Archive for the ‘Litigation’ Category

By Scott Michelman, Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Cross-posted from Consumer Law & Policy Blog.

In September, a group of auto safety advocates and parents represented by Public Citizen sued the Department of Transportation over its failure to issue a congressionally-mandated regulation to address the problem of backover crashes, that is, collisions in which a vehicle moving backwards strikes a person (or object) behind the vehicle. Each year on average, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), backovers kill 292 people and injure 18,000 more — most of whom are children under the age of five, senior citizens over the age of seventy-five, or persons with disabilities.

In November, the court ordered DOT to respond to our petition, which it did two weeks ago. DOT also did something else that the court had not ordered: as the Detroit News reported yesterday, DOT sent a proposed final rule back to the Office of Management and Budget for final review (a step required by executive order before a rule is issued). This means that the regulatory process is moving again, and sooner than expected — six months after DOT withdrew the rule from OMB, now it’s back, and that’s not a very long time to overhaul the proposal (but, to be clear, we don’t know what rule the agency is now proposing). We’re pleased the administration appears to be moving forward in response to our lawsuit.

But before getting too excited, remember that we’ve reached this stage before — DOT sent a proposed rule to OMB back in November 2011, only to have it languish for 19 months before being withdrawn. So progress is not enough: we need the administration to finish the job.

Meanwhile, our lawsuit is still pending. If the administration doesn’t follow through and issue the final rule this time, hopefully the court will order it to do so.

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Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “The Federal Arbitration Act and Access to Justice: Will Recent Supreme Court Decisions Undermine the Rights of Consumers, Workers, and Small Businesses?”

So, will recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions undermine the rights of consumers, workers and small businesses? The answer is a resounding yes.

In fact, the court’s rulings already have begun to have an impact. Thousands of consumer and employment disputes with corporations have and will be dismissed and disregarded because of language buried in the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it terms in everyday consumer and employment contracts.

These provisions, called forced arbitration clauses, require consumers and employees to resolve their disputes in secret, costly arbitration proceedings instead of in court. (See a PDF list of selected cases in which forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans were enforced as a result of recent Supreme Court rulings.)

The Senate hearing highlighted a handful of recent harmful Supreme Court decisions, including AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors. These cases have expanded corporations’ ability to deny consumers their legal remedies. Big businesses can now use forced arbitration clauses to prohibit participation in class actions, even if class actions are the only economically viable way for consumers to pursue their cases.

The evidence has long been clear that forced arbitration is not a legitimate alternative method to resolve disputes, despite what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business entities contend. In practice, forced arbitration is used to squash valid legal claims from ever going forward. As a result, companies are repeatedly let off the hook for egregious and illegal conduct, including discriminatory acts in the workplace, faulty home building, illegal charges and fees on cell phone bills, abusive treatment of the elderly in nursing homes, and other misconduct.

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Plutocracy or democracy; the rich or the rest of us; legalized bribery or law and order; corruption or common sense.

The choice facing the U.S. Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission could not be clearer.

If the court decides to strike down limits on what an individual can give directly to candidates, parties and PACs, the real-world impact is plain enough. A few hundred people will be empowered to spend millions to buy elections.

We will see a rise in corruption both as the public understands the term – meaning the entire political system will shift still more to favor the super-rich – and as the Supreme Court defines it – meaning quid pro quo corruption.

There is reason to hope the court will decide to uphold current giving limits. Striking down the aggregate limit rule will require abandoning the underpinnings of Buckley v. Valeo, the foundation of current campaign spending law.

So, we must hope the court respects precedent and common sense.

But we shouldn’t have to hope. That’s why it’s time for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy – an amendment that firmly establishes the people’s right to control campaign spending and ensure that we maintain a government of, by and for the people – not the superwealthy and giant corporations.

Editor’s note: See Robert Weissman speaking outside the Supreme Court today. View photos of the event.

Note: On July 25, U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David Price (D-N.C.) submitted an amicus curiae, or “friend-of-the-court,” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the Federal Election Commission in this case. Public Citizen Attorney Scott Nelson and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman are leading their team of attorneys.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case whose impact on our political system could be as damaging as Citizens United, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, Oct. 8, and it could dramatically boost the corrupting influence of the wealthy over candidates in federal elections.

In the case, the justices will consider whether to eliminate the limit on the total sum that people can give directly to candidates and political parties in a single election. The current overall limit for an individual making direct contributions to parties, political action committees (PACs) and federal candidates is $123,200 per two-year election cycle, but a win for the challengers in McCutcheon could allow total contributions above $7 million.

The case is being heard just a few years after the highly controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. That decision, the biggest game-changer to date in a long-term effort by corporate interests to kill campaign finance laws, led to unprecedented spending by the wealthy and corporations in the 2010 midterm congressional elections and last year’s presidential elections. It also sparked a robust movement, led in part by Public Citizen, for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Depending on how the justices rule, McCutcheon could be the next game-changer.

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by Ben Somberg
Press Officer

You can look through all three mirrors in your car, you can turn backwards, but here’s what you still don’t see when you’re backing up:

Courtesy KidsAndCars.org

Each year, more than 200 individuals are killed and 18,000 injured in “backover” crashes. Drivers using all three mirrors cannot see a blind zone several feet high directly behind their vehicles. Forty-four percent of those killed in backover incidents are children under 5 years old. Each week, on average, 50 children are injured, two fatally, by backover crashes.

There’s a pretty good fix: backup cameras. Automakers have made them more and more common. But while some vehicles have them, others don’t. And the deaths and injuries continue.

In 2008, Congress passed a law to address the problem. Yes, Democrats and Republicans came together – the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House. President George W. Bush signed it.

The law ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a rule requiring significantly improved rear visibility in new consumer vehicles, through backup cameras or other means. It ordered DOT to do so within three years, permitting the agency to extend the deadline only if it “cannot be met.”

The deadline came and went. The White House reviewed the agency’s final draft of the rule for more than a year and a half, and then in June the rule went back to the agency for more study – even though the agency has already catalogued its “extensive” research on the issue. The agency now pledges it will issue the rule by 2015. That would be four years late.

Public Citizen attorney Scott Michelman is the legal counsel for a group of organizations and individuals who sued the Department of Transportation today. “When Congress ordered this rule issued in three years, they meant three years, not seven,” Michelman says. “It’s time for a court to step in and make the Transportation Department issue the rule.”

We are asking a court to order the agency to issue the final rule within 90 days.

Today’s lawsuit was featured in Reuters, the Washington Post, the Today show, Bloomberg and Good Morning America:

Dr. Greg Gulbransen, who killed his two-year old son Cameron while backing up, wrote an op-ed published in today’s Washington Post making the case for how the administration needs to act to fulfill the mandate of the law and save lives. Writes Gulbransen: “This rule will come too late for Cameron, but it will save thousands of other children’s lives.”

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