Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Class-Action Measure
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 13-5 to approve a bill (S 5) that would shift more class-action lawsuits from state to federal courts, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 2/4). The bill aims to prevent "forum shopping," where lawyers file cases in jurisdictions that have been sympathetic to plaintiffs (Malone, Cox News/San Jose Mercury News, 2/4).
The legislation also would require all class-action lawsuits to be heard in federal court if more than $5 million is in dispute or the plaintiff and defendant live in different states. The bill contains several provisions that would protect plaintiffs from settlements that are more beneficial to lawyers than the consumers they represent (Stern, CQ Today, 2/3). In addition, exemptions would still allow some "genuine local controversies" to remain in state courts, the Journal reports. The Senate next week will consider the legislation (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
The House last year passed class-action reform legislation sponsored by Republican legislators. The legislation was amended in the Senate but defeated in part because lawmakers could not agree on certain unrelated amendments (California Healthline, 1/25). House members "were angered" after Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) showed support for an amendment that would let judges decide which state law to apply in multistate cases, CQ Today reports. The amendment is expected to be introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
John Feehery, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said the amendment would be a "deal killer." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) might propose an amendment during the Senate debate that would exempt civil rights cases. According to CQ Today, the Senate and House Republicans agreed that the bill would be reviewed in the House as long as it contained no amendments (CQ Today, 2/3). But House Republicans also indicated that they would work to expedite negotiations and send the measure to President Bush if the Senate refrains from making major changes to the bill (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).