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The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013

ABA Watch August 2013
August 06, 2013

 In a recent letter from Thomas A. Susman of the American Bar Association’s Governmental Affairs Office to the House Judiciary Committee, the ABA expressed its opposition to H.R. 2655, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013, which seeks to “amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to improve attorney accountability, and for other purposes.”  In particular, the Act “reinstates sanctions for the violation of Rule 11, ensures that judges impose monetary sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits, including the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the victim of the frivolous lawsuit, and reverses the 1993 amendments to Rule 11 that allow parties and their attorneys to avoid sanctions for making frivolous claims by withdrawing them within 21 days after a motion for sanctions has been served.”

The ABA opposes the Act for three main reasons.  The Association asserts that all changes to the Federal Rules should follow procedures outlined by the Rules Enabling Act, which requires amendments to first be drafted by committees of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. and be subject to public comment before approval by the Conference, then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for its consideration, and finally given to Congress to reject, modify, or defer the amendment before it is enacted.  The ABA asserts that the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act circumvents this “balanced and inclusive” process. The ABA also contends that there is no evidence to suggest that there has been an increase in the filing of frivolous lawsuits in the last twenty years, and therefore there is no need to amend the current Rule.  Lastly, the ABA opposes the legislation on the claim that the 1983 version of Rule 11, which also required mandatory sanctions, had adverse consequences and this Act will have similar results.  In the letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Thomas Susman declares, “During the decade that the 1983 version of the Rule requiring mandatory sanctions was in effect, an entire industry of litigation revolving around Rule 11 claims inundated the legal system and wasted valuable court resources and time.”

Sponsors of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 argue that frivolous lawsuits are plaguing the United States judicial system and are damaging the U.S. economy.  In the press release issued upon the introduction of the bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member and co-sponsor of the legislation Chuck Grassley stated, “Law-abiding Americans with a legitimate legal grievance are entitled to their day in court.  But unscrupulous attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits stand in the way of valid claims… Putting the brakes on frivolous lawsuits that damage the economy and clog the legal system will go a long way towards balancing the scales of justice, upholding the rule of law, and improving the public good.”  Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, co-sponsor of the bill and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, affirms “Lawsuit abuse is all too common in America today partly because the lawyers who bring these cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose… The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act restores accountability to our legal system by reinstating mandatory sanctions for attorneys who file meritless suits.”