Republicans in House pass anti-class action bill

Posted on: March 24th, 2017 by Steve Larson

Recently, the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed a bill intended to make it more difficult to bring class actions. Democrats objected that the measure would cripple the public’s ability to keep abuses by corporations in check.

The ironically named Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 changes federal standards for class actions. Backers of the legislation, including Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the bill would adjust the balance between abusive plaintiffs and innocent defendants. The class action bill would require that plaintiffs show that potential class members have both the same type and “scope” of injury to win class certification. Opponents of the legislation say it would make it virtually impossible to bring a class action lawsuit, effectively locking the courthouse doors to millions of Americans.

The final vote in the House represented a very narrow victory (220 – 201), setting the stage for a real battle in the United States Senate. This vote was much closer than the vote for a similar bill in the last Congress. Fourteen Republicans opposed the bill, and not a single Democrat voted in favor of it. The bill that passed the House last year was not taken up by the Senate.

The business lobby has been pushing for the bill for years, and the election of President Donald Trump along with Republican majorities in Congress mean that they are closer than ever to getting their wish. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the bill and sent a letter to members of Congress urging its passage.

Consumer advocates say the bills would effectively shield banks and other financial firms from accountability in the courts, especially when coupled with mandatory arbitration clauses attached to credit cards and other consumer financial contracts.

Democrats cited a list of organizations who have opposed the bill, ranging from the American Bar Association to the ACLU, and said that the House should not go around the Rules Enabling Act that is meant to leave federal judiciary rules up to the Judicial Conference.

Democratic lawmakers put forward a number of amendments, seeking to exempt certain types of class actions — including suits involving terrorist attack, civil rights, and housing claims — from the bill, but these were all rejected.