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Topics: House of Representatives

House panel okays measure limiting 'frivolous' lawsuits

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Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would sanction lawyers who file class-action lawsuits deemed frivolous by judges.

In a 17-10 vote that included no Democrats in favor, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 would reinstate four previously eliminated sanctions that were part of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including the sanctions for attorneys.

Money collected from the sanctions would go toward the defendant’s legal fees. Judges would also be able to impose additional fines. The bill also reverses a 1993 amendment that allowed prosecuting parties to avoid the fines by withdrawing frivolous claims 21 days after being sanctioned.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, characterized frivolous lawsuits as “legalized extortion,” and said lawyers who file the lawsuits “have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Critics of the bill say that it will make the judicial system even more costly. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said during the committee’s markup of the bill that reinstating the provisions in Rule 11 “actually made the system even more litigious and costly.” He added that “civil cases routinely became two cases, one on the merits and the other dueling rule 11 complaints.”

Smith, however, said that the bill “encourages attorneys to think twice before filing frivolous lawsuits,” which would help deter the added costs Nadler feared.

The bill now must be scheduled for a debate and vote by the full House. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

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