How Much is too Much? Counsel’s Active Conduct in Asbestos Suit Results in Forfeiture of Jurisdictional Defense

Since the jurisdictionU.S. Supreme Court handed down Daimler AG v. Bauman 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014), personal jurisdiction defenses have experienced a renaissance in asbestos litigation.  Defendants that wish to win such arguments, however, are well advised to heed a recent ruling by Judge Gibney, who presides over Rhode Island’s state court asbestos docket.  In Bazor v. Abex Corporation et al., C.A. No. PC-10-3965 (R.I. Super. May 2, 2016), Judge Gibney issued a ruling that is instructive on what a defendant must do to preserve its right to contest jurisdiction, holding that a defense counsel’s “active conduct constitute[d] forfeiture of the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction.”  The court referred to “forfeiture” as opposed to “waiver” because the defendant had properly asserted the lack of personal jurisdiction as a special defense.

In this instance, the “active participation” included the following conduct during the two years and nine months between the filing of an answer and the motion to dismiss: filing an objection to the trial date, attending a plaintiff’s deposition, requesting and participating in the reopening of that deposition, participating in the deposition of the plaintiffs’ expert, objecting to the expert’s deposition on non-jurisdictional grounds, disclosing eight  expert witnesses, filing 15 motions in limine, supplementing its expert witness disclosure, producing two expert witnesses for depositions, responding to discovery (without preserving the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction), supplementing its expert discovery, moving to compel the production of the plaintiffs’ bankruptcy trust documents, and participating in at least ten status/settlement conferences.  In short, defense counsel’s very active participation in the litigation was so active so as to constitute “forfeiture” of a claim of lack of personal jurisdiction.

Looking to federal jurisprudence for guidance, the court focused on defense counsel’s litany of activity over several years.  Synthesizing federal decisions, the court identified two  principal elements to weigh to determine whether a defense of personal jurisdiction is forfeited: (a) the delay in asserting the defense; and (b) the “nature and extent” of the defendant’s involvement in the case.  The court noted that the first factor could be met by as little as four months’ delay; but reasoned that the second factor weighed more heavily than the mere passage of time.  With regard to the second factor, the court cited defendant’s filing of an appearance, participation in discovery, attending and taking depositions, and filing and opposing motions as evidence of active participation.  Notably, the court found that the defendant had created “substantial delay” without “a sufficiently meritorious reason” for failing to assert its defense for two years and nine months after the filing of its answer.  The level of participation appears to have been the deciding factor; with special attention brought to “the fifteen motions in limine [defendant] filed which sought merits-based rulings” and the failure to continually assert the defense throughout the course of litigation.  However, of concern is that the ruling did nothing to establish a “bright line” rule of precisely how much participation is “too much” so as to result in a forfeiture of a jurisdictional defense.

It is unclear where this decision leaves litigants who need to participate in early discovery and who also want to preserve their jurisdictional defenses.  Defendants who wish to maintain their defenses are faced with choosing from various interpretations of the Bazor decision, focusing on the assertion of their rights and carefully monitoring the level of their participation.  The decision could reasonably be read to indicate that a party may participate in discovery, but only if they continue to maintain and pursue their jurisdictional defense.  Alternatively, some parties may refuse to participate in non-jurisdictional discovery for fear of inadvertent forfeiture. This may create friction with plaintiff’s counsel when their clients are in poor health, which frequently occurs in asbestos cases across the country.  Ultimately, the lesson of Bazor may be that safest resolution for defense counsel will be to file and pursue dispositive jurisdictional motions as early in the case as possible.  At the very least, defense counsel should raise the defense in pleadings and discovery which precede the filing of the motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds and/or reach some sort of agreement with opposing counsel to prevent forfeiture despite some level of active participation in the case. For example, defense counsel in the asbestos litigation should obtain a stipulation that attendance at an exigent deposition does not constitute a waiver of personal jurisdiction arguments; and that stipulation should be placed on the record.

Don’t Be An Unhappy “CAMP”er: Ignoring Second Circuit Mediation May Result In Grievance Panel Referral

 Three people talking - 3d renderThe Second Circuit advises litigants on its website that its mediation and settlement program (known as “CAMP”) is a long-standing and integral part of the court’s appellate process.  The Second Circuit assigns “experienced and skilled circuit mediators” to work with counsel and their clients to resolve disputes on the court’s civil docket at no cost to the parties. Although the mediation process is considered “voluntary,” failing to appear at a CAMP may result in sanctions and, possibly, a referral to the Court’s Grievance Panel.

In late 2015, parties to a Second Circuit appeal were directed to appear at the offices of a prominent mid-town New York law firm for a CAMP mediation.  The mediator appointed by the Court was a well-regarded litigation partner at the law firm.  Appellant’s counsel failed to appear at the mediator’s office at the appointed time.  By order, dated January 26, 2016, Circuit Judge Danny Chin ordered the parties “to show cause why disciplinary or other corrective measures should not be imposed on them” for failing to appear for the mediation.

In response to Judge Chin’s order to show cause, counsel advised the Court that that the appellant had “replaced” him as counsel and revoked his authority to speak on appellant’s behalf.  Counsel anticipated that appellant’s new counsel would make a formal substitution of counsel, but apparently never did so.  Judge Chin observed in his Order, dated March 14, 2016, that a party’s decision to replace counsel did not relieve counsel of their obligation to comply with Court orders until such time as the Court granted counsel’s party to be relieved.  “As counsel of record, they were obligated to respond to the Court’s order that they appear at a mediation conference, at the very least to notify the appointed mediator that their representation was in question and to request an adjournment.” However, Judge Chin found it more troubling that appellant’s counsel viewed the court’s mediation program as optional. Judge Chin found it remarkable that counsel did not even show the court appointed mediator the professional courtesy of a telephone call to advise her that they were not intending to appear.

Judge Chin determined that he would not refer the matter to the Court’s Grievance Panel based upon his determination that: (1) counsel’s conduct was limited to one case and not likely to be repeated; (2) counsel accepted responsibility and conceded error; and (3) counsel did not act in bad faith.

Practice Tips 

First, merely because a client has relieved a lawyer as his counsel, in both the trial court and on appeal, counsel should not assume that his judicial obligations have ended.  Until such time as a motion for substitution of counsel is filed and granted by the court, counsel’s failure to respond to court orders may result in the imposition of sanctions.  At a minimum, counsel should alert the court (or, in this case, the court-appointed mediator) that a substitution of counsel is in the offing.  As a practical matter, this communication may provide the client additional time to effectuate a substitution of counsel.  It also apprises the court and the adversary that conducting a mediation before the change of counsel has been effectuated would not be efficacious in resolving the dispute.

Second, a party’s failure to appear at a court-directed “voluntary” mediation, during either a trial court or appellate proceeding, also may result in the imposition of sanctions.  In the SDNY, an increasing number of civil cases are being referred to mediation.  Although the mediation process is confidential and the parties’ stated positions during mediation are never disclosed to the judge or magistrate handling the matter, it may be brought to the court’s attention if a party fails to appear for the mediation or, in the judgment of the mediator, fails to participate in the mediation in good faith.  Although court-annexed mediation proceeds on a separate track from the court’s discovery scheduling order, the mediation program is an integral part of the judicial resolution process and must be treated as such by the litigants.

Is Rule 30(b)(6) A Plaintiff’s Best Friend?

Rule 30(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides an efficient means of identifying the corporate representative with the most relevant knowledge concerning particular subjects at issue in a case. When a requesting party cannot identify the appropriate corporate witness to testify about particular activities or documents, Rule 30(b)(6) can be an invaluable tool.

The corporate deposition may be fraught with risk, however, especially in a case involving skillful plaintiff counsel. This is particularly the case where testimony of the corporate representative may have importance in future or parallel litigation. Thus, If Rule 30(b)(6) is plaintiff’s counsel’s best friend, it is imperative that the corporate witness be properly prepared in the first instance. In a program titled, “Preparing the Corporate Witness,” which was presented to the attendees at the IADC’s 2013 Annual Meeting, Kay Barnes Baxter of Swetman Baxter Massenburg, LLC, Elizabeth Haecker Ryan of Coats Rose, and Terrence M.R. Zic of Whiteford Taylor Preston LLC provided an excellent overview of potential Rule 30(b)(6) pitfalls and how good preparation may help avoid them.

Upon receipt of the Rule 30(b)(6) notice, the first decision to make is whether to object to the notice. Is the notice overly broad and burdensome? Is the notice so vague that it is unclear precisely what information will be elicited at the deposition? Prior to discussing with the client what witness or witnesses to produce, it is imperative that both counsel and the client have a clear idea concerning the scope of the notice. The failure to timely object to the notice may come back to haunt the unwary defense counsel.

The second decision to make is critical – who should be designated as the corporate representative? The rule does not require the person designated to be the individual “most knowledgeable” about the subject matter. However, there is nothing to prohibit the corporation from designating that person. Moreover, the rule does not require that the witness be an employee of the corporation. The rule indicates that a corporation may designate “other persons who consent to testify on its behalf.”  On occasion, a former employee or a consultant may have the best information concerning the information at issue.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in preparing the corporate witness for deposition is that he or she must testify to “information known or reasonably available to the organization.” Thus, the corporate witness often is required to testify beyond his or her personal knowledge. The plaintiff generally wants to have it both ways. During the deposition, the plaintiff will seek to elicit hearsay testimony from the corporate witness. However, should the same corporate witness appear at trial, plaintiff’s counsel will most likely object to the admission of testimony unfavorable to the plaintiff on the ground that the witness does not have personal knowledge of the information.

 Therefore, it is often a good strategy to consider conducting your own direct examination of the witness at the end of plaintiff’s examination so that you can make counter-designations of that testimony in the event that plaintiff’s counsel designates any portion of the witness’ testimony for trial. It is difficult for plaintiff to object to testimony on hearsay grounds if plaintiff has designated testimony from the same deposition for use at trial.

Every defense counsel has suffered through a deposition in which the client has seemingly forgotten everything that was painstakingly discussed during a prep session.  Hopefully, if counsel has prepared the client well, her corporate witness will hopefully not give answers like:

"I don’t know what ABC Company thinks of what is written in this company document, although I know what I think it means."  or

"This is me speaking, not the Company."

Of course, all answers are on behalf of the corporation and have the potential to be used against it , regardless of how the witness attempts to qualify an answer. 

It is sometimes difficult to anticipate exactly what strategy plaintiff’s counsel will adopt in taking the deposition of a corporate witness. One good tip offered at the IADC program– If you know which plaintiff attorney will be taking the deposition, get a transcript from one of this attorney’s prior corporate depositions and go over with your witness the types of questions that will be asked and the phraseology that the attorney favors. Practice those questions and answers with the corporate witness. Your client should be prepared in the event she is asked what a witness might have been thinking when she wrote a particular document or if she is asked to provide a legal conclusion.  


Congressional Clarification Of Removal Rules: A Primer

Federal court practitioners are well-advised to be aware of the key provisions of the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011 (the “JVCA”), which went into effect on January 6, 2012. The JVCA amended 28 U.S.C. § 1446 in several significant ways. Although the JVCA did not revise existing law relating to the rules governing removal, the Act provided important clarification concerning previously conflicting judicial interpretations of these provisions.

The JVCA clarified the law regarding timing for removal in three significant respects:

1. In a case removable based on the initial complaint, each defendant has thirty days after receipt of the complaint to remove;

 2. Cases that are not initially removable may become removable on receipt of information in discovery satisfying the amount in controversy requirement; and

3. Removal can occur more than one year after the filing of the complaint if bad faith can be shown.
Pursuant to the JVCA, each defendant, and not just the first-served defendant, has its own thirty day clock to file a removal petition.

Thus, it no longer makes any difference that the first-served defendant failed to seek removal. Under the old rule, a savvy plaintiff would typically serve its state court pleading on the least sophisticated defendant first and hope to run out the 30-day clock. This play is no longer effective.

The JVCA codified the “rule of unanimity”, which requires all defendants in diversity cases to consent to removal. Failure to satisfy the “rule of unanimity” makes a defendant’s removal defective. How the practitioner complies with the “rule of unanimity” may vary by jurisdiction. Thus, practitioners should be careful to demonstrate consent in a manner that meets the requirements for the applicable jurisdiction.

According to the JVCA, if a case is not removable based on the initial pleading, information obtained in state court discovery may be used to support removal – notwithstanding the fact that the initial thirty-day post-service removal date have expired. This rule is codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(3)(A), which qualifies discovery responses as an “other paper.”

A case now may be removed more than one year after commencement of the case if the moving defendant can demonstrate that the “plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(1). Although the JVCA does not define “bad faith,” it provides that a plaintiff who “deliberately fails to disclose the amount in controversy to prevent removal shall be deemed bad faith.”

According to the JVCA, “the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy.” The JVCA resolved what had been a split between the federal appeals courts and adopted the majority view that it is the defendant’s burden to establish the amount in controversy by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Under the new rule, if challenged, a defendant is required to present more than a conclusory statement that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

This article relied in large part on an excellent article appearing in Law 360 on July 25, 2013, titled “500 Days of the Revised Removal Statutes,” by Gregory F. Harley and Katie Wolf of Burr & Forman LLP in Atlanta, Georgia.

Excluding Prejudicial Demonstrative Exhibits At Trial

Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admissibility of demonstrative evidence at trial, assuming that evidence is determined to be relevant under Rule 401. Pursuant to Rule 403, a demonstrative exhibit may be excluded from the courtroom if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its unfair prejudice, its cumulative nature or if it is confusing or misleading.

Does the exhibit (1) relate to a piece of admissible substantive proof; (2) fairly and accurately reflect that substantive proof; and (3) is it sufficiently explanatory or illustrative to assist the jury? These are the questions used to establish a proper foundation for use at trial.

 In addition, the exhibit should convey what it is designed to convey. For example, a computer enhanced photograph should not make an accident scene look better or worse than it actually was. Similarly, the demonstrative evidence should convey representational accuracy. The scale, dimensions and contours of the underlying evidence should all be accurately depicted. 
Today more than ever, the creative use of software permits trial counsel to manipulate demonstrative exhibits in ways often difficult to spot.

In an excellent article titled, “5 Demonstrative Evidence Tricks and Cheats to Watch Out For,” Ken Lopez, fouinder of A2L Consulting, provides a useful guide for spotting misleading charts and explains why they are misleading. Lopez discusses five such tricks (which are somewhat difficult to convey without having all of the graphics Lopez uses in his article to illustrate his points):

1. The Slippery Scale. This trick involves setting the the vertical y-axis on a graph in a narrow range that does not include “0.” By not including “0,” it is easy to make a relatively small change look enormous.

2. Compared to what? If the trial lawyer seeks to demonstrate a small change on a percentage basis, all he needs to do is carry the horizontal x-axis so that time is literally “on his side”

3. The Percentage Increase Trick. How many times have you heard someone talk about a 200% or 300% increase and really wonder what they mean? 

 4. Tricking the Eye with 3D Charts. Flat charts with no depth or 3D aspect are harder to trick the viewer with, so always scrutinize your opponent’s charts when a third dimension is introduced. On a pie chart, when a slice of the pie (e.g., the percentage of customers injured by a purportedly defective product) is closer to the viewer, it looks much bigger.

5. Misleading Emotional Imagery. Putting an image of a homeless person in the background of a chart about increasing homelessness is designed to evoke emotion. Similarly, showing an oil-covered bird in the background in an explanation of how much oil was spilled in an accident does not add to one’s understanding of the amount of oil spilled, but seeks to trigger an emotional response in the viewer.

Perhaps the single most important Rule 403 objection you can make in a jury trial is the exhibit’s capacity to generate an emotional response such as pity, revulsion or contempt. Under these circumstances, the capacity to evoke emotion far outweighs the value of the evidence on the issues before the court and exclusion is appropriate.


The Impact Of Twombly & Iqbal In Products Cases

The Toxic Tort Litigation Blog brings to the attention of defense practitioners weapons to add to their defense arsenal. An article in the Bloomberg BNA Toxics Law Reporter (6/14/02), titled "Making the Most of Twombly/Iqbal in Product Liabililty Cases", offers a valuable primer concerning how the pleading requirements under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have been reinterpreted and reshaped by the U.S. Supreme Court in two landmark decisions, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S 662,129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009).

In the article, Arnold & Porter’s Anand Agneshwar and Paige Sharpe review how these two decisions have been employed in product liability litigation either to win outright dismissals of complaints or to force plaintiffs to clearly state in their complaints – and not after discovery – precisely what they seek to prove. Motions brought under Twombly and Iqbal have come to be known as Twiqbal motions.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s publication of Twombly in 2007, federal trial courts were guided by the holding in Conley v. Gibson, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1957. Pursuant to the holding of that case, “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” As Mr. Agneshwar and Ms. Sharpe point out, Twombly retired the “no set of facts” language of Conley, and in its place issued a plausibility standard under which plaintiffs must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action will not do so.” Thus, in order to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible,” plaintiffs must provide a complaint with “enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

The policy rationale for this holding is the avoidance of “potentially enormous expense of discovery in cases with no reasonably founded hope that the discovery process will reveal relevant evidence.” Twombly left unclear whether its pleading directives applied to all civil cases brought in federal court, or just antitrust cases. However, two years later, the Iqbal court made clear that the pleading requirements in Twombly were to be applied across-the-board.

How successful have Twiqbal motions been in product liability cases? A 2011 law review article by Professor William M. Janssen in the Louisiana Law Review, which focused on pharmaceutical and medical device litigation, found that some 21% of the 264 cases studied were dismissed on Iqbal grounds during the relevant time period. This statistic suggests that it would be imprudent to file a Twiqbal motion in every product liability case. Thankfully, Mr. Agneshwar and Ms. Sharpe provide a series of factors that should be considered prior to filing a Rule 8(a) motion.

As a general rule, defense counsel should carefully scrutinize their adversary’s pleadings in products cases to evaluate whether plaintiff has properly alleged facts to support an essential element of a claim, such as how a product is defectively designed (design defect claim) or how specifically defendants’ product labeling is insufficient (failure to warn claim). A complaint that contains only conclusory allegations is vulnerable to Twiqbal attack.

Daubert On The Defense?

We discussed in an earlier article how the Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence, published by the Federal Judicial Center, has become an indispensable tool for judges in managing cases involving complex scientific and technical evidence. The manual describes key scientific fields from which legal evidence is typically derived, and judges often refer to the manual to help them better understand and evaluate the relevance, reliability and usefulness of the evidence being proffered. It has been suggested by some practitioners that the Third Edition, published in 2011, retreats from the rigorous Daubert standards set forth in the Second Edition, and thus will assist the plaintiff’s bar.

A distinguished panel comprised of members of the International Association of Defense Counsel (“IADC”) will examine this issue at IADC’s upcoming Annual Meeting in a program titled, “Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Take 3.” The moderator of the panel will be Bruce R. Parker, a partner at Venable LLP in Baltimore, Maryland. The panel members will include James F. Rogers, a partner with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP in Columbia, South Carolina; James W. Shelson, a partner with Phelps Dunbar LLP in Jackson, Mississippi; and Jessalyn H. Zeigler, a partner with Bass Berry & Sims PLC in Nashville, Tennessee.

The panelists have jointly authored a paper titled, “Changes in the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence (3rd Ed.)” (“RMSE Third”). The authors discuss some of the changes to RMSE Third that suggest a weakening of the Daubert standard for the admissibility of expert testimony. In particular, there is significant concern that the First Circuit’s decision in Milward v. Acuity Specialty Products Group, Inc., 693 F.3d 11 (1st Cir. 2011) will undermine Supreme Court precedent requiring that expert testimony be admitted only when it is based on sound science.

The Milward case involved a plaintiff who alleged that his Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (“APL”), an extremely rare disease, was caused by his exposure to benzene. The key issue on appeal was whether the expert opinion of plaintiff’s toxicology expert, Dr. Martyn Smith, was admissible on the issue of general causation.

In reversing the district court, which had excluded Dr. Smith’s testimony, the First Circuit held that the district court had erred in treating the separate evidentiary components to Dr. Smith’s analysis “atomistically” in “reasoning that because no line of evidence supported a reliable inference of causation, an inference of causation based on the totality of evidence was unreliable.” The First Circuit concluded that Dr. Smith’s “weight of the evidence” approach was acceptable because Dr. Smith reasoned, “to the best explanation for all of the available evidence.”

According to the IADC panel authors, Milward is bad law because: (1) its application of the “weight of the evidence” methodology permits an expert’s opinion to be admitted solely on the basis of the ipse dixit of the expert – i.e., a statement that rests solely on the authority of the expert who made the statement. This is expressly contrary to Joiner  which cautioned that the ipse dixit of the expert does not transform the expert’s opinion into a reliable methodology; (2) reasoning to “the best explanation for all of the evidence available” is not alone sufficient because an expert’s opinion must be excluded when the underlying scientific data do not permit a conclusion beyond hypothesis or speculation; and (3) the First Circuit was wrong to criticize the district court for “atomistically” or, separately, reviewing each evidentiary component of Dr. Smith’s analysis.

Rule 702 requires that expert testimony be “based on sufficient facts or data” and a gatekeeping court must inquire into the data and reasoning underlying an expert’s testimony.  For more information concerning the legal discussion, you can look to the Defendants/Appellees’ Petition for Rehearing and, best of all,  the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the US Supreme Court,  which did not accept cert.  This issue may ultimately be taken up by the Supreme Court, however, because the First Circuit’s decision is at odds with the Daubert jurisprudence of all of the other circuit courts of appeal that have considered these issues

RMSE Third frames the issue of “atomization” by asking, “When there is a Daubert challenge to an expert, should the court look to all the studies on which the expert relies for their collective effect or should the court examine the reliability of each study independently?” RMSE Third incorrectly suggests that the former approach may be the more appropriate.

Although the “weight of the evidence” approach may be used by regulatory agencies to assess the risk of chemicals, that does not render this approach reliable and relevant under Daubert. It is well known that regulatory agencies will often err on the side of caution without clear scientific evidence, but that Daubert requires that testing and validation occur before evidence is admissible in court.


Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition–An Indispensable Tool

With little fanfare, the Federal Judicial Center and the National Research Council of the National Academies issued the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition, in 2011. Soon after the Supreme Court’s historic 1993 holding in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which federal judges were directed to serve as “gatekeepers,” the Federal Judicial Center published the First Edition of the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, which became the leading reference source for federal judges seeking an understanding of difficult issues involving scientific testimony. The Second Edition was published by the Federal Judicial Center in 2000.  Considering advances in science, both in terms of how science is treated in the courtroom and in the laboratory, over the last 12 years, a new edition is certainly welcome. 

For the toxic tort practitioner, the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence is an indispensable reference work. As with previous editions, the Third Edition is organized according to the important scientific and technological disciplines often encountered by federal (or state) judges. It would be difficult to imagine preparing any toxic tort case for trial (or the filing of a Daubert motion) without reviewing, for example, the manual’s chapters on exposure science, epidemiology, toxicology, neuroscience and/or engineering. 

In particular, two critical issues germane to the interpretation of scientific evidence, namely issues of causation and conflict of interest, are highlighted in the new edition’s Preface. Judges are in a less favorable position than scientists to make causation assessments. Scientists have the luxury of delaying their decision while they or others gather more data. Judges, on the other hand, must rule on causation based upon existing information presented to the court. In the final analysis, a judge does not have the option of suspending judgment until more information is available, but must fulfill his gatekeeper role after considering the best available science. The Third Edition seeks to make that judicial task more manageable.

The Preface also discusses the problem of conflict of interest, which is an issue that cuts across most, if not all, scientific disciplines. What is the relationship between conflict and bias? According to the Preface, even though financial conflicts can be identified, the existence of a conflict, even one involving huge sums of money, does not necessarily mean that a given individual will be biased. Thus, having a financial relationship with a commercial entity produces a conflict of interest, but does not inevitably evoke bias. As the Third Edition points out, it is critical that judge and juries consider financial conflicts of interest when assessing scientific testimony, and the threshold for pursuing the possibility of such bias must be low.

I would appreciate comments from practitioners concerning how, if at all, the issuance of the Third Edition has impacted toxic tort trial practice or might do so in the future.


Forum Non Conveniens: Be Careful What You Ask For

In defending a United States defendant in an action involving a foreign accident and foreign claimants, it is almost a knee jerk reaction to file a motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds. In a thought provoking article, “Be Careful What You Ask For – the Forum Non Conveniens Dilemma,” Cozen O’Connor lawyersRichard Dunn and Raquel Fernandez bring this practice into question. Mr. Dunn and Ms. Fernandez urge a different standard for analyzing whether to file the motion. The question that should be asked is whether it is beneficial for the U.S. defendant company to be subject to the laws and procedures in the foreign jurisdiction.

Thus, it is critical to understand the foreign jurisdiction’s law before your client is stuck there in litigation. A few of the considerations to think about include:

(1) Can your client get out of the case on summary judgment? Many foreign jurisdictions do not provide for summary judgment. Therefore, all matters before a court must be tried to conclusion, which may potentially lengthen and increase the cost of proceedings;

(2) How much time will your client have to prepare its case? Some foreign jurisdictions allow a short time for defendant to mount its defense, which may be an important consideration in a complex product liability case where it is necessary to hire and prepare appropriate experts. Moreover, the documentary evidence that supports your client’s case has to be translated into the foreign jurisdiction’s official language; 

(3) Will discovery be allowed? In some foreign jurisdictions, there is nothing akin to the discovery procedures that benefit parties in the United States;

(4) Will expert testimony be allowed? Often, the foreign court will place great emphasis on the government accident investigation report rather than on the expert evidence. In some jurisdictions, your client’s liability may be determined by the government authorities charged with investigating the accident, although they may not be competent;

(5) What is the role of the judge? Is the court the sole trier of fact?;

(6) Are there multiple claimants? You should determine whether all of the claimants involved in the incident can be consolidated before the same tribunal. If each claimant is able to file suit in his or her own locale, the client may need to defend numerous actions before numerous judges in different locations; and

(7) What are the attitudes towards the United States and American businesses in the foreign jurisdiction?

Anti-American bias and corruption figured prominently in Chevron’s environmental litigation in Ecuador. In the early 1990’s, Ecuadorian claimants filed suit in the United States alleging that Texaco’s operations polluted the rain forests and rivers in Ecuador, resulting in environmental and personal injury damages. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2002 on forum non conveniens grounds and the case was refiled in Ecuador the following year. In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court entered an $18,000,000,000 judgment against Chevron (which had earlier acquired Texaco).

Scott A. Edelman, a partner at Gibson Dunn in Los Angeles, made a compelling presentation at a recent IADC meeting concerning serious irregularities and a lack of impartiality in the conduct of that case. Chevron alleges that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are guilty of fraud and misconduct and have filed a civil lawsuit under RICO in New York federal court against the trial lawyers and consultants involved. Chevron’s suit alleges that these attorneys and consultants used the Ecuador lawsuit to threaten Chevron, mislead U.S. government officials, and harass and intimidate Chevron employees, to extort a financial settlement from the Company. Chevron further alleges that plaintiffs built their case through fabricated evidence and a campaign to incite public outrage.

It is likely that the pervasive fraud that permeated the Ecuador litigation would not have occurred in a U.S. federal court. As a result of Chevron’s experience, a U.S. defendant would have to think twice about filing a forum non conveniens motion if there was any likelihood that the case would end up in Ecuador or somewhere similar.


Insurers Uphill Fight On Coverage In Indiana

Guest Bloggers David L. Guevara, Ph.D., and Bradley R. Sugarman are attorneys in the environmental practice group in the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Messrs. Guevara and Sugarman provide services in the areas of trial practice, Superfund defense and negotiation, enforcement defense, cost-recovery for plaintiffs and defendants, criminal environmental defense, environmental insurance and toxic tort litigation.  Mr. Guevara is the co-editor of a forthcoming book from ABA Book Publishing titled “Environmental Liability and Insurance Recovery.”   


In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals provided insurance companies doing business in Indiana with guidance on how to draft pollution exclusion clauses—provisions typically included in commercial general liability (“CGL”) policies that seek to exclude coverage for claims based on environmental contamination. Indiana is known for the tough standards it imposes on insurance companies with respect to withholding coverage based on policy exclusions. Since the Indiana Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in American States Insurance Co. v. Kiger, 662 N.E.2d 945 (Ind. 1996), Indiana courts will not exclude coverage based on pollution exclusion clauses unless the language of the insurance policy explicitly excludes the “pollutant” at issue. If the policy language is vague as to whether the pollutant is included, then the pollution exclusion clause does not apply. In West Bend Mutual Insurance Company v. United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company, et al., 598 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 2010), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that clear and unambiguous language in pollution exclusion clauses is necessary in order to bar coverage for environmental contamination claims. 

The issue in West Bend was whether CGL policies issued by Federated Mutual Insurance Company (“Federated”) covered liabilities for petroleum released from underground storage tanks and associated piping from a 7-Eleven gas station in Goshen, Indiana. The petroleum contaminated the groundwater and migrated underneath a nearby residential neighborhood.  The contamination vaporized into homes causing property damage and personal injury. The neighborhood residents sued 7-Eleven and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company’s (“West Bend”) and Federated’s mutual insured, MDK, who formerly owned and operated the station. After lengthy litigation, MDK eventually settled for $4 million.  West Bend sued Federated to recover its costs of defending MDK. 

Federated argued that it owed no duty to defend because it had no duty to indemnify claims arising from petroleum contamination pursuant to the pollution exclusion clause in its policy. West Bend countered by arguing that the Federated pollution exclusion clause was similar to the exclusion rejected by the Kiger court. 

The Seventh Circuit found that the Federated pollution exclusion clause explicitly excluded “bodily injury” or “property damage” caused by the release of “pollutants” or “motor fuels” from “tanks” and “underground piping.” While the term “pollutants” did not include gasoline or petroleum, the term “motor fuels” did. Moreover, the court noted that the Federated policy included an “Indiana Changes Endorsement” which emphasized that the pollution exclusion applied even to “pollutants” that had an ongoing function in the business. Thus, the court was convinced that “a gas station owner . . . would know to a certainty that Federated would not be responsible for damage arising out of gasoline leaks taking place during the covered period” after reading these two policy provisions.

While the West Bend decision is one of the only opinions to uphold the denial of coverage for environmental contamination in Indiana, it underscores that insurers who wish to deny coverage on the basis of the pollution exclusion face an uphill battle in this jurisdiction. The Federated policy explicitly excluded the type of pollutant (i.e., petroleum) and the manner in which it was released (i.e., from USTs and associated piping). Few CGL policies issued in Indiana are drafted with this degree of specificity. Indeed, pollution exclusion endorsements added to Indiana CGL policies even after Kiger still contain pollution exclusion clauses that may be deemed vague and overly broad. The insurance industry can address the problem posed by Indiana courts by drafting what those courts consider clear and unambiguous contractual pollution exclusions with a precise definition of “pollutants”.