LAWSUIT ABUSE REDUCTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - October 27, 2005)
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Mr. KIND. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from California for yielding me this time and for the leadership that he has shown on the issue. I also commend the gentleman from New York (Mr. Nadler) for the important issues that he has raised in regards to this important legislation.
Mr. Chairman, I think we can all concede or stipulate that no one is in favor of frivolous lawsuits in this country. As a former special prosecutor, State prosecutor in Wisconsin, and as a young lawyer who used to handle corporate litigation in a large law firm, I saw firsthand some of the abuses that take place in the judicial process. But I believe that there is a right and a wrong way of moving forward in dealing with the frivolous lawsuit situation in the country.
Unfortunately, the majority base bill today, I think, is the wrong approach, whereas the substitute that we are offering here cures a lot of defects that the majority is offering and would put some substance behind cracking down on the filing of frivolous lawsuits. But first let us correct some of the facts.
There has been a lot of rhetoric from some of our colleagues here claiming that the real bane of the judicial system today are a bunch of trial attorneys running around chasing ambulances, filing needless personal injury cases, clogging the court system, driving up litigation costs, increasing the expenses of corporations, and that is what is to be blamed in regards to dealing with frivolous lawsuits, when, in fact, the facts indicate just the opposite.
A recent comprehensive study by Public Citizen has shown that the explosion in the filing of lawsuits has really rested with the corporations of this country, who have been filing four to five times more claims and lawsuits than individual plaintiffs in this country. Furthermore, when Rule 11 sanctions have been applied, they have been applied in 69 percent of the cases against corporations that are abusing the discovery process or filing needless lawsuits. So it is not these money-grubbing trial attorneys that so many want to believe that exist out there that are causing a lot of the problem in the judicial system; it is rather corporations that are increasing it. It is those who are most eager to support the majority base bill who are most likely to take advantages of the opportunities of filing lawsuits in our country. I find that a bit ironic.
But we are also today, and both of us, the majority and the substitute, is really usurping the Rules Enabling Act. When Congress passed that, it was a recognition that we here really do not have a lot of good expertise, and we are not in the trenches dealing with these rules every day. That is why the Judicial Conference looks at rules changes. They submit it to the Supreme Court for approval, who then finally submits it to Congress for our consideration to adopt or to revise at the end of the day. That whole process is being usurped.
Finally, and as the gentleman from California indicated, we have a short-term memory problem in this Congress. This has been tried between 1983 and 1993, and the rules were changed because it was not working, because we were taking away too much discretion from the judges in the application of Rule 11. It had a disproportionate impact on the filing of civil rights actions in this country. Our substitute bill cures that by exempting the filing of civil rights under this legislation.
This is significant, because as the gentleman from California pointed out that when there were attempts to stifle meritorious claims from going forward or increasing the litigation costs in lawsuits, it was usually in the civil rights actions that were taken during this period which led to the change and the reform of mandatory sanctions back to a discretionary system, allowing the judges to decide the application of the appropriate penalties based on the facts and circumstances of the case.
What is this debate about today? I would commend a recently released movie called ``North Country'' to all of my colleagues before they consider the final passage of this legislation. It is about a young mother of two who took a job in the Taconite Mining Company in northern Minnesota and entered an atmosphere and environment of pervasive sexual harassment that not only applied to her, but all the women that were working in that company. She was the first to file a class action suit on behalf of herself and the other women in the country and the Nation. Because she was meritorious, she prevailed in that lawsuit that lead to incredible changes in regards to the treatment of women in the modern workplace.
That is what is at stake in allowing the civil rights actions to at least go through. We allow that in the substitute, and I ask adoption of the substitute.
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