Monthly Archives: April 2012

Striking Out Specious Claims in Mass Tort Global Settlements

S. Todd Brown, Specious Claims and Global Settlements, 42 U. Memphis L. Rev. (forthcoming 2012), available at SSRN.

The late Richard Nagareda once noted that global settlements in mass tort litigation present a “Field of Dreams” problem – “if you build it, they will come.”  In the movie, people came to the Iowa baseball field in the corn fields because it was “money they had, but peace they lacked.”  The opposite is true in mass tort litigation.  In most cases, multinational corporations and plaintiffs’ firms with large inventories of claims typically achieve peace through a global settlement resolving all of the victims’ claims.  It is money that the individual victims lack, and it is why the victims consistently come in droves, many with claims that are specious at best.

In his excellent article Specious Claims and Global Settlements, Todd Brown examines three comprehensive settlements in mass tort litigation to identify the cause of the “Field of Dreams” problem.  He contends at the outset that the problem is caused by more than adverse selection, in which asymmetries in information allow plaintiffs with dubious claims to try to collect. (P. 20.)  Instead, Brown provocatively argues that the problem arises from how the parties define what a compensable claim is in negotiating the settlement, using the settlement to “supplant[] tort law with a negotiated grid for compensation.”  (P. 23.)  Brown shows that the parties negotiating the settlement define grids because they only care about the size of the settlement, not the distribution of the proceeds.  But by failing to establish more accurate distribution procedures, global settlements allow a thousand specious claims to bloom. Continue reading "Striking Out Specious Claims in Mass Tort Global Settlements"

Toward Real Criminal Justice

William Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Harvard University Press, 2011).

William Stuntz, who died last year, was the preeminent criminal procedure scholar of his generation.  His early work on criminal procedure doctrine was breathtakingly insightful, providing deep explanations of the Court’s decisions and new ways of thinking about the law of search and seizure, interrogation, plea bargaining and sentencing.  His recent book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, weaves together his earlier doctrinal perspectives with brilliant analysis of criminological data, legal and cultural history, and the sociology of criminal justice, all in an effort to explain why our criminal justice system suffers from unnecessary mass incarceration, horrendously long sentences, racially imbalanced charging and sentencing, and a host of other flaws.

Stuntz attributes the current state of affairs to a number of factors, not all of which are obvious.  He is particularly bothered by the loss of local influence over crime policies.  He argues that until the mid-twentieth century police, prosecutors, juries and judges were very responsive to the community and that, outside the South, this attention to local morés resulted in a relatively lenient, non-discriminatory punishment regime.  Today, in contrast, police and prosecutors are more distant from their polity, most cases do not go to trial (making them invisible to the public), and when cases do go to trial juries and judges have much less flexibility in imposing punishment, all of which contributes to more punitive outcomes. Continue reading "Toward Real Criminal Justice"

Womb as Wedge: What We Can Learn from Revisiting the Political History of the Abortion Controversy in the US

Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, Before (and After) Roe v. Wade: New Questions about Backlash, 120 Yale L.J. 2028 (2011), available at SSRN.

Sitting in Toronto or maybe Bristol, we have a tendency to watch American politics with both fear and amusement, rather like (or so I hear) some people watch Jersey Shore or Keeping up with the Kardashians: Who are these people? Why do they behave this way?

This is delightfully, smugly, self-satisfying. It is neither analytic nor strategic. And when, inevitably it seems, our relatively open access to abortion (as Carol Sanger has called it, the “luxury of legality”) starts to be challenged, it might leave us rather less than prepared. Greenhouse and Siegel’s article illustrates how a slow burn, not the blast of Roe v. Wade, led to the bitter struggle over reproductive rights in the U.S. today. Continue reading "Womb as Wedge: What We Can Learn from Revisiting the Political History of the Abortion Controversy in the US"

Labor Speech is Corporate Speech

Citizens United remains in the public consciousness long past the normal half-life for a Supreme Court decision.  The notion that “corporations are people” has become a punch line in a variety of contexts—proof of the absurdity of the Court’s opinion.  While the decision itself simply freed corporations from the constraint of political action committees in their election-related spending, it has engendered continued outrage and cynicism at both the political process and corporations themselves.  The fact that the opinion extended these rights to unions, as well, has received much less attention.  Perhaps more importantly, the decision has ramifications for the future of corporate and union political activity that are yet to be fully developed.  Two labor law scholars explore these ramifications in articles seeking to extend the principles of Citizens United to familiar labor law doctrines, with creative and thought-provoking results.

For Charlotte Garden, the Citizens United decision offers the opportunity to extend the argument she began in an early article1: namely, that union speech deserves greater constitutional protection. In her Citizens, United piece, Garden uses the opinion as a springboard for reconsidering two significant restrictions on union speech: the prohibitions on union secondary activity and the objection rights of employees covered by union security clauses.  She argues that the distinction between “public-issue” picketing and boycotts (by groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church) and “economic” picketing and boycotts (by unions) is vulnerable in light of Citizen United, which held that the corporation’s motive is irrelevant to First Amendment protection.  Because both corporations and unions cannot be stopped from engaging in political speech, Garden suggests that union campaigns may be protected if they take on more public-interested oriented themes.  And she also points out that since Citizens United overrode the concerns of objecting shareholders to corporate political speech, that opinion undercuts the protections for employees who object to paying union dues that fund political speech. Although acknowledging that the analogy is “not an exact one,” Garden argues that protecting union objectors but not shareholder objectors is a tough distinction to maintain, given that in both cases speech rights are pitted against administrative burdens, but with differing results. Continue reading "Labor Speech is Corporate Speech"

Artificial life but real inheritance?

Kristine S. Knaplund, Synthetic Cells, Synthetic Life, and Inheritance, 45 Val. U.L. Rev. 1361 (2011).

Kristine Knaplund’s well-written and researched article, Synthetic Cells, Synthetic Life, and Inheritance, discusses the legal and regulatory implications of new advances in synthetic biology that may one day lead to the creation of synthetic human gametes or embryos that are made without the use of existing genetic materials.  The article first discusses the current state of assisted reproduction in the United States and the various techniques that are currently available for individuals with fertility problems.  Next the article examines the existing regulations that may apply synthetic gametes and either encourage or prohibit research in this area.  Finally, the article tackles the question of who will be the legal parents of a child created using synthetic gametes.

Prof. Knaplund notes that assisted reproduction is “big business” in the United States, with the exchange of eggs (ova) alone being worth $4.5 billion in the United States.  The use of in vitro fertilization, where the egg and sperm are joined in a Petri dish and later implanted in a woman’s uterus, was first successfully used in 1978 and since then over 3 million babies have been born worldwide using assisted reproduction technologies (“ART”).  Cryopreservation (freezing) of sperm, ova and embryos is commonly used today and preimplantation genetic diagnosis is used to screen for certain genetic or chromosomal diseases.  If a synthetic sperm or ovum were created, the user could select for genetic characteristics that are not present in the intended parents. Continue reading "Artificial life but real inheritance?"

The Other Carceral State

Alexandra Natapoff, Misdemeanors, 85 S. Cal. L. Rev. (2012) (forthcoming).

Mass incarceration is much in the news lately, and rightly so. With a prison population that surpasses that of the gulags during the reign of Stalin (not to mention the world’s highest incarceration rate — four times the average), it is fair to say that “[t]he scale and the brutality of our prisons … are the moral scandal of American life.” (Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, Jan. 30, 2012). And yet, Alexandra Natapoff’s new article, Misdemeanors, strikingly reminds us that there may still be some competition for that title. Prisoners may own the criminal justice system, but there is still plenty to be said about the millions of renters who spend just an evening or two in its company every year.

Gaining purchase on those transient offenders is no simple feat. Although there is respectable data about felony charges and dispositions in the United States, it is virtually impossible to discern what happens in low level courts. I know this to be true from my own experience: in 2009, I published an article titled Manufacturing Crime that attempted to document the vibrancy of charging what I termed “obstinacy offenses.” In focusing on crimes like “failure to appear,” “false statements,” and “dissuading a witness,” particularly at the state level, I tried to demonstrate that a new breed of process crime was emerging, one intended to penalize simple slights against the justice system itself rather than legitimate efforts to obstruct justice. In the course of researching that article, however, time and again I encountered a shocking dearth of information about minor offenses. At best, all I could marshal was anecdotal or small-scale empirical evidence from a single jurisdiction.

Professor Alexandra Natapoff, wrestling the same problem, comes out much farther ahead. She starts her article by observing that there are roughly ten times as many misdemeanor prosecutions per year than felony cases filed; in 2008, roughly 80% of the over 21 million criminal cases filed in state courts were for misdemeanor offenses. She adds that 13 million people cycle through local jails per year, and that roughly 60% of the jail population at any time are held pre-conviction. In the end, though, she is vexed by the same lack of information: she would like to report even a statistic as simple as how many misdemeanor convictions are entered each year (not to mention for what types of crimes, and carrying what sentences), but lamentably such data is lacking. Luckily, the object of her paper is less to document the exact nature of misdemeanor offenses than to present a compelling case that “petty” crimes deserve our care. Indeed, she argues that “[t]he casual attitude toward petty convictions in general…is exquisitely expressed by the fact that the criminal system often fails to count them.” Continue reading "The Other Carceral State"

No Option: Thinking Through Elections

For the most part, I prefer less choice.  More choice can lead to less time and less pleasure.  Think about the decision to stay in or go out for dinner.  You look in your cupboards and there isn’t much.  Perhaps a can of tomato and rice soup.  So, you think, maybe it’s a good idea to go out.  But where?  Sometimes brainstorming the options alone is daunting, and after generating a list I simply decide to stay in.  And that’s a good outcome.  In a less ideal case, I’ll spend several hours on the internet, reading reviews of restaurants, looking at menus and prices, calling friends for views, only to become so daunted by the options and by the lack of an obvious “winner” that I’ll stay home.  I will never regain that time.  Worse yet, I do all that research – the internet research and calls – and I chose something.  But when I go to the restaurant it’s a disappointment.  I spend the night wondering if I could have made a better decision.  Cream of tomato soup with rice, and three extra hours, would be preferable.

In “Choosing Tax: Explicit Elections as an Element of Design in the Federal Income Tax System,” Heather Field approaches the issue of the role and value of explicit tax elections.  Apparently more than 300 explicit tax elections litter the Internal Revenue Code.  Field explains that an explicit election is a case where multiple possible tax treatments might apply to a single economic event. Continue reading "No Option: Thinking Through Elections"

Making Sense

Julie E. Cohen, Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice (Yale University Press, 2012), available at

We always look for writings that make sense–both by themselves, treating their subjects adequately, and by making sense to us as cyberlaw people. These writings help us to understand better the world around us; they also give us something that the knowledge of positive law and a vague understanding of technological change alone cannot give us. And so we become what Julie Cohen names so aptly “disciplinary magpies collecting alluring bits of this and that and cobbling them together.”

What is the recipe for sense-making? I see two universal elements: (i) The phenomena hitherto seen separately are being seen as connected in an exercise of reconfiguration, and (ii) a methodology is applied that gives us new insights into the forces that might be at work in these reconfigurations. There are two more for our special needs as law people: (iii) a normative stand, and (iv) pragmatic suggestions deriving from the new insights. The outcome is a sort of new magnifying glass that helps us to see new connections, to detect structures and processes at work, and to inspire speculation on new connections. Of course, we would not expect that the new world model would replace others as the sole explanation, we are content with having obtained yet another supplement. Cohen delivers: she connects, introduces methodology, takes a normative stand and makes suggestions, but her model is not one that would allow us to contentedly label yet another drawer and close it with satisfaction. Rather, she keeps us exposed to the unruliness of life and culture that the lawyer in us so abhors. Continue reading "Making Sense"

The Search for Slowness

Jason Webb Yackee & Susan Webb Yackee, Administrative Procedures and Bureaucratic Performance: Is Federal Rule-making “Ossified”?, 20 J. Pub. Admin. Research & Theory 261 (2010).

Administrative law scholars widely consider it to be a fact that the rulemaking process has become substantially burdened with analytical requirements, a burden that either has caused agencies to retreat from rulemaking or has significantly delayed agencies’ ability to adopt new rules.  Lamentation about this ossification of rulemaking pervades much scholarship in administrative law and underpins many scholars’ prescriptions about procedural reform.

In a recent article in a leading, peer-reviewed public administration journal, Jason Yackee and Susan Yackee try to measure the ossification of rulemaking, statistically analyzing the time needed to complete all non-routine rules initiated by every federal agency over nearly a two-decade period.  What they find stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view among administrative law scholars and draws into doubt whether the ossification effect is real. Continue reading "The Search for Slowness"

Documenting What Really Goes on in the Workplace

Emily A. Leskinen, Lilia M. Cortina, and Dana B. Kabat, Gender Harassment: Broadening our Understanding of Sex-Based Harassment at Work, 35 Law & Hum. Behav. 25 (2011).

Scholars who opine on issues of workplace discrimination know that the lifeblood of their scholarship is the work of those who conduct studies that capture and document the phenomena about which they write.  Those researchers who conduct such studies with an informed eye toward the law are thus invaluable to employment discrimination scholars, and it was with great interest that I read Gender Harassment: Broadening our Understanding of Sex-Based Harassment at Work by Emily A. Leskinen, Lilia M. Cortina, and Dana B. Kabat, 35 Law & Hum. Behav. 25 (2011).  The study, in the authors’ own words, seeks to “challenge[] the common legal and organizational practice of privileging sexual advance forms of sex-based harassment, while neglecting gender harassment.”

Citing to eminent scholars who have contended that gender harassment should be subsumed within the broader category of cognizable sexual harassment, the authors explain that gender harassment has been defined as “a form of hostile environment harassment that appears to be motivated by hostility toward individuals who violate gender ideals rather than by desire for those who meet them.”  Simply put, it is “hostility that is devoid of sexual interest.”  Proffering some much needed empirical support for the notion that gender harassment is at least as deleterious, if not more so, than its actionable counterpart, the authors advance ideas that may not have entered cultural consciousness, but that need to be properly understood by legislators, judges, advocates, scholars, and all others who shape and affect the law of workplace discrimination.  So, for example, the authors’ research enables them to posit that sexual harassment, in what they call “traditionally male domains,” mostly consists of gender harassment absent any sexual advances.  This compelling finding necessitates a shift in the popular conception of what sex-based harassment in the workplace truly looks like.  Moreover, the authors’ research enables them to posit that the negative personal and professional impact of gender harassment in the workplace on women is immense. Continue reading "Documenting What Really Goes on in the Workplace"

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