By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.

Each year the American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report” and examines problems in state court systems and challenges for corporate defendants in the fair and unbiased administration of justice. The ATRA’s 2015 Report was recently published; a copy is here, as well as an executive summary here.

Insofar as the Report identifies and defines a judicial hellhole as a jurisdiction where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, the Judicial Hellholes Report is an important read for corporate counsel facing class action exposures. In sum, if one has to litigate class actions and make decisions with respect to venue strategy, the Report is a “must read.”

The 2015 Hellholes

The ATRA included 8 jurisdictions on its hellholes list – including, in order, (1) California, (2) New York (especially in its treatment of asbestosis litigation in New York City), (3) Florida, (4) Missouri, (5) Illinois (especially Madison County, Illinois), (6) Louisiana, (7) Texas (especially Hidalgo County, Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas), and (8) Virginia (especially Newport News, Virginia)  – where it ranked the venues as the “most unfair” in their handling of civil litigation.

The 2015 “Watch List”

The ATRA included 6 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including New Jersey (especially Atlantic County), Mississippi (in the Delta region), Montana, Nevada, Virginia (principally in the Newport News area), and Pennsylvania (especially in Philadelphia). Just a notch below the 6 hellholes, the “watch list” jurisdictions also present significant challenges for corporate defendants.

Implications For Employers

The Judicial Hellholes Report dovetails with the experience of employers in high-stakes workplace class actions, as California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are among the leading states where plaintiffs’ lawyers file employment discrimination and wage & hour class actions in state courts. These jurisdictions are linked by class certification standards that are more plaintiff-friendly and generous damages recoveries under state laws.