Court Rulings/Decisions

Civil litigation is a highly deadline-driven activity – statutes of limitation, discovery responses, notices of appeal. The “use it by a date certain or lose it” nature of all of these deadlines pushes the wheels of justice forward, steadily, if sometimes slowly. Over the past 48 hours, in response to the novel coronavirus, state and federal courts across the country have applied the brakes to the judicial system – canceling appellate arguments, postponing jury trials, and pushing out deadlines, sometimes potentially for months. In the short-term, the orders provide welcome relief for firms and clients coping with office closures and directives in many parts of the country to shelter in place. But the relief in many cases may be incomplete – in some instances, courts lack the power to relieve parties from jurisdictional deadlines. As illustrative examples, here we look at a series of orders, all effective March 17, 2020, from a federal court in Chicago, and from state courts in Illinois, California, and New York.
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When plaintiffs sue companies alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), courts start by answering two threshold legal questions. Does the ADA apply to websites? And if it does, which websites does it apply to? At least seven federal circuit courts have answered these questions and have reached three different conclusions. Until recently, California courts had provided little guidance. But on September 3, 2019, the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal decided Thurston v. Midvale Corporation (Case No. B291631). Thurston clarifies that commercial websites with a “nexus” to a physical location are subject to the ADA.
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A U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last summer may have changed the trajectory of a high-profile pending commercial speech case. In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the Court modified the traditional commercial speech tests, perhaps placing a greater burden on the government when it seeks to regulate commercial speech. Becerra could influence the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in Cigar Association of America v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration as to whether FDA-mandated cigar health warnings violate the First Amendment. If cigar regulations are found to violate the First Amendment, it could lead to a new wave of litigation.
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Entities regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) should have greater confidence in sharing confidential business information with the agency following a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that addressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s duty to disclose information in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

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It has been two years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court (BMS). In BMS, the Court held that state courts lacked personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants relating to state-law mass tort claims that had no connection to the forum state. We have followed this decision closely on the blog here and here.
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Imagine you try to flush a wipe that is branded flushable and discover it won’t flush. You are angry enough to sue the manufacturer for damages for “consumer fraud,” but should you also be able to force the manufacturer to change the label, even though your experience means you now know the “truth” about the product?
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When a bulk container of vitamins tore and began to leak, it set into motion an unforeseen chain of events — beginning with the injury of Martin Cassidy and ending with an increased risk of strict liability for distributors of allegedly defective products.

In an Illinois strict product liability action, the court must dismiss a distributor once that distributor certifies the identity of the product’s manufacturer. Previously, a plaintiff seeking to vacate such a dismissal order — to reinstate the distributor as a defendant — had to show that the manufacturer was “bankrupt or nonexistent.” Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC rejected that rule.[1] The court held instead that the distributor could be reinstated as a defendant if the “plaintiff can establish other circumstances that effectively bar recovery of the full measure of judgment damages” from the manufacturer.

What are these other circumstances? The court declined to say, leaving it up to distributors, manufacturers, their counsel, and trial courts to attempt to define them.
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Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Air & Liquid Systems Corp., et al. v. Devries, 139 S. Ct. 986 (2019), a maritime tort law case in which plaintiffs alleged that asbestos exposure during their Navy service caused them to develop cancer. The Supreme Court held that, in the maritime context, a manufacturer has a duty to warn not only of the manufacturer’s own products, but also of third-party products that are later added to the manufacturer’s product.
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Parties engaged in multidistrict litigation (MDL) face a crucial decision: which case or cases should be tried first? For both plaintiffs and defendants, bellwethers — the first trial or trials from the similar cases making up the MDL — can determine how the rest of the cases proceed. One current headlining case — the prescription opioid MDL pending before Judge Polster in federal district court in Ohio — shows both how hard it is to select bellwethers and why bellwethers matter.
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We have written extensively on this blog about personal jurisdiction and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California changed the rules regarding specific jurisdiction.
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