That Extra Incentive

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Federal Civil Litigation, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, PublicLeave a comment» on That Extra Incentive

Most of us are familiar with wellness programs—programs sponsored by our employer or health plan that try to incentivize us to eat healthier, sleep well, and get more exercise.  If you’re anything like me, it helps to have that extra push or incentive, especially around the holidays when sweets abound, to stay on track—or at least, to not stray too far from health goals. Most of these programs have the added advantage of lowering health care costs, both by providing financial incentives to reduce immediate costs to the individual employees and by boosting the overall health of the employees as a whole, which could reduce future health care costs.   However, extensive technical regulations and recent litigation by the AARP make implementing health and wellness programs increasingly tricky for employers.

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”) and the regulations promulgated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) thereunder, generally prohibit “an employer [from] request[ing], require[ing], or purchas[ing] genetic information [which includes an individual’s family medical history] with respect to an employee or a family member of the employee.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000ff–1(b). However, there is an exception for wellness programs, as long as employers jump through a set of hoops. 29 CFR § 1635.8(b)(2).  While not without its own problems and excesses, the exception in the EEOC regulations at least allows employers to provide incentives to those employees willing to participate in employer-sponsored wellness programs.

The AARP doesn’t like this whole “incentive” idea to begin with. It recently filed a lawsuit against the EEOC in an attempt to vacate the regulations entirely.  AARP v. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 1:16-cv-02113 (D. D.C. 2016) (hereafter the “AARP Complaint”).  This actually might not be a bad idea, except for the fact that the AARP thinks that the regulations do not have enough hoops.  In fact, the AARP would prefer that the regulations abolish any permission for any incentives or penalties to induce participation in employer-sponsored wellness programs. The AARP alleges in its complaint that all employer incentives or penalties to induce participation in employer-sponsored wellness programs violate Title I of the ADA and Title II of GINA.  AARP Complaint at 3Continue reading “That Extra Incentive”

Access to Justice in a Civil Context

Posted on Categories Federal Civil Litigation, Human Rights, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Profession, Pro Bono, Public, Wisconsin Civil LitigationLeave a comment» on Access to Justice in a Civil Context

ATJ-reportIndigent defendants in criminal cases, and select civil matters (i.e., child in need of protective services petitions, termination of parental rights petitions, Chapter 51 petitions, and Chapter 980 petitions), are entitled to the appointment of counsel when they cannot afford representation. Either the state public defender’s office represents the individual, or an attorney is appointed by the county. It is imperative that individuals facing some form of deprivation of their individual liberty and freedom, as in the aforementioned scenarios, be represented.

But, what happens in other types of civil matters, where there is no right to counsel? What happens when a person or family faces a legal issue that will affect their rights, health, safety, economic security, and overall well-being? All people, regardless of socioeconomic status, should have access to the justice system. While some individuals may be able to handle a matter pro se, meaningful legal assistance or full representation is often needed to assist individuals in asserting and defending their rights.

The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission (WATJC) is one entity working toward “improving the administration of justice by supporting civil legal services to those who cannot afford them”. In 2011, Wisconsin became one of only four states nationally, and the only state in the Midwest, that failed to provide any state funding for civil legal services. The 2015-2017 budget appropriates $500,000 per year of the biennium for civil legal aid service to abuse victims. This sum is well below the other neighboring states. Minnesota, for example, appropriated over 12 million dollars per year of its biennium for civil legal services. According to WATJC, the average budget for indigent civil legal services in other Midwestern states is $7.6 million. While Wisconsin falls well below that average, it is at least an improvement that the current state budget appropriates some funding, albeit for a very specific class of litigants.

There are a variety of agencies that offer legal assistance and full-representation to indigent clients in civil matters. From my experience working at Centro Legal, I am aware that many more people were in need of assistance than that organization had the capacity to handle. While I cannot speak for other agencies, my best guess is that they also have more work than they can take on, and that as a result many people are turned away because there just isn’t the capacity to represent them. There are notable efforts to coordinate volunteer attorneys and to help people be matched with an attorney that would be willing to take on a case for a reduced rate. With low levels of funding from the state to support agencies already offering civil representation, the difference must be made up somehow. Whether it is volunteering to represent someone, participating as a volunteer at one of the several clinics offering brief legal advice, offering a reduced rate in certain circumstances, or offering support to practitioners that incorporate as a non-profit and offer reduced rates for indigent or modest means clients, all lawyers have a role to play in ensuring that access to justice and the legal system is not limited by one’s socioeconomic status. We all have a stake in improving access to civil legal service for people who cannot afford an attorney.

New Article on Federal Courts and Customary International Law

Posted on Categories Federal Civil Litigation, Federal Law & Legal System, International Law & Diplomacy, PublicTags , , Leave a comment» on New Article on Federal Courts and Customary International Law

I just posted a draft of a new article that studies citations in published judicial opinions to evaluate how federal courts go about ascertaining customary international law. For those interested, it’s forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review and available here.

Special thanks to Alex DeGuire and Ami Regele for excellent research assistance.

Residency Venue in Cases with Foreign Corporate Defendants

Posted on Categories Federal Civil Litigation, PublicTags , , Leave a comment» on Residency Venue in Cases with Foreign Corporate Defendants

A few years ago, Congress passed the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, in part to resolve, as the title suggests, uncertainties concerning the old venue statute. The effort succeeded in various regards, but Congress may have unwittingly created a new problem in the course of correcting others. Specifically, it’s not clear how to determine residency venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1) when at least one of the defendants is a foreign corporation.

The statute seems to provide two contradictory solutions: First, venue is appropriate in a district only if at least one defendant resides there and all defendants—including the foreign corporation—reside in the state in which the district is located. In this analysis, 1391(c)(2) decides residency questions for all corporate defendants such that a foreign corporation, like any other, is a resident of the given state only if it is subject to personal jurisdiction there. Continue reading “Residency Venue in Cases with Foreign Corporate Defendants”

Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Federal Civil Litigation, International Law & Diplomacy, PublicTags , , , , Leave a comment» on Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation

There’s an important lawsuit currently pending in federal court in San Diego. In this post, I’ll provide a brief summary and then highlight an intriguing legal question that the parties haven’t addressed.

First the summary: Two months ago, a class of U.S. Navy sailors filed an amended complaint against Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”), the operator of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima that melted down after an earthquake-induced tsunami destroyed their power systems in March 2011. Within days of the earthquake, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to provide humanitarian aid to victims, but inadvertently exposed dozens of sailors to allegedly high levels of radiation in the process. Press reports suggest that the carrier sailed into a plume of radioactive steam a couple of miles off the coast, and that the crew drank and bathed in desalinated seawater that was irradiated. The claimed effects include reproductive problems, leukemia, ulcers, brain cancer, and thyroid illnesses, among others. Upon return from the mission, one sailor allegedly began to lose his eyesight. Another gave birth to a child with multiple birth defects. Some observers believe that the Ronald Reagan–a $6 billion vessel–is now too radioactive to keep in service. According to the complaint, TEPCO is responsible because the company knew about the high levels of radiation emitting from the reactors but nevertheless failed to inform the public, including the ship’s crew. Claims include negligence; strict liability for design defect, failure to warn, and ultra-hazardous activities; public and private nuisance; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. As remedies, the plaintiffs have demanded compensation for lost wages, punitive damages, and a $1 billion fund for medical care. Last month TEPCO filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of international comity, forum non conveniens, the political question doctrine, and various alleged deficiencies in the prima facie case. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation”

The Class Action Fairness Act: History, Uses, and Differences from Traditional Diversity Jurisdiction

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Federal Civil Litigation, PublicLeave a comment» on The Class Action Fairness Act: History, Uses, and Differences from Traditional Diversity Jurisdiction

In 2005, Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) in order to grant class action litigants in diversity cases easier access to the federal courts. The re-formulated sections under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 created a lower threshold to gain access into the federal courts for both the plaintiff class members, and the perspective defendants wishing to remove to federal court. Congress passed these new provisions in order to “restore the intent of the framers of the United States Constitution by providing for Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance under diversity jurisdiction.” In its deliberations over the bill, Congress specifically found that certain litigants used the previous jurisdictional regime to create many situations whereby certain cases with national importance did not qualify for federal jurisdiction based upon diversity. Additionally, Congress sought to address the age old concern of discrimination against out-of-state litigants.

Congress also mentions in its findings and purposes prelude to CAFA that over the previous decade (1995 – 2005), abusive practices of the class action device caused numerous harms, thus justifying this remake of the class action jurisdictional regime. But why in 2005? Perhaps because Congress wished to respond to the vast amount of litigation against insurers stemming from Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in August of 2005. Perhaps because in 2005, Republicans held a majority in both the House and the Senate (and held the presidency), and as a general matter, the Republican Party, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as anti-plaintiff. In this view, Republicans wanted to allow insurance companies greater opportunities to remove to federal court (which is also seen, rightly or wrongly, as somewhat less pro-plaintiff than many state courts). Whatever the true reasoning, Congress did pass CAFA, and some of CAFA’s provisions are worth noting.

CAFA grants federal jurisdiction (through diversity) to class action cases where: (1) the amount in controversy, in the aggregate of all of the class members, exceeds $5,000,000 and (2) in a controversy in which ANY member of the class of plaintiffs is diverse from the defendant. CAFA then defines class members as those persons, named or unnamed, who fall within the definition of the proposed or certified class in a class action. Based on these threshold rules, a defendant could rather easily assert diversity from one of the unnamed or proposed class members. The removing party need not identify the diverse class member, but merely show by a preponderance of the evidence, using the face of the complaint or summary judgment type evidence, that it is reasonable to believe at least one class member maintains diversity from the defendant. Hardly a high hurdle to clear. However, several important subsections to CAFA help to qualify these basic underlying tenets, and may impose at least some further obstacles to navigate as a removing party. Continue reading “The Class Action Fairness Act: History, Uses, and Differences from Traditional Diversity Jurisdiction”

Does the Legislature Lack the Power to Revise the Redistricting Law?

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Election Law, Federal Civil Litigation, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court3 Comments on Does the Legislature Lack the Power to Revise the Redistricting Law?

Republican lawmakers have asserted that they have no power to re-draw the election maps at issue in the ongoing Baldus v. Brennan litigation in federal court, despite a suggestion from the three judge panel hearing the case that the legislature make revisions to the law. The 1954 Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion that these lawmakers cite for this proposition does not decide the issue, and the unique factual situation of that case does not correspond to the present situation. In a familiar pattern, it appears that the fierce litigation between state Republicans and Democrats threatens to pull the courts deep into uncharted waters.

The Wisconsin Constitution provides:

“At its first session after each enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the Senate and Assembly, according to the number of inhabitants.”

(Article IV, Section 3).

In plain English, the legislature must pass a redistricting bill in the first legislative session after the federal census. Once it does so, the general rule is that a valid apportionment law may not be replaced with a law creating new districts until the time of the next census. Of course, if the legislature’s redistricting legislation violates the state or federal constitutions, it is not valid and the legislature must pass a new apportionment bill. The three judge panel in the Baldus case may rule the maps invalid, but it suggested that the legislature might consider passing a new redistricting plan rather than proceed to trial. Continue reading “Does the Legislature Lack the Power to Revise the Redistricting Law?”

Private Prisons and Accountability

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Federal Civil Litigation, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court4 Comments on Private Prisons and Accountability

Last week, in Minneci v. Pollard (No. 10-1104), the United States Supreme Court held that employees of privately run federal prisons cannot be sued for money damages for violations of constitutional rights.  By coincidence, last week also saw the release of a new report on private prisons by the Sentencing Project.  The report raises a multitude of concerns with private prisons, which may leave the reader troubled that the Supreme Court has now chosen to diminish the accountability of for-profit jailers.

Here are the (quite critical) conclusions of the Sentencing Project:

Continue reading “Private Prisons and Accountability”

New Affirmative Action Cases

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Federal Civil Litigation, Higher Education, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme Court2 Comments on New Affirmative Action Cases

[Editor’s Note: This month, faculty members are posting on upcoming judicial decisions of particular interest. This is the second post in the series.]

It seems almost certain that the Supreme Court will again take up the issue of affirmative action in higher education, as two highly controversial cases separately make their way up the appellate ladder.

On two occasions, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and the companion cases of Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court has, by narrow 5-4 majorities, upheld the constitutionality of college and graduate school admissions programs that take race into account when making admissions decisions. In the same cases, the Court, also by 5-4 votes, struck down the use of formal admissions quotas (Bakke) and the awarding of a specific number of points for race in a numerically-based admissions systems (Gratz) as running afoul of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although there was no clear majority sentiment on this point, the use of race as an admissions “consideration” was famously justified in opinions by now-former justices Lewis Powell and Sandra Day O’Connor as a way of achieving the “compelling state interest” in “diversity” in the composition of college and university student bodies. Continue reading “New Affirmative Action Cases”

Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute Does Not Count as PLRA Strike, Seventh Circuit Rules

Posted on Categories Federal Civil Litigation, Prisoner Rights, Public, Seventh Circuit1 Comment on Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute Does Not Count as PLRA Strike, Seventh Circuit Rules

Choosing form over substance, the Seventh Circuit ruled earlier this week that dismissals of a prison inmate’s repeated “unintelligible” complaints do not count as strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, even though the cases should have been dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim. Paul v. Marberry (No. 10-3670). The PLRA requires prepayment of all filing and docket fees by inmate-plaintiffs who have three strikes — a requirement that may effectively doom lawsuits by indigent inmates. The PLRA specifies that a strike should be assigned for each action brought by an inmate that was dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Paul filed a series of complaints, each of which was initially dismissed without prejudice under FRCP 8(a)(2) for failure to provide a “short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In none of the cases did Paul take advantage of the opportunity to file a new complaint in compliance with the rule. The district court then dimissed each case for failure to prosecute. Paul finally obtained the assistance of a fellow inmate who had better drafting skills and managed to file a complaint that did state a claim. However, the district court dismissed the new complaint based on the PLRA three-strikes rule and Paul’s failure to prepay his fees.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit indicated that the earlier cases should have been dismissed for failure to state a claim instead failure to prosecute (5). But, given that the dismissal orders nowhere used strike-triggering language, the court held that they should not be counted against Paul:

[W]e think the plaintiff was entitled to take the previous dismissals at face value, and since none of them was based on any of the grounds specified in section 1915(g), to infer that he was not incurring strikes by the repeated dismissals. The statute is explicit, and the case law confirms, . . . that classifying a dismissal as a strike depends on the grounds given for it; since most prisoners litigate their civil claims pro se, they should not be required to speculate on the grounds the judge could or even should have based the dismissal on. (7-8)

Cross posted at Life Sentences Blog.

Measuring the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s Antitrust Immunity

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Federal Civil Litigation, Federalism3 Comments on Measuring the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s Antitrust Immunity

That insurance regulation rests primarily with the fifty states has become axiomatic and even cliché.  Around the country are operational state insurance commissions, and for much of the twentieth century, the federal government has let these agencies be.  The Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s (ERISA) sweeping preemptive force is cabined by a savings statute that allows the business of insurance to escape federal employee benefit plan regulation.  And the McCarran-Ferguson Act, generally speaking, provides that three comprehensive federal statutes sanctioning anti-competitive, unfair, and deceptive market activity—namely the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act—do not reach the insurance industry inasmuch as the business of insurance is regulated by the states.

This state-centric arrangement has come under fire in the last couple of decades, with the federal government staking its ground regulating insurance first around the periphery and then increasingly at the core of the insurance industry.  Some federal statutes make certain practices with certain aspects of an application for or policy of insurance illegal, whether proscribing genetic discrimination, as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) does, or limiting the pre-existing condition as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) did.  Also regulating health insurance at the federal level is the monumental Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA or “Obamacare” as it is more popularly known).  The PPACA statutorily mandates that some health insurance policies and group health plans eliminate certain provisions altogether, such as lifetime limits on health benefits and the pre-existing condition limitation.  Perhaps even more radically, the PPACA delegates authority to the Department of Health and Human Services to regulate the contents of health insurers’ and plans’ summary of benefits and even the policies themselves. Continue reading “Measuring the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s Antitrust Immunity”

Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Eastern District of Wisconsin, Evidence, Federal Civil Litigation, Wisconsin Civil LitigationLeave a comment» on Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

In late January the “tort reform” package imposed the staid Daubert rules on the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence. Now it’s spring, although the weather feels a lot like January, and we must get serious about what to do with this gift that the judiciary did not want. The new rules require that expert testimony be based on demonstrably reliable methods and principles. To be determined is whether Wisconsin will be a “strict” or a “lax” Daubert jurisdiction — whatever that is. It is worth noting that the first wave of Wisconsin Daubert cases, which will likely set the mold for what follows, are also those that least interested the tort reformers, namely, criminal cases and “chapter 980” sexually violent offender cases.

Right now, however, we are in a state of nature, legally speaking. Case law under the relevancy test, the current standard, is of little avail. And while the new rules are copied from the federal rules, state courts are not bound by federal precedent (yes, that includes Daubert itself!). Last week alone I spoke at two conferences, one a large, attentive gathering of state judges in Elkhart Lake and the other an even larger, equally engaged joint convocation of state prosecutors, public defenders, and private defense counsel here at Eckstein Hall. There is a clamor for answers and a discernable unease about what to do. Continue reading “Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel”