Friday, January 8, 2016

Floor Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary on H.R. 1927, the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Further Asbestos Claims Transparency Act of 2015"

“Mr.  Chair – I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 1927, the ‘Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act of 2015.’

“I oppose this legislation because it shields corporate wrongdoers by making it more difficult for those who have been harmed by their actions from obtaining justice and allows these wrongdoers to further victimize their victims.

“Among H.R. 1927's many flaws is the fact that this legislation will have the effect of denying individuals access to justice and threatening victims of corporate wrongdoing, all in the name of protecting the powerful.

“This legislation is just the latest attempt to take power away from ordinary citizens and place it in the hands of the most powerful corporations and industries.

“Whether it is by making it almost impossible for ordinary people to pursue their day in court through the important class action mechanism or threatening the privacy of asbestos victims, it is clear that H.R. 1927 does not have the interests of ordinary people in mind.

“And it raises the broader question of who rightfully should hold power in a representative democracy like ours – politically unaccountable corporations who seek only to maximize their own profit, or the people, who are supposed to be sovereign.  I say it is the people.

“Section 2 of H.R. 1927 will make it virtually impossible for victims of corporate wrongdoing to obtain relief through class actions in cases seeking monetary relief by requiring a party seeking class certification to show that every potential class member suffered the same type and scope of injury at the certification stage.

“Class actions are an important means for consumers to hold wrongdoers accountable without having to engage in multiple duplicative actions.

“Most importantly, class actions make it financially feasible for those who have smaller, but not inconsequential injuries to obtain justice. 

“These injuries include such diverse matters as breach of warranty, products liability, and employment discrimination.

“As it is, class actions are very difficult to pursue.  Under current procedure, the courts strictly limit the grounds by which a large group of plaintiffs may be certified as a class, including the requirement that their claims raise common and factual legal questions and that the class representative’s claims are typical of those of the other class members.

“Rather than improving upon this class certification process, however, H.R. 1927 imposes requirements that are almost impossible to meet, effectively undermining the use of class actions.

“Finally, section 3 of H.R. 1927 gives asbestos defendants – the very entities whose products injured millions of Americans– new weapons with which to harm their victims. 

“Section 3 requires a bankruptcy asbestos trust to report on the court’s public case docket – which is then made available on the Internet – the name and exposure history of each asbestos victim who receives payment from such trust as well as the basis of any payment made to the victim.  

“As a result, the confidential personal information of asbestos claimants – including their names and exposure histories – would be irretrievably released into the public domain. 

“Just imagine what identity thieves, and others, such as insurers, potential employers, lenders, and data collectors could do with this sensitive information. 

“Essentially, this bill re-victimizes asbestos victims by exposing their private information to the public – information that has absolutely nothing to do with compensation for asbestos exposure. 
“This explains why asbestos victims vigorously oppose this legislation as it is an assault against their privacy interests.

“In sum, H.R. 1927 is a seriously flawed bill that only benefits those who caused harm to others. Not surprisingly, the White House issued a veto threat, stating that the Administration ‘strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1927 because it would impair the enforcement of important Federal laws, constrain access to the courts, and needlessly threaten the privacy of asbestos victims.’

“For these reasons, I urge strong opposition to H.R. 1927 and I reserve the balance of my time.”

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