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 2016 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 2016 Hellholes

The ATRA identified 9 jurisdictions on its hellholes list – including, in order, (1) St. Louis, Missouri (particularly product liability lawsuits and consumer class actions), (2) California, (3) New York (especially in its treatment of asbestosis litigation in New York City), (4) Florida (particularly in the Florida Supreme Court and trial courts in southern Florida), (5) New Jersey, (6) Illinois (especially Cook, Madison, and St. Clair counties), (7) Louisiana, (8) Virginia (notably in the Newport News area), and (9) Texas (particularly Hidalgo County). These are “magnet” venues for Plaintiffs’ lawyers and highly undesirable venues for corporate defendants to be sued.

The 2016 “Watch List”

The ATRA also included 8 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including Georgia (principally in the Georgia Supreme Court), Illinois (in the McClean County region), Montana (particularly the Montana Supreme Court), Texas (in the Northern District of Texas), Pennsylvania (especially in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Allegheny County, and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas), and West Virginia. Just a notch below the 9 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 Missouri, California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, 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.