Some academics and commentators have been reading the tea leaves in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (pdf) and AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (pdf) as spelling doom for consumer and employment class actions. That’s overwrought; Dukes rejected an extremely adventuresome application of the class action rules by the Ninth Circuit, and Concepcion merely reminded courts that they can’t get around the Federal Arbitration Act by insisting that arbitration agreements permit expensive aspects of judicial litigation that are completely alien to arbitration in its traditional form. The continuing flood of class action filings is proof that the spigot hasn’t been shut off. But companies should pay attention to where the plaintiffs’ bar thinks they should move next if filing class actions stops being a viable business model.
In a recent article—After Class: Aggregate Litigation in the Wake of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (pdf), 79 U. Chi. L. Rev. 623 (2012)—law professor Myriam Gilles and plaintiffs’ lawyer Gary Friedman shine the spotlight on state attorneys general:
In our view, the “private attorney general” role assumed by class action lawyers over the past several decades should give way to a world in which state attorneys general make broad use of their parens patriae authority—far greater use than they have in the past—to represent the interests of their citizens in the very consumer, antitrust, wage-and-hour, and other cases that have long provided the staple of class action practice.
And to tackle complex cases, we would hope to see underfunded AG offices making use of the lawyers who have acquired expertise in originating, investigating, and prosecuting class actions, as well as financing them.
The linchpin of this strategy is, of course, the money. If a state AG can’t give the deputized class action lawyers a big chunk of the money recovered for citizens, the model falls apart. Of course, money was one of the main problems with the biggest experiment with deputizing private lawyers as state AGs—the states’ lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Then-Texas AG Dan Morales was sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to steer millions of dollars from the proceeds of the tobacco settlement to a Houston lawyer.
So what should businesses do if they face one of these parens patriae lawsuits from a faux “acting AG”? Here are a few thoughts:
Continue Reading What’s Next for the Class Action Plaintiffs’ Bar? Getting Deputized by State Attorneys General