It didn’t take long. gop Congresspeople have introduced the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” (you can tell the bill is bad by the ridiculous name) to help companies get away with stealing from consumers and workers.
Not content with insulating themselves from legal liability through arbitration agreements and class action waivers, the Chamber of Commerce and their allies in Congress want to make it harder for people to bring class action suits even when it is not barred by some contractual agreement.
Spreading their typical lies about “baseless” and “frivolous” lawsuits (to a republican baseless and frivolous means “lawsuit I don’t like”) the gop bill would take a number of different steps to make class action suits less likely and harder to file.
One of the biggest changes is requiring the class to show “the party seeking to maintain such a class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative or representatives” before the class can be certified. Arguably this requirement would prevent any class actions from being certified.
It is rare that every class member suffered the same “scope” of injury. The amount of damages each class member suffered can differ depending on any number of factors. For example, if a class action is bought against a company that sold defective products one person may have bought one of the products and another may have brought three. Under the law right now both people are proper members of the same class. Under the proposed law they may no longer have suffered the same “scope” of injury and thus they may not be brought together in a single class action.
The new law also attacks an attorney’s ability to collect their fees. Especially troubling is the requirement “In no event shall the attorneys’ fee award exceed the total amount of money directly distributed to and received by all class members.” While this might seem reasonable, the effect would be to make actions where the individual class members suffered small injuries infeasible. Class action suits are in part a mechanism to provide a deterrent against bad behavior in addition to compensating people who have been harmed by the defendant’s actions. But here it is possible for a company to steal a small amount of money from lots of people and no attorney would bring a suit because the amount they can recover as fees may not be enough to make the litigation worthwhile. For example, a company could steal 50 cents from 100,000 people. But that means the most the attorney can be paid is $50,000 in fees which might not be enough to fund a complex litigation with a large group of plaintiffs.
There are other troubling provisions of the proposed law which serve to make it more difficult to file and litigate class action lawsuits.
Not content with making class actions more difficult, the gop has introduced at least 3 other bills designed to reduce access to the court system for consumers and workers. It’s telling that some of the first laws the new republican congress wants to pass are a number of different bills meant to make using the court system more difficult.
The republican party wants to allow companies to harm consumers and workers with impunity. The party guts the government agencies and regulations responsible for protecting consumers and workers as fast as they possibly can then they make it more difficult for consumers and workers to fight back privately through the court system. Americans need to wake up to the gop’s assault on their 7th amendment rights.