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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Class Action Bill Dead, Reformers Vow to Keep Trying

A bill to give class-action defendants the right to challenge class certification before cases go to trial died in committee in Sacramento, leaving unchanged a system that advocates of the bill claim is killing jobs in California. But 42nd District Assemblyman Mike Feuer, chair of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, believes AB 298 was a “solution in search of a problem.” Feuer, a Democrat, voted against the bill, while vice chair and 68th District Republican, Van Tran, authored AB 298. “In fact, one of the reasons I oppose the legislation is because one can always bring a motion to decertify a class at the trial level,” Feuer said. “And, there’s also the writ process at the appeals level.” Feuer believes giving defendants the right to request an appeal of a judge’s decision to certify a group of plaintiffs as a class who can sue as a unified plaintiff would give parties being sued,mostly businesses,the ability to delay trials and dissuade injured parties from suing in the first place. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Tran, could not disagree more. “Mr. Feuer is misrepresenting the reality of how these cases occur,” said Tran’s chief of staff, Paul Hegyi. “In the real world, once a case is certified, it puts excessive burden on defendants to settle.” As Hegyi put it, businesses are forced to “plead out” rather than take on the expense of fighting protracted lawsuits in court. At the same time, an organization known as California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), argues that giving class-action defendants “immediate appeal” rights would streamline the judicial process. “AB 298 was a sensible proposal,” said CALA spokesperson, Maryann Maloney Marino. “Class action certification involves actions that effect a large number of people and are very expensive to the parties, to the court system, and to the citizens of the state.” According to Marino, California has a reputation among some in the nation’s business community as a “class-action hell hole.” For that reason, she said, the death of the bill is a blow to the state budget and the economy. ” Immediate appeal is sensible and beneficial because it allows the parties to ensure, through appeal, that the order was correct,” said Marino. “And it also allows the Court of Appeal to correct errors and develop the law relating to class action certification.” Paul Hegyi agrees. Sounding off on both notes,fairness and economics,he said that while AB 298 may have been defeated before even making it to the Assembly floor, the issue is not resolved. “Apparently it’s good enough for the plaintiffs to appeal when they’re denied certification, he said. “It seems only fair for the plaintiff to be able to do the same when certification is granted.” Hegyi said his boss knew AB 298 probably would not make it out of committee when he presented the proposed legislation. Nevertheless, as his chief of staff put it, the Orange County legislator had to try if there was a possibility the recession might persuade some new, heretofore unexpected, support in the capital. “There can be no question that California is one of the worst places to do business in the country,” Hegyi said. “This is not the biggest hurdle,taxes are a bigger hurdle,but it’s a significant one; we were just trying to attack one of them now.” Hegyi said votes to kill AB 298 were influenced by pressure from the trial lawyers lobby. He unabashedly affirms that the other side’s claim that votes in support of the bill were influenced by big business is true. ” And small business,” said Hegyi. “And medium business; it’s about getting jobs to come back to the state.” But Assemblyman Feuer is also unabashed about his position. “The point of a class action is the efficient administration of justice and to allow individuals to aggregate their claims,” he said. Without the ability to sue as a class, according to Feuer, many individuals who have been harmed by faulty products, dangerous materials, and negligently-provided services, might never see recompense. “Studies of the class action process show it works,” he said. “It affords access to justice and the vindication of legitimate claims. Having said that, of course there is always abuse.” Yet, the chairman said, there is ample opportunity for defendants to expose abuse in court as things stand today. For his part, Hegyi believes Assemblyman Van Tran and allies such as CALA may be looking at the initiative process to change the law, as AB 298 was the third reform attempt to go down in Sacramento during the past decade. “The assemblyman enjoys working with CALA, and it’s possible a ballot initiative may be coming.”

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