(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I understand that most people's jobs are hard, but ...
I try not to make fun of how people do their jobs, really. For instance, you can't imagine how tempted I have been to blog about how bad a certain newspaper's courtroom sketch artist is, and to post some horrific examples. But I haven't, because it's probably not an easy job and for all I know the artist is very nice. And I know that it's hard to write legislation, too.

But given the corporate/Republican desire to dick with trial lawyers, protect corporations, and swamp the federal courts in this new class action bill, wouldn't you think that they could at least write a bill that lawyers and judges would be able to interpret without scratching their heads and wondering what the hell they were thinking? The text of the bill is now available from this page of the Senate's site, having previously been somewhat hard to track down.

So, among other things, the bill would give the federal courts jurisdiction over most large-scale class actions -- those in which the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million (assuming, as will be true in nearly all such cases, that at least one plaintiff lives in a state different from at least one defendant). Fair enough -- I mean, lousy and stupid, but at least comprehensible. So what this means, in the scheme of Title 28 of the U.S. Code, is that plaintiffs can file such a case in federal court when they want.

Now, there's a separate part of Title 28 that sets out the rules on when defendants can "remove" (colloquially, think "transfer") cases from state court to federal court. And so this bill includes a section 5, that will put a new section into that part of Title 28, and it says that class actions are removable to federal court. Now, you know and I know what we think that they meant by this ("they" being whoever wrote this monstrosity) -- that class actions are removable if and only if the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, and the other things set out in the other section that I just talked about. But you know what? The bill doesn't say that. And I just know that if this bill gets passed, next time I file some less-than-$5million class action that is purely Alabama plaintiffs vs. some Alabama company, some defense lawyer is going to try to press the envelope and dick with us by removing the case, and claim that he's just following the "plain language" of the statute.

And then when I get the federal judge to "remand" the case (send it back to state court), the defendant will take advantage of the provision of this bill that allows the defendant to appeal such a ruling -- and then we'll all scratch our heads and try to figure out what the hell that part of the bill means when it talks about "accept[ing]" an appeal or "den[ying]" an appeal, because those are phrases that lawyers and courts rarely if ever use and nobody can really be sure what they're really supposed to mean.

I mean really, if you're going to try to hose the good guys, at least do it in a way that makes sense.

posted by sam 4:34 PM 1 comments


Ecch. You're right-- that looks awful. It looks like it was written by a someone who learned everything he knew about removal jurisdiction at a cocktail party.

By Blogger nolo, at 4:38 PM  

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