Group Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing Class Action Bill, H.R. 985

March 7, 2017
from Joanne Doroshow at the Center for Justice & Democracy

February 14, 2017

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Groups Strongly Oppose H.R. 985 – the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017

On February 15, 2017, the Committee will consider the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.  The undersigned organizations strongly oppose this bill. If this bill were enacted into law, it would obliterate class actions in America.  It was introduced less than a week ago.  The fact that the Committee would even consider such sweeping, reckless legislation without holding a single hearing is an outrage.

Like last year’s legislation (H.R. 1927), the bill begins with the requirement that every person in a class have “an injury of the same type and scope” before the case can proceed. This alone would sound the death knell for most class actions.  Classes inherently include a range of affected individuals, and virtually never does every member of the class suffer the same “scope” of injury from the same wrongdoing. Certainly, many civil rights, discrimination and employment class actions, including cases involving refusals by companies to properly pay workers, would not satisfy these criteria.

But H.R. 985 adds another 10 pages of new, complicated provisions, each of which is designed to ensure that no class action could ever be brought or litigated. In some cases, it would do so by overturning centuries of American law.  Some provisions would make it even more impossible to bring race and gender discrimination class actions.  Other provisions would have a dramatic impact on cases against toxic polluters. The bill even goes so far as preventing someone from choosing their own counsel.  And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this appalling piece of legislation.

In addition, by considering this bill now, Congress is circumventing the process that Congress itself established for promulgation of federal court rules under the Rules Enabling Act, bypassing both the Judicial Conference of the United States and the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, the Judicial Conference already has an Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, which is currently meeting to discuss possible changes to Rule 23. Interference with the proper federal court rules process is reckless and irresponsible, particularly when this proposal is so damaging to victims.

Class action lawsuits are among the most important tools to enable harmed, cheated and violated individuals and small businesses to hold large corporations and institutions accountable and deter future misconduct.  H.R. 985 would annihilate that tool. We urge you to oppose this bill.

Sincerely,

9to5, National Association of Working Women

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American Antitrust Institute

American Association for Justice

American Family Voices

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Brazilian Policy Center

California Employment Lawyers Association

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Justice & Democracy

Central Florida Jobs with Justice

Comite Civico Del Valle

Committee to Support the Antitrust Laws

Connecticut Trial Lawyers Employment Law Committee

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Consumers Union

D.C. Consumer Rights Coalition

Daily Kos

Demand Progress

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

District Council 37 (NY) Municipal Employees Legal Services

Earthjustice

East Bay Community Law Center

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Environmental Working Group

Farmworker Association of Florida

Food & Water Watch

Fuse Washington

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings

Interfaith Alliance of Colorado

JASA Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley

Liveable Arlington

Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Main Street Alliance

Maryland Consumer Rights Council

MFY Legal Services, Inc.

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients)

National Consumers League

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Law Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

New Haven Legal Assistance Association

Oregon Environmental Council

OVEC – Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Progressive Congress Action Fund

Public Citizen

Public Justice

Public Justice Center

Public Law Center

RootsAction.org

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center

Sciencecorps

SEIU 775

SEIU 925

SEIU 1199 NW

Southern Poverty Law Center

Texas Watch

The Impact Fund

U.S. PIRG

Washington Community Action Network

Washington Federation of State Employees

Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Western New York Council on Occupational Safety & Health

Woodstock Institute

Workers’ Rights Center

Workplace Fairness