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Bill to Limit Class Actions, S.B. 1751, Blocked in Senate

Bill Would Have Moved Most Class Actions to Federal Courts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Oct 22, 2003 -- S.B. 1751, a bill that would unfairly limit many class action suits by removing them from state to federal courts, will most likely not be considered again during this legislative session. The Republicans were unable to muster the votes necessary to avoid a Democratic filibuster against the measure and to allow it to proceed to the Senate floor for a vote. S.B. 1751 is the successor to S.B. 274, a very similar bill that was introduced earlier this year. S.B. 274 has also been defeated.

S.B. 1751 would have removed most class action suits from state courts into federal courts, which are considered less likely to grant adequate damages to plaintiffs. Mass torts were included in the removal provisions, affecting many asbestos actions that were combined by the state courts. Specifically, S.B. 1751 would have moved a class action suit to federal court when there is at least $5 million at stake, there are over 100 plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs and defendants are from different states.

The American Trial Lawyers Association points out these flaws in the bill:

  • S.B. 1751 would severely limit the rights of injured individuals while protecting corporate wrongdoers.
  • By allowing the removal of most state class action claims to federal court, S.B. 1751 would force plaintiffs, who purchased or used a product in their home state, to spend significantly more time and money to pursue their claims in federal court.
  • S.B. 1751 would allow any defendant to remove the case at any time -- even after the state court has certified a valid class and regardless of whether the case is on the verge of trial.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the Consumer Federation of America, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Public Citizen, and the Environmental Working Group are among the many consumer groups that opposed S.B. 1751. Brayton Purcell has also fought against the passage of this unfair legislation.

We urge you to thank your Senator if he or she voted to block S.B. 1751, and to express your displeasure if your Senator voted to proceed with the bill. All Republicans, with the exception of Richard Shelby (AL), voted to proceed with the bill. Most Democrats voted the pro-public interest position, which was to block S.B. 1751.

Democrats who voted against the public interest were Evan Bayh (IN), Tom Carper (DE), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Herb Kohl (WI), Joe Lieberman (CT), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Zell Miller (GA), and Ben Nelson (NE). Sen. Jeffords (I-VT) also voted against the public interest position.

For contact information about Senators, see the official Senate web site. For the full text of S.B. 1751, see the Thomas Legislative site. (Scroll to Bill Number, and search on S.B. 1751).

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