U.S. Supreme Court
April 26, 2019

Supreme Court Narrows Availability of Class Arbitration

JD Supra reports on the Supreme Court decision in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, which held that the Federal Arbitration Act requires a non-ambiguous, clear expression of agreement to arbitrate class actions. In this instance, the court held a court may not compel class arbitration if the agreement is silent on whether class arbitration is permitted.

January 9, 2019

Can a state be hauled into another state's courts? Supreme Court tries to decide

USA TODAY reports on a battle between California and Nevada whose roots date back to the nation's founding. At stake is an important issue of states' rights: Can a state be hauled into another state's court system against its will? Forty years ago, the high court allowed it. But times – and all the justices – have changed.

January 9, 2019

Supreme Court considers whether predecessors made a mistake 40 years ago

The Washington Post reports on how the Supreme Court justices are pondering the reversal of a a 40 year old precedent permitting one state to be sued in another state’s courts, without their consent. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Berkeley Law and Chair of the Civil Justice Research Initiative, argued against reversal of existing precedent and in support of the case proceeding. He emphasized the sovereign power of states to “protect their citizens when they’re injured, including by other states.”

November 4, 2018

Kavanaugh's Approach To Access Depends On Whom You Ask

Law 360 reports on Justice Kavanaugh’s approach to access for justice. Despite writing more than 270 opinions during 12 years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has said relatively little on access to justice issues.

November 4, 2018

Justices’ Doubts In Google Row Fuel Legal Aid Worries

Law 360 reports on Frank v. Gaos where the Supreme Court justices’ skepticism of cy pres distributions to charities raises concerns for legal aid providers. Several justices criticized the fact that the $8.5 million deal settling privacy claims against Google would pay millions to attorneys and charities, but nothing to consumers. The scrutiny of these deals indirectly threatens a system that the American Bar Association estimates sends approximately $15.5 million every year to legal aid service organizations.

Access to Legal Services
September 22, 2019

Like It Or Not, Law May Open Its Doors To Nonlawyers

Law 360 reports on Illinois' exploration to become the sixth state to open up their state’s legal profession to nonlawyers. Some legal experts could see this as a "tipping point" to help solve the access to justice problem in America, where “86% of low-income Americans' civil legal needs are not being met.” Illinois’ actions would allow for attorney-client matchmaking services that pair lawyers looking for work and consumers looking for legal help. California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia all are either considering opening up the profession, or have already done it.

June 18, 2019

Immigrants Should Have Right To Atty, NY State Bar Says

Law 360 reports on the NY Bar Association's push to provide legal counsel to those in immigrant proceedings in New York. In the NYBSA’s report, detained immigrants with pending hearings who have attorneys prevail 48% of the time, as opposed to 4% without legal counsel. This proposal came as a response to the changes of federal immigration policy and the way immigration agencies, like ICE and courts, operate.

May 19, 2019

Fla. High Court Rejects Proposed Cy Pres Rule

Law 360 reports on the rejection of a cy pres proposal by the Florida Supreme Court. The court did not provide a reason for the decision, with potential conflict of interest concerns surrounding the state bar’s eligibility for the funds. Proponents of the rejection argue that this was an attempt to funnel money to the Florida Bar, and question its constitutionality.

May 12, 2019

Legal Aid Groups Think Bold To Fill Rural Gaps

Law 360 reports on the limited legal resources that rural American communities face, like those in Alaska. One of Alaska’s big access to justice problems is reaching most of the state's 229 federally recognized Native American tribes, which require transportation by plane, boat or snowmobile. Rural cities make up 20% of the U.S. population but only 2% of U.S. lawyers. Legal professionals and organizations suggest solutions like providing legal services through libraries, lawyers relocating to rural areas, and non-lawyers offering basic legal services.

May 5, 2019

5.1B People Lack Access to Justice, Landmark Report Finds

Law 360 reports on an international Task Force for Justice report that states 5.1 billion people worldwide lack meaningful access to justice. The report also found that 4.5 billion people are blocked from legal protections. Countries could also lose up to 3% of their gross domestic product due to the cost of unequal access to justice. The Justice for All report lays out a plan that focuses on "reaching the furthest behind first" and using people-centered data and evidence to steer reform.

April 29, 2019

Boston-Area DAs Sue ICE Over Courthouse Arrests

Law 360 reports on how two Boston-area district attorneys filed a federal lawsuit challenging ICE’s policy of arresting unauthorized immigrants at courthouses. The two DAs were joined by public defenders and community groups in the suit. The plaintiffs claim that ICE’s policy undermines the work of the justice system and doesn’t allow prosecutors to do their job. The suit marks the first time a DA's office has sued the federal government over courthouse immigration arrests, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights.

April 29, 2019

250+ General Counsel Ask Congress to Boost Federal Funding for Legal Services Corp.

Corporate Counsel reports on how the general counsel of Twitter, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Amazon, Ford Motor Co. and 258 other major companies have requested that Congress increase federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation. The corporate request was in response to a White House proposal to defund the Legal Services Corporation in the Administration’s 2020 budget proposal.

April 21, 2019

NY’s ICE Rule Offers Model For Other Courts

Law 360 reports on the New York state court system’s recent bar on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) administrative arrests on its property.

April 14, 2019

The Role Of Data In An Access To Justice Movement

In her essay "All Rise for Civil Justice," Martha Bergmark of Voices for Civil Justice reminds us that civil justice reform has to start with compelling human stories. She’s right. Building a movement requires drawing in the care and effort of those who previously had not seen the problem.

March 31, 2019

Research Boosts Push For Automatic Expungements

Law 360 reports on a study by two University of Michigan law professors, Sonja Starr and J.J. Prescott, that reveals only 6.5 percent of people eligible to clear their criminal records actually do so via Michigan’s expungement laws. For those eligible, the study details how expungement requires “administrative burdens” that “may be simply impossible, or at least difficult enough to be strongly discouraging.” In the study’s conclusion, the authors listed suggestions to increase access to expungement benefits for the people who qualify like automation, elimination of fees and increased online services.

March 8, 2019

Asylum-Seekers Can Appeal Fast-Track Deportations, Court Rules

NPR reports on a Court ruling that gives access for asylum-speakers to appeal fast-track deportations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th circuit ruled that the 1996 law that sharply limited the ability of asylum-seekers to access U.S. courts if they want to challenge decisions of an asylum officer and immigration judge is unconstitutional. The ruling could give thousands of asylum-seekers the right to seek review in the federal court system.

March 3, 2019

Attys Lose Access Fight Over NYC Jail Conditions For Now

Law 360 reports on a court loss regarding the Brooklyn detention complex in the case New York Federal Defenders v. Federal Bureau of Prisons. A New York federal judge declined to renew an order mandating strict access to attorneys, finding the lawyers who sued over the ordeal lack standing to bring Sixth Amendment claims. U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie said that "I think the government is right, that as to the Sixth Amendment, it is the right of the accused and not the lawyers. While the inmates have the right to bring this particular claim, the Federal Defenders don't." Deirdre von Dornum, the attorney-in-charge of the Federal Defenders, told reporters after the hearing they plan to add inmates as plaintiffs to cure the standing issue.

March 1, 2019

Study: Low-Income Oregonians Are Not Receiving Necessary Legal Aid

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports on a new study by Oregon’s Access to Justice Coalition that showed Oregon is meeting only about 16 percent of the need for low-income civil legal aid services. The study revealed that about 84% of the people surveyed who had legal issues did not receive legal help of any kind. This is due to a lack of funding for legal aid offices and attorneys, Bill Penn, assistant director of the Oregon Law Foundation, said. With its current funding level, Oregon only has two attorneys for every 14,000 low-income individuals who qualify for services, but if it was properly funded then it should be two attorneys for every 10,000 people.

February 10, 2019

Atty Access Win Marks Bigger Fight Over Prison's Conditions

Law 360 reports on a court victory providing access to attorneys for 1,600 peopled detained in a Brooklyn detention complex. U.S. District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall, who issued the order, noted that the conditions of confinement raised constitutional concerns. Attorneys had alleged that the lack of heat and power inside in the complex had given rise to a "humanitarian crisis.”

February 10, 2019

3 Cases That Could Boost Immigrants' Access To Counsel

Law 360 summarize three court cases that could boost immigrants’ access to counsel. The first case focuses on improving conditions in rural Georgia and Louisiana detention centers that inhibit access to counsel for clients by obtaining access to more interpreters and providing sufficient space for attorney-client meetings and teleconferencing. The second case focuses specifically on insufficient telephone access at facilities in southern California that restrict access to legal representation. The third case focuses on the issue of whether immigrant children have a right to appointed counsel before the Ninth Circuit.

January 31, 2019

ICE Agents Are Using Pennsylvania’s Courthouses as a Stalking Ground.

A Slate article reports that anyone going before a judge in Pennsylvania courts has their access to justice severely risked due to the increased presence of ICE agents in courts there. According to Slate, probation officers and judges tend to help the agency with “identifying undocumented individuals whose immigration status has nothing to do with their claims before the court.”

January 27, 2019

Rural U.S. Faces A Legal Desert

Law 360 discusses the lack of lawyers and legal aid in the rural United States, which is continually getting worse. Research by Lisa Pruitt, Professor of Law at U.C. Davis, documents the limited access to legal services in rural areas. Similarly, the Legal Services Corporation’s 2017 Access to Justice Report found that “low-income, rural residents received inadequate or no professional help for 86 percent of their civil legal problems.”

October 28, 2018

Legal Aid Funder Faces Existential Crisis Under Trump

Law 360 reports the challenges that legal funder, Legal Service Corporation (LSC) faces under the Trump Administration. In proposed budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Trump administration said Congress should "end the one-size-fits-all model of providing legal services through a single federal grant program" because state and local governments "better understand the needs of their communities."

October 28, 2018

High Court Case Threatens Key Source Of Legal Aid Funding

Law 360 reports on a pending U.S. Supreme Court case regarding cy pres deals. Cy pres deals are when class action settlements allocate a portion of the funds to nonprofits when the parties and the judge have agreed the money can't be feasibly distributed to class member. But a challenge to an $8.5 million privacy settlement that has Google LLC paying millions to third parties — and nothing to class members — opens the door for the Supreme Court to issue a broad ruling that could wipe out this significant source of funding for legal aid.

December 5, 2017

Study: Integrating Legal Aid With Medical Care Improves Veterans’ Lives

The Hartford Courant reports on a new study showing that the provision of free legal services for veterans is correlated with improved veteran health. The study showed that the more legal services veterans received, the better they fared, experiencing reduced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and psychosis, spending less money on abused substances and having better housing situations. Veteran mental health improved even if they lost the case.

December 15, 2016

Non-lawyer Alternative Has Outstanding Success in Civil Courts, According to a New ABF Study

A new American Bar Foundation Study reveals the efficacy of a new solution to the growing access to justice crisis in American civil courts. The study looks at a program in Brooklyn Housing Court that provides “navigators,” trained and supervised individuals without full, formal legal training, to unrepresented litigants in New York City’s civil courts. The study shows that the outcome of most eviction cases depends less on the merits of the case and more on whether tenants have access to legal help. Litigants assisted by navigators were 56 percent more likely than unassisted litigants to say they were able to tell their side of the story in court proceedings.

Court Fees
February 5, 2019

Attacking a Pay Wall That Hides Public Court Filings

A New York Times article reports on the fight against a 10 cent per page fee for electronic access to the federal judiciary’s public record court filings. A class action lawsuit filed in 2016 by the National Veterans Legal Services Program and two other nonprofit groups argues that the “fees inhibit public understanding of the courts and thwart equal access to justice, erecting a financial barrier that many ordinary citizens are unable to clear.” The case is now on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Other Civil Justice News
Sept 20, 2019

Class Members Don't Read Emailed Settlement Notices Either, FTC Says

Law.com reports on the use of emails to notify class members about a settlement. An FTC report found that email notices resulted in a median claims rate of 2% and a mean claims rate of 3%, far lower than the 10% weighted mean 16% median by traditional packets sent by mail. The report comes as the implementation of a new rule that specifies “electronic means, or other appropriate means” could be appropriate to fulfill a federal mandate to provide the “best notice that is practicable.” Lawyers saw this shift to email as a less expensive and more effective means of settlement notices.

May 22, 2019

How A 1925 Law Evolved To Become Crucial For Employers

In the early 1920's American businesses faced a legal crisis. The federal courts they relied on to resolve disputes and enforce contracts were overcrowded and otherwise a challenge to navigate

March 18, 2019

These Are The Nation's 27 Most Overworked District Courts

Last week, the Judicial Conference of the United States released new numbers on the federal district courts most in need of additional judges, and asked Congress to create 73 permanent judgeships.

February 21, 2019

Google to allow employees to sue over discrimination, harassment

The Hill reports that Google is ending its mandatory arbitration policy allowing its employees to sue the company in court over discrimination and harassment claims. The change will apply only to Google's full-time employees. Google also said it will no longer include mandatory arbitration clauses in legal agreements with temporary and contract workers.

February 14, 2019

NY Gives Sex Abuse Victims More Time to Sue, Press Charges

The Associated Press reports on the new New York law that gives childhood sexual abuse victims more time to seek criminal charges or file lawsuits. The law known as the Child Victims Act loosens one of the nation's tightest statutes of limitations on molestation cases. Victims now have until age 55 to file civil lawsuits and seek criminal charges until age 28, as opposed to 23 under the old statute.

January 24, 2019

With Smack-Talking Invective, Lawyer Groups Appeal to Public as One Big Jury Pool

Fair Warning reports on the dueling claims of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) regarding the ‘Judicial Hellholes’ report. Victor Schwartz, the creator of this term and the ATRA’s longtime general counsel, said the report “is about courts where defendants can’t get a fair trial.” On the other side, the AAJ said that “the real hellhole is a world in which an unsuspecting consumer is harmed, abused or defrauded by an unscrupulous corporation and has no recourse and no chance to prevent future wrongdoing.” Academic researchers generally say neither side of this divide deserves praise for objectivity.

January 6, 2019

4 Access To Justice Cases To Watch In 2019

Law 360 summarizes four access to justice cases to watch in 2019. These four cases address civil forfeiture, an immigrant child’s right to a fair hearing without a lawyer, cy pres awards, and double jeopardy. The Civil Justice Research Initiative submitted a legal brief in the cy pres case.

October 28, 2018

MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Spotlights Access To Justice Field

Law 360 reports that the MacArthur Foundation has awarded a ‘genius’ grant to a researcher in access to civil justice. University of Illinois sociologist Rebecca Sandefur was awarded the no-strings-attached $625,000 grant. Sandefur noted that federal grant money for research into the civil justice system dried up in the 1980s, and scholars focused instead on crime and criminal justice issues as they took priority in the national consciousness.

October 24, 2017

Congress Makes It Harder to Sue the Financial Industry

The Wall Street Journal reports on how Congress just made it harder to sue the financial industry. Congress overturned a rule by an Obama-appointed financial regulator that would have made it easier for consumers to sue banks in groups. The overturned rule prevents companies from including in consumer contracts arbitration clause that blocks class-action lawsuits, though it doesn’t ban arbitration entirely.

June 28, 2017

Stunning drop in federal plaintiffs’ win rate is complete mystery – new study

Reuters reports on a new study by University of Connecticut law professors Alexandra Lahav and Peter Siegelman that show the winning rate for plaintiffs in civil litigation in federal courts declined drastically and steadily between 1985 and 1995, from about 70 percent to 30 percent. If plaintiffs had continued to prevail at 1985 rates across the 24 years the professors evaluated, they would have won 377,000 more cases than they actually did.

December 30, 2016

Washington Post, Top Republicans Say There is a Medical MalPractice Crisis. Experts Say There Isn’t

The Washington Post reports on research disputing top Republicans’ claim that frivolous lawsuits are driving up malpractice insurance premiums and forcing physicians out of business. Researchers and experts say that the nation’s medical malpractice insurance industry is running smoothly and has not been in crisis for more than a decade.