Bill meant to prevent frivolous class action lawsuits awaiting governor’s signature

By Kyle Barnett | May 31, 2013

BATON ROUGE – A bill that would change the requirements for certification in class action lawsuits has passed both the Senate and House unanimously and is headed to the governor’s desk.

HB472 was authored by first term Representative Jay Morris (R–Monroe) who said the legislation would tighten the certification process for class action lawsuits.

Morris said the high cost associated with defending class action certification was the reason he put the bill forward.

“Defendants who typically pay by the hour spend anywhere from $50,000 to $3-4 million defending class certification and I think that this bill would say ‘Wait a minute. These claims really have to be identical for a class to be certified,’” he said. “The bill doesn’t eliminate class actions, but I think it will help reduce the possibility of highly questionable class actions that are certified. Because that is where the big fight is…certification.”

The bill would require defendants in class action lawsuits to prove their class members have identical claims before certifying a class.

“What plaintiff’s attorneys hope for is to extract a settlement because once a class is certified huge amounts of pressure get put on defendants, even if they think the claim is valueless of worthless, because of the possibility of an adverse judgment,” he said.

Morris said he made a slight change in the language of the bill at the request of the trial lawyer-comprised Louisiana Justice Association, however, he does not expect the amendment will change the original intent of the bill.

“The Louisiana State Bar Association and the trial lawyers thought that, wrongfully in my opinion, if that became law it would effectively end class actions in Louisiana, which actually it would be ok with me if it did that, but it didn’t do that,” he said.

Although there were still some opponents to the bill within the Louisiana Justice Association, Morris said his concession stopped any major opposition and allowed the legislation to sail through the legislature without a single vote against.

As an example of class action certification run amok Morris mentioned a lawsuit against an Anytime Fitness location in Baton Rouge that would likely not have been certified if his law were in place.

“A rogue employee at a health club was videoing the girl’s bathroom and locker room, which is an egregious behavior, and they sued the health club and the employee. Of course the health club owners didn’t know this was going on,” he said. “They sued on behalf of every girl that went to the health club and there wasn’t any evidence put on that each lady was actually damaged by the actions of that employee.”

The case was turned over earlier this year when the class was decertified by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“If my law would have been in effect it wouldn’t have gone all the way to the Supreme Court and gotten reversed,” he said. “Under our current system everyone pays their own attorney’s fees so the defendant in that case had to pay all of this money for each class member even though they had no proof and all of the class certification process.”

Morris said he expects Gov. Jindal will sign the bill into law.

“Gov. Jindal has not made tort reform one of his pillars of his admin but he hasn’t actively opposed it either. I don’t think it will be a problem,” he said.

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