More than 2.6 million people tuned in to hear the Ninth Circuit’s oral argument in State of Washington, et al., vs. Donald Trump, President of the United States, et al, one of the cases challenging the Muslim refugee ban. It was a remarkable display of public interest in the workings of the federal judiciary. Those curious citizens were then treated to a lengthy argument over standing, one of the more obscure and frustrating doctrines in the law.
“Standing” refers to a particular plaintiff’s ability to bring a particular claim. If your third cousin gets hit by a drunk driver, your third cousin has “standing” to sue the drunk driver. You, however, do not have “standing” to bring that lawsuit. It sounds like such a straightforward issue, but, thanks to years of dubious Supreme Court precedent, “standing” is now a doctrinal morass that sporadically results in the dismissal of important cases, leaving a wide swath of potentially illegal or unconstitutional actions unreviewable by any court. Continue reading
LBJ gave up his radio stations. Jimmy Carter gave up his peanut farm. Untangling Donald Trump from his web of companies and interests is a bit more complicated.
Yesterday, a team of lawyers at Morgan Lewis released a “white paper” about “conflicts of interest and the President,” apparently prepared for President-Elect Donald Trump. (“Apparently” because it’s not clear if Morgan Lewis prepared it for Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, the newly created trust, or some combination of all three.) The white paper argues that the President and Vice President are exempted from the federal criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208, and that the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution isn’t violated by Trump (or his company) doing business with foreign governments “so long as foreign governments pay fair-market-value prices.”
What was more interesting, however, was what Morgan Lewis did not say: how is Donald Trump going to ensure he and his sons don’t commit “honest services fraud?” Continue reading
Last month, the FDA allowed Pfizer to change the warning label for Chantix — a drug prescribed for smoking cessation — so that it no longer has to have a prominent “black box” warning for psychiatric effects. Instead, it has a warning lower in the label that says:
Neuropsychiatric Adverse Events: Postmarketing reports of serious or clinically significant neuropsychiatric adverse events have included changes in mood (including depression and mania), psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, homicidal ideation, aggression, hostility, agitation, anxiety, and panic, as well as suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide. Observe patients attempting to quit smoking with CHANTIX for the occurrence of such symptoms and instruct them to discontinue CHANTIX and contact a healthcare provider if they experience such adverse events. (5.1)
Kaleigh Rogers at Vice hails the change: “Though this is a win for Pfizer, it’s also a win for science: years of independent scientific research has shown there’s no link between the drug and an increased risk of negative psychiatric effects.” That sort of loose analysis — “no link,” instead of the more accurate “no statistically significant difference among users with no prior history of psychiatric conditions” — is what gets us into trouble. The problems only get worse once we look at the clinical trial that supposedly justified this change, a trial so plagued with problems that the FDA disregarded many of the investigators’ conclusions and initiated an investigation into protocol violations.
Put simply, we don’t have adequate scientific data to conclusively prove or disprove a link between Chantix and neuropsychiatric adverse events, but the evidence we do have is quite worrying.
Have you seen this horrifying graphic?
It’s from a New York Times story, “How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red.’” The graphic suggests that people were asked whether it was “essential” to live in a democracy and, in response, more than half of people born after the 1960s said it was not. Worse, the graphic suggests nearly 70% of people born after 1980 said it was not “essential” to live in a democracy.
If that were true, it would be quite alarming.
Here’s the good news: it’s not true. No one was even asked if it was “essential to live in a democracy.”
Here’s even more good news: that same study actually showed,
- 98.9% of Americans under 30 believe it is “important” to live in a democracy.
- Americans under 30 are three times less likely than Americans over 50 to say that free elections are not “essential.”
- Americans under 30 are half as likely than Americans over 50 to say that civil rights protecting people from state oppression are not “essential.”
- Americans under 30 are far less likely to say it is “essential” that people “obey their rulers.”
There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Let’s see how this all went wrong.
As I wrote two weeks ago, a petition for certiorari is pending in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, a case that might change the rules for specific jurisdiction. A week ago, amicus briefs were filed by several large corporations and their lobbying groups, including a brief by GlaxoSmithKline that included these curious quotes and citations:
When’s the last time you saw a multi-billion-dollar corporation tell the Supreme Court of the United States to get the real facts about personal injury lawsuits from The Trial Lawyer Magazine and a six-year-old post on accidentinjurylawyerblog.com?
I’d certainly trust Ron Miller before GlaxoSmithKline. Sure, there’s reason to question the credibility of both: GlaxoSmithKline paid $3 billion to settle fraud claims brought by the Department of Justice, whereas Ron Miller didn’t follow me on Twitter until recently. Despite that obvious lapse in Ron’s judgment, he’s a trustworthy guy.
The citation to Ron’s blog is not the only time I’ve seen a legal blog cited in a brief. I recently saw a federal appellate court brief filed by a drug manufacturer include a citation to Drug & Device Law, a blog written entirely lawyers who represent drug manufacturers. I don’t have a problem with that, either. The citation to Drug & Device Law was in many ways a de facto extension of the page limits, because the post in question advocated for the same position the defendants were taking, but the same could be said for many of the nominally “unbiased” law review articles that are routinely cited in briefs and by courts.
But there are deeper issues we need to consider here. Are parties encouraging courts to decide cases based on facts outside of the record? Should courts decide cases based on advocacy pieces from non-parties? Are we really entering an era in which a lawyer can credibly support an argument by referencing something they read on the Internet? Continue reading
Pfizer likes California. As the company brags on its website, “Pfizer La Jolla’s 25-acre campus includes five buildings totaling more than 500,000 square feet of state-of-the-art facilities, with specialized laboratories and equipment for structural and computational biology, molecular design, drug metabolism, high throughput chemistry, and pharmacology.” Pfizer reaps billions in profits from its California sales (profits Pfizer is going to avoid paying taxes on by asserting they were earned overseas), and Pfizer shovels that money right back into California politics, spending over $6 million this year trying to influence a California ballot measure that would cap prescription drug costs.
But that didn’t stop Pfizer from claiming in a court filing earlier this week that lawsuits against it cannot “be fairly heard by a California state court.” Pfizer claims that allowing lawsuits against it to be heard in California would deny Pfizer “its due process right not to be hailed into a foreign court that lacks both general and specific jurisdiction.” It’s as if California was some sort of totalitarian regime on the other side of the world, rather than the home to Pfizer’s 25-acre campus less than a mile from the Torrey Pines Golf Course.
If this sounds nuts, that’s because it is nuts. But this is the wacky world of personal jurisdiction that big corporate defendants want to create by way of the Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 20 (2014). The proper application of Daimler AG has been one of the most contentious issues in the federal courts over the past two years, and it’ll remain contentious for years to come.
So grab a cup of coffee and let’s get to work.
I’ve been writing about the law of driverless cars since 2011. For more than forty years, the general rule for when a car was defectively designed is whether the manufacturer met “a reasonable duty of care in the design of its vehicle consonant with the state of the art to minimize the effect of accidents.” Larsen v. General Motors Corporation, 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968).
Volvo got a lot of free press last year when it said it would accept legal responsibility for crashes involving self-driving cars, but, as always, the fine print said otherwise:
Volvo also told the BBC it would only accept liability for an accident if it was the result of a flaw in the car’s design. “If the customer used the technology in an inappropriate way then the user is still liable,” said Mr Coelingh. “Likewise if a third party vehicle causes the crash, then it would be liable.”
In other words, Volvo agreed to nothing at all. Volvo simply agreed it would be held responsible in the same circumstances under which it would already be held responsible: when there was a flaw in the car’s design.
That aspect raises an obvious question: how should driverless cars be designed? Most of the media attention has been devoted towards philosophical questions like “the Trolley Problem.” Continue reading
This post was inevitable. I’ve been writing about defamation law on this blog for years. Back in July 2010, for example, I explained why Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t sue the makers of The Social Network, and he didn’t. In 2012, I said Michael Mann’s claim against the National Review was “non-frivolous,” but that it was a difficult question as to whether it could proceed – and three years later the Washington Post said it seemed “the court may be having some difficulty” deciding it, and the case is still stuck. Earlier this year, I spelled out the legal issues in the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker trial, based on the lawyers’ own briefs.
Now Donald Trump, faced with an onslaught of sexual assault allegations — essentially alleging that he committed the sexually aggressive behavior he bragged about in the 2005 Access Hollywood tape — has started threatening to sue for defamation. Funny coincidence: years ago, I met New York Times Assistant General Counsel David McCraw, who wrote the paper’s response to Trump. He told me the New York Times hasn’t paid a dime on a defamation case in fifty years, and they’re not going to start any time soon. I’m pretty sure that is still true today and will be true for years to come.
When a lawyer writes a letter for public consumption, it looks like Donald’s letter. When a lawyer writes a letter as a prelude to a lawsuit, it looks like Melania’s letter. Donald Trump hasn’t sued a newspaper for libel in thirty years, but Melania did just last month. As I’ll explain below, it looks like Donald Trump is just blowing smoke for show – perhaps he’ll file a lawsuit now then dismiss it after the election – but Melania Trump’s lawyer, the same lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan against Gawker, is using the same strategy he did in that case to position her for a similar outcome. Continue reading
Thirty-one states have passed “Right To Try” legislation that, in theory, makes it easier for patients with terminal diagnoses to use drugs that are in the investigational stage but haven’t yet been approved by the FDA. I use the phrase “in theory” because state legislation doesn’t mean much in the field of drug regulation: it’s all determined by the federal government, which has the power to shut down unapproved uses of medications, even if the state government says otherwise.
The idea behind “Right To Try” state legislation is compelling: from a common-sense perspective, there aren’t many good reasons why terminally ill patients should not be allowed to “try” medicines their doctor believes might help them, even if the medicine isn’t yet approved. After all, many of the approved medicines for terminally ill conditions aren’t that useful. For example, most pharmaceutical cancer treatments have been approved on the basis of “surrogate markers” (like reduced tumor growth rates) instead of being actually shown to improve mortality.
There are a few truisms in civil jury trial practice, one of which is: don’t make an appeal to sympathy. See, e.g., Arnold v. E. Air Lines, Inc., 681 F.2d 186, 196-200 (4th Cir. 1982)(“the blatant, direct appeal for sympathy in closing argument [was] plainly improper”). The jury, too, is specifically told to disregard sympathy. See, e.g., Ninth Circuit Model Jury Instructions, 1.1B (“you must not be influenced by any personal likes or dislikes, opinions, prejudices, or sympathy”).
Typically, when it comes to complaints about “sympathy” in civil trials, the complaints come from insurance companies, big companies, and hospital systems, all of which often claim that verdicts for plaintiffs come more from sympathy than from a dispassionate review of the facts. I personally disagree — every day in America, “sympathetic” plaintiffs lose their cases — but that’s an argument for another time. Today’s post is about when a corporate defendant tries to play on the jury’s sympathy. Continue reading