December 30, 2013

The end of abusive class-action lawsuits? Or the end of industry?

By James S. Burling Vice President for Litigation

The answer is probably, “neither,” but in two cases that we’re asking as amicus for the Supreme Court up this January, the stakes are high.   The cases are Sears v. Butler and Whirlpool v. Glazer and involve some washing machines with a musty smell.  But the problem isn’t the allegedly smelly washers, it is the fact that some opportunistic trial lawyers have brought class-action lawsuits on behalf of all purchasers of particular models — even thought the vast majority of consumers never complained about their machines.   As former Michigan Governor Engler wrote here in today’s Wall Street Journal, “By opening the door for every single consumer complaint to become a billion-dollar class action lawsuit, the certain proliferation of such broad, cobbled-together lawsuits will eventually cripple U.S. manufacturing, and not just service-center employment. It will also waste resources, shackle companies, and chill innovation.”  As we previously explained in this amicus brief and our blog posts here and here, the fact that two separate federal circuits certified these cases for class-action status portends serious problems for liberty and justice:  “The presence of a majority of uninjured plaintiffs within the class raises important constitutional issues about Sears’ and Whirlpool’s due process rights to defend themselves on individual questions raised by the plaintiffs, as well as the Constitution’s Article III requirement that all plaintiffs in federal court demonstrate “standing,” that is, an injury.”  Or, as John Engler warned in today’s Journal article, “American manufacturers could soon face an onslaught of lawsuits unless the Supreme Court intervenes.”  We’ll keep you posted.

What to read next