The House of Representatives approved today the class action federalization bill that the Senate passed on February 10. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law tommorrow. The House vote was 279-149, largely along party lines.
House leaders hailed the bill as a tool to prevent greedy lawyers from profiting by filing "frivolous lawsuits" in state court. Absurdly, they chose to battle these "frivolous lawsuits" solely by attacking claims worth more than $5 million, which, by most definitions, is more than a frivolous lawsuit is worth.
"Frivolous lawsuits are clogging America's judicial system, endangering America's small businesses, jeopardizing jobs and driving up prices for consumers," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. Moving those cases to federal court will ensure that state judges will no longer "routinely approve settlements in which the lawyers receive large fees and the class members receive virtually nothing," he added.
However, class actions in which the class members "receive virtually nothing" will be unaffected by the bill, since claims valued at $5 million and below are exempt from the new procedures.
"These out-of-control class action lawsuits are killing jobs, they're hurting small business people who can't afford to defend themselves and they're hurting consumers who have to pay more for products," said Rep. Ric Keller. Curiously, however, the bill will exclude most, if not all, lawsuits against "small business people", who rarely if ever find themselve defending against lawsuits, class action or otherwise, with claims in excess of $5 million.
Representative Jay Inslee was more honest. "This bill is the Vioxx protection bill, it is the Wal-Mart protection bill, it is the Tyco protection bill and it is the Enron protection bill," he said. "It's the final payback to the tobacco industry, to the asbestos industry, to the oil industry, to the chemical industry at the expense of ordinary families who need to be able go to court to protect their loved ones when their health has been compromised," said Rep. Ed Markey. "And these people are saying that your state isn't smart enough, your jurors aren't smart enough" to hear those cases.
The bill will only affect cases that are filed after president Bush signs it into law. We made a point of making sure our large class action cases were all filed before the courts close today.