The Firm hosts its 27th Annual Seminar on Complex Litigation Defense at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
On April 30th at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, Hollingsworth LLP attorneys and guest speakers discussed the current legal challenges facing corporate America and what corporate in-house counsel need to know to protect their business clients. The 2015 agenda focused the spotlight on the big lessons from 2014 and the plaintiff bar's latest efforts to target new solvent bystanders through ever expanding theories of liability. Whether looking for their own paydays from new technologies like expanding social media and fracking, extending their reach to new categories of defendants through theories like co-promoter liability, chipping away at old defense bulwarks like Daubert, or trying to rewrite the procedural rules in mass, serial and class litigation to avoid their proper burdens of individualized proof, the plaintiffs’ bar has continued its assault on corporate America. 2014 also found industry the target of an aggressive government attack, with increasing instances of regulatory overreach and parallel track investigations and prosecutions in civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings.
This year’s distinguished speakers included ConocoPhillips General Counsel Janet Langford Kelly, Peabody Energy Chief Legal Officer Alexander C. Schoch, and Harvard’s Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe.
The morning session began with a presentation by Firm partner Kirby Griffis exploring the explosive expansion of liability based on social media and the potential for companies to face regulatory trouble and tort liability not only for official statements made on the corporate website, but also for their Facebook page, Twitter accounts, and even third-party sites where the company has a presence. While Pharma is on the front lines of this emerging vulnerability, all industries need to pay attention now to minimize problems later.
Firm founder Joe Hollingsworth and partner Heather Pigman then presented on mass torts, highlighting key recent takeaways in procedure, discovery, and merits rulings from select MDLs and other mass torts. As a preferred method of income production, creative attorneys are constantly looking for the next big trend to generate massive windfalls for their firms and 2014 was no exception. But defendants have developed some new looks of their own and savvy judges are increasingly getting wise to plaintiffs' claims emphasizing style over substance. Mr. Hollingsworth and Ms. Pigman examined recent mass tort litigation developments, offered advice on how to counter plaintiffs' newest tactics, and shared some predictions on where mass torts may be going in the future.
After the morning break, Firm partner Kate Latimer spoke on the lessons learned from the verdict in the Actos litigation where a jury laid down a $9 billion verdict in a single-plaintiff personal injury case against a Japanese manufacturer and its American co-promoter. Ms. Latimer also examined the unexpected and troubling liabilities faced by the solvent bystander–a company that was downstream from the alleged bad actor but was "essential to the marketing, selling, and distribution."
The morning session concluded with the panel of guest speakers addressing the movement to restrain the growth of federal regulatory power. Larry Tribe, Janet Kelly, and Alex Schoch discussed the excessive delegation of legislative authority by Congress and deferential judicial review of regulatory excursions that have empowered the executive branch far beyond the founders’ intentions, diluting the democratic guarantees and political accountability necessary for truly representative government, and opening corporate defendants to unmetered financial liability.
To kick off the afternoon session, partner Eric Lasker discussed the major challenges for business following plaintiffs' recent successes in eroding Daubert protections. In recent years, a number of courts have strayed from what the 11th Circuit in Rider v. Sandoz Pharm. Corp. called "the kind of emphatically supported, rationally explained reasoning required in science" and subjected defendants to massive liabilities based upon unfounded factual predicates, unreliably applied methodologies and expert ipse dixit. Mr. Lasker's presentation included a discussion of the dangers posed by these decisions and offered recommendations for steering these courts back onto the proper path.
The afternoon session continued with a presentation investigating risks from, and best practices to push against, the intense surge in parallel proceedings. Firm partners Bill Cople and Buffy Mims spoke about the government’s aggressive use of parallel proceedings involving simultaneous or successive criminal, civil, and regulatory enforcement investigations, overlapping private plaintiff qui tam litigation, and the challenges companies face in defending against the surge in these and other related threats. Partner Frank Leone next presented to Seminar participants on hydraulic fracturing and the new science and new developments in environmental and toxics litigation. He discussed how the increase in fracking has led to tort and breach of contract lawsuits against an impressive array of defendants and explained the importance of why this is litigation for all industries to watch.
The day’s program concluded with Firm partner Robert Johnston identifying and assessing the ethical aspects of recent developments in class certification, class settlements, and procedural questions in defending class action litigation. As companies spend billions of dollars each year fighting off costly class action lawsuits, they must navigate potential ethical pitfalls as implicated by recent rejections and scathing judicial rebukes of high profile class action settlements. Mr. Johnston also examined key developments in class actions and effective strategies for defending against serial and mass litigation.
For the past twenty-seven years, Hollingsworth LLP has hosted its highly acclaimed seminar focusing on the defense of complex litigation, drawing on our vast experience in areas such as environmental, federal claims, government contracts, insurance, pharmaceutical, toxic tort and product liability defense. Year after year, in-house counsel and leaders from dozens of corporations and other private sector organizations return for informative presentations and provocative discussion with their peers.