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Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.
To begin with, this amendment creates a major obstacle for parties such as States, municipalities, local entities, and nonprofit organizations from challenging unsound licensing decisions in the courts.
It does this by requiring the losing side in these disputes to pay the legal costs, not just of the prevailing party, but for every intervening party as well. Just imagine what this would mean.
How could a local beach community risk bringing an action knowing that it may have to pay for its own legal costs, let alone the legal costs of all of the parties in the case, which could include some of the Nation's largest oil and gas producers. Without question, this draconian cost-shifting regime will have a chilling effect on the right of individuals, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations to challenge licensing decisions that could have devastating effects on their communities.
Sure, the provision allows the losing party to argue that its position was substantially justified or that special circumstances make such an award unjust, but even meeting that standard could require extensive litigation.
This savings provision offers the tiniest of fig leafs. It is clear that the real intent of this provision is to ensure that only the wealthiest members of society will be able to litigate these issues.
Second, this amendment is not necessary. Current law already authorizes a Federal court to sanction a party for filing frivolous actions or for engaging in wrongful conduct. Federal rule of Civil Procedure 11 deems every pleading, motion, and any other paper filed by a party in a Federal proceeding to be a certification by such party: that it is not being presented for an improper purpose; that the claims and legal contentions asserted in the pleadings are warranted by existing law; and that the factual contentions made in the pleading have evidentiary support.
And should the court find that any of those requirements have been violated, the court may impose an appropriate sanction, including requiring the offending party to pay all of the prevailing party's reasonable attorneys' fees and other expenses arising from the violation.
In addition, the court, under certain circumstances, may also impose monetary sanctions against a party who violates rule 11. So, in sum, this amendment is simply not necessary.
Third, this amendment is not only an affront to the independence of the Federal judiciary, but it could seriously disrupt the ability of the courts to meet its obligations to litigants in other pending matters. The amendment does this by setting hard-and-fast deadlines that ignore the complexities of the individual case or the court's schedule. And it requires the court to prioritize these actions over all other pending matters before the court.
Not surprisingly, the Judicial Conference of the U.S. has long opposed legislative efforts to impose specific deadlines and mandate that certain actions be prioritized over others for some very important reasons. By imposing rigid deadlines, measures such as this amendment undermine the effective civil case management and unduly hamper the court's discretion in managing and prioritizing its case docket. Each case should be considered on its own merits without the imposition of artificial deadlines.
Worse yet, this amendment specifically provides that if the district court fails to meet this deadline, the case must be dismissed with prejudice and terminates all rights relating to cause or claim. Just imagine how a defendant could use this provision to its advantage by running the clock through delaying tactics such as employing a multiplicity of procedures and time-consuming discovery demands. This amendment is anti-justice. It must be opposed.
I yield back the balance of my time.
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