CLASS ACTION FAIRNESS ACT OF 2005
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
I rise to speak about a case that I believe perfectly illustrates some of the problems with our current class action system. This case is, unfortunately, not at all unique. These outrageous decisions happen all too frequently. The bill currently under consideration will help fix some of these problems.
I have a chart. It is kind of hard to see. Basically, it is a letter that a member of my staff recently got. It included a check. The check is made payable to a member of my staff who received it in the mail. On the check's ``Pay to the Order of'' line, I have covered up the name of the staffer so she may remain anonymous.
I also obscured the name of the defendant in this case. Plaintiffs' lawyers have already soaked them once, and I do not want to give them the opportunity to do it again. I would hate to see others able to sue the company because they heard the company settled at least one class action lawsuit.
Along with this settlement check, my staffer received a letter which says in part:
You have been identified as a member of the class of ..... customers who are eligible for a refund under the terms of a settlement agreement reached in a class-action lawsuit ..... The enclosed check includes any refunds for which you were eligible.
Imagine her excitement. As you know, Senate staffers are certainly not the highest paid people in town. So this woman on my staff told me she was, indeed, thrilled to anticipate what she might be receiving. And then she looked at the enclosed check to see just how big her windfall was. It was a whopping 32 cents. That is right, she received a check made out to her in the amount of 32 cents. I guess it goes without saying that she was a little bit disappointed to find out her newfound riches had disappeared already.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting my staffer deserved a bigger settlement check. In fact, she told me she had no complaint against the defendant, and she never asked to be a part of the lawsuit. Apparently, she just happened to be a customer of the company that was sued, and it was determined that she theoretically could bring a claim against the defendant. So she became a member of ``a class'' who was due a settlement.
If this does not precisely illustrate the absurdity of the current class action epidemic in this country, I do not know what does. To demonstrate just how far out of whack the system is, let's start with the letter notifying my staffer that she was a member of a class action lawsuit and had been awarded a settlement.
This letter and check arrived via the U.S. mail. The last time I checked, it cost 37 cents to send an envelope through the U.S. mail. The settlement check is only for 32 cents. You can probably see where I am headed with this. It cost the defendant in a class action suit 37 cents to send a settlement check worth 32 cents. I don't have the expertise in economics like my good friend and our former colleague Senator GRAMM of Texas, but I can tell you, forcing a defendant to spend 37 cents to send somebody a 32-cent check does not make much economic sense, and it certainly defies common sense.
Let me point out the most disturbing element about this lawsuit. My staffer researched this case, and it may be of interest to all of our colleagues to note that the unwitting plaintiff received 32 cents in compensation from this class action lawsuit, and her lawyers pocketed in excess of $7 million--$7 million. All in all, not a bad settlement if you happen to be a plaintiff's lawyer rather than a plaintiff.
And in case you think my staffer received an unusually low settlement in this litigation, let me quote from the letter accompanying the settlement check:
At the time of the settlement, we estimated that the average [refund] would be less than $1--
The average refund would be less than a dollar-- for each eligible [plaintiff]. That estimate proved correct.
So you see, while the settlement was being arranged, it was clear each plaintiff on average would receive less than $1. It was clear that each plaintiff would receive less than $1. Yet the plaintiffs' lawyers still rake in more than $7 million.
My colleagues may also be interested to know how much the defendant was forced to spend defending the lawsuit. Knowing the extent of the defense costs is instructive in demonstrating how unjust these abusive suits can be. So we asked the defendant how much it spent defending this suit that provided each plaintiff with pennies and the lawyers with millions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the defendant was not willing to discuss the matter. You see, the defendant told us that if it were readily known just how much they spent defending the suit, then that information would almost certainly be used against them in the future. The defendant feared that if their defense costs were known, then another opportunistic plaintiff's lawyer would file another one of these predatory suits, and then that lawyer would offer to settle for just slightly less than the millions he knew it would cost the defendant to defend the suit.
This case illustrates how plaintiffs' lawyers exploit and abuse defendants under the current system. Can there be any doubt that the current class action system is in need of repair? When the lawyers get more than $7 million and the plaintiff gets a check for 32 cents, something is terribly wrong. When defendants fear to disclose how much they spend fighting these ridiculous suits because to do so would invite even more litigation, something is terribly wrong. Justice is supposed to be distributed fairly. This is clearly not a fair way to distribute justice.
By passing this legislation, we are not going to end every 32-cent award to plaintiffs and multimillion dollar award to lawyers, but we certainly can curb a great deal of this nonsense.
I know some of my friends on the other side of the aisle will complain this bill will sound the death knell for class actions in State court. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an important piece of legislation, but it is also a moderate and reasonable piece of legislation.
Frankly, I liked the original version, but we are where we are today, and I will talk more about that in a moment. The bill on the floor is the product of not one, not two, but three carefully crafted compromises. Not one, not two, but three carefully crafted compromises. These carefully crafted compromises have us to a point where we can enact meaningful reform that respects the ability of States to adjudicate local controversies as class actions while allowing Federal courts to decide truly national class actions.
The House, frankly, would prefer a stronger bill, and so would I. I like the original bill that stalled out at 59 votes last year. But the House also understands that the legislation on the floor is a good bill.
Therefore, the House is prepared to take this up and pass it without amendment, assuming that our carefully crafted compromise is itself not compromised on the Senate floor.
I had an opportunity to talk to Majority Leader TOM DELAY this morning and he reiterated the statement that he and Chairman JIM SENSENBRENNER made last Friday and it is this: If this bill is passed without amendment in the Senate, the House will take it up immediately, pass it, and send it to the President for signature. If it is altered in any way, the House will then follow the regular order and maybe sometime during this Congress we will get a class action bill.
Frankly, in my judgment, those who are skeptical of this bill would be better off with this compromise version than having the House go through the regular order, in which case they would probably pass a bill much different from this compromise. We would ultimately have a conference and in all likelihood, out of that conference might come a bill more like the one we had last year, which stalled out at 59 votes.
So I would say that for those who are not terribly enthusiastic about this compromise, it could get a lot worse from their point of view. This compromise is one that people who have worked on this bill for years are willing to take, and so our challenge is to keep it clean, to defeat the amendments that would slow down the process and prevent this important piece of tort reform legislation from getting to the President for an early signature. So that is where we are.
We have a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate at the beginning of this Congress that we are indeed going to be able to accomplish some important things on a bipartisan basis. This compromise bill appears to have at least 62 Senators who are for it. Let us hold it together. Let us keep it as it is and demonstrate to the American public that we can work together on a bipartisan basis and pass important legislation for our country.
I yield the floor.