court shall be stayedSec. 2. [540.19] CLASS ACTIONS;INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL.A court order certifying a class action, refusing
 
to certify a class action, or denying a motion todecertify a class action is appealable as amatter of right. While an appeal under this
 
subdivision is pending, all discovery and other  proceedings in the district courtare automatically stayed, except that upon the
 
motion of a party the district court may liftthe stay, in whole or in part, for good causeshown.
SF 429 (2011): Offer of Settlement Act
This legislation limits the consumer’s ability to file a claim by declaring that after declining anoffer to settle the matter, no attorney’s fees can be awarded to the consumer’s legal counsel.ALEC corporations have an interest in passing this legislation to make it more difficult for anyone to bring a claim against them by placing unfair pressure on consumers to accept anunreasonable and unfair settlement offer rather than extend the process and exercise their constitutional right to a trial.
Senate author:
Sen. Newman
 
 
Status:
Vetoed by Governor Dayton on Friday, February 10, 2012
Litigation Accountability ActSF 429, 2
nd
Engrossment (02/08/12)
Section 3. {Costs and attorneys' fees.}(A) Except as otherwise provided below, inany civil action commenced or appealed inany court of record in this state, the court shallaward, except as otherwise provided below, as part of its judgment and in addition to anyother costs otherwise assessed, reasonableattorneys' fees and court costs against anyattorney or party who has brought or defendeda civil action that a court determines lackssubstantial justification either in whole or in part.Section 1. [549.255] ATTORNEY FEESAWARDS.Subdivision 1. Reasonable relation of fees todamages. When a statute provides for the
 
award of attorney fees to a party that hasrecovered money damages, the court, in settingthe amount of attorney fees, must, in addition
 
to other factors, take into consideration thereasonableness of the attorney fees sought inrelation to the amount of damages awarded to
 
the prevailing party and the relation betweenthe amount of damages sought and the amountof damages awarded.
Offer of Settlement ActSF 429
Section 2. {Offer of settlement procedure.} Atany time more than 20 days after the service of a summons and complaint on a party but notless than 30 days (or 20 days if it is a counter offer) before trial, either party may serve uponthe other party, but shall not file with the court,a written offer denominated as an offer under this rule, to settle a claim for the money, property, or relief specified in the offer and toenter into an agreement dismissing the claim or to allow judgment to be entered accordingly.The offer shall remain open for 30 days unlesssooner withdrawn by a writing served on theofferee prior to acceptance by the offeree.Acceptance or rejection of the offer by theofferee must be in writing and served upon theofferor. An offer that is neither withdrawn nor accepted within 30 days shall be deemedrejected. The fact that an offer is made but notaccepted does not preclude a subsequent offer.Evidence of an offer is not admissible except in proceedings to enforce a settlement or todetermine sanctions under this rule.When the complaint sets forth a claim for Subd. 2. Offer of judgment. If an offer of  judgment is made by a party under Rule 68 of the Rules of Civil Procedure to a party who
 
claims money damages pursuant, in whole or in part, to a statute that provides for the awardof attorney fees, and the party claiming
 
attorney fees does not obtain a verdict inexcess of the offer, exclusive of attorney fees,no attorney fees may be awarded for fees
 
incurred after service of the offer of 
 
 judgment.The party that rejects an offer of judgmentmust disclose the amount of attorney fees it has
 
incurred as of the date of the service of theoffer of judgment within the time period provided by Rule 68 for the acceptance
 
of an offer of judgment.

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