Alan J. Lazarus is a Products Liability Partner residing in our San Francisco, California, office. Alan is an experienced trial and appellate attorney with a focus on products liability, consumer protection, toxic substances and environmental litigation. Alan writes and lectures frequently on products liability and appellate practice topics.
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The nature of advocacy makes it hard sometimes for lawyers to focus solely on the outcome and the bottom line result. How a court gets there may not matter much to the prevailing party in the dispute as they celebrate the win, but it may have an impact on later cases. A recent example is the opinion in Burton et al. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1422814 (7th Cir. Apr. 15, 2021). The court found the winner’s circle, but it dented the car a bit along the way.
[Disclosure/disclaimer: The author filed an amicus brief in support of defendants in the case.]
Our language around settlements connotes war and peace – in settling we are “buying our peace” or “ceasing hostilities.” The old saw is that a good settlement leaves no one satisfied, but in truth, a good settlement leaves nothing significant left to do in the dispute. In abandoning claims or defenses, we seek a measure of closure. And in obtaining a durable settlement our client can live with, we necessarily rely, to some extent, on the regularity of the underlying proceedings, candor to the court, and some minimal level of good faith in the negotiations.
What happens when that reliance is upended and those expectations are dashed? A recent unpublished California decision provides a cautionary tale. It also stirred memories of a flawed settlement from three decades ago, inspiring this reverie.
On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, revisiting the issue of due process limitations on the exercise of personal jurisdiction, most recently addressed by the Court in 2017 in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1783 (2017) (“BMS”). A unanimous Court (8-0, with Justice Barrett not participating) held in Ford Motor that courts in Montana and Minnesota could hear claims by residents of those states alleging injuries sustained in accidents that occurred there involving Ford vehicles. Relying on Ford’s extensive contacts with those states, which consisted of efforts to create and serve local sales and service and repair markets for the same kinds of vehicles, the Court concluded these plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently “related to” Ford’s local contacts, even though the actual vehicles in the accidents were designed, manufactured and initially sold in other states. (We commented here on the state court decisions in these cases before Ford sought certiorari.)
The Ninth Circuit has confirmed in quadrophonic sound that plaintiffs cannot avoid preemption by relying on vague and speculative allegations to establish a parallel claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of four lawsuits by plaintiffs claiming they were injured by breast implants on the grounds that their claims are barred by the 1976 Medical Device Amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (MDA). Sewell v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56393; Vieira v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56394; Billetts v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56398; Nunn v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56391.
In each case, California plaintiffs alleged their breast implants were defective and caused them to experience fatigue, muscle pain, and migraines. The district courts dismissed the complaints for failure to state a claim on grounds of preemption, and plaintiffs appealed.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liu v. SEC, No. 18-1501 (June 22, 2020), limiting the SEC’s ability to obtain monetary equitable relief in securities fraud litigation, may seem an odd topic for this blog. But Liu is worth some attention because it may foreshadow an impact on calculation and distribution of monetary awards in consumer fraud class actions. The decision may influence the calculation of disgorgement or restitutionary remedies, and it may signal another hurdle for the controversial judge-made distribution mechanism, cy pres. Continue reading →
The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.
Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.
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