Every year the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report”, which identifies the state court systems that are problematic for defendants and businesses, particularly in class action and tort litigation. The Report defines a judicial hellhole as a jurisdiction where judges in civil cases routinely apply laws and procedures unfairly.
The top nine hellholes on this year’s list include a number of jurisdictions that are mentioned almost every year. Indeed, California (1); New York City (3); Philadelphia (6); New Jersey (7) and Illinois (especially St. Clair and Madison counties) (8); are “repeat offenders” that have long been attractive venues for Plaintiffs’ class action and tort lawyers, because they are downright bad for corporate defendants. A “new face” to this year’s list is the Twin Cities, Minnesota (9). “[A]fter the attorney general mishandled a lawsuit against a large Twin Cities employer and a Hennepin County trial judge stripped a company’s defenses. The lower courts appear to be following the lead of the state’s high court after it subjected property owners to expanded liability in 2018 and rejected a measure intended to remove ‘junk science’ from the state’s courts.” The City of St. Louis, Missouri (4), which some believed was making a turn for the better, was back on the hellholes list “as judges were reluctant to end forum shopping and allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to introduce junk science in the city’s talc litigation. ‘No-injury’ consumer class actions continue to fill the courts and the liability-expanding state high court overlooked juror misconduct in a crucial case against a large in-state employer. Excessive lawsuit advertising has inundated jury pools, making it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial, and once again, the legislature was unable or unwilling to pass needed legal reforms.”
In addition to identifying the top hellholes, the Report calls attention to seven additional “watch list” jurisdictions, a number of unsound court decisions worthy of “dishonorable mentions,” and a series of issues that are the subject of “closer looks.” Not everything in the Report is bad news. In its “points of light” section, the Report highlights examples of “fair and balanced judicial decisions, adhering to the rule of law,” along with “positive legislative reforms and other encouraging developments.”
The Judicial Hellholes Report is a must-read for any business concerned about class action and tort litigation. It would be wise to consult the Report before making any strategic decisions about venue.