By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Each year the American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report” that focuses on litigation problems in state court systems and challenges for corporate defendants in the fair and unbiased administration of justice. The ATRA’s 2017 Report was recently published; a copy is here, as well as an executive summary here.

Insofar as the Report 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 2017 Hellholes

The ATRA identified 8 jurisdictions on its 2017 hellholes list – including, in order, (1) Florida (particularly in the Florida Supreme Court and trial courts in southern Florida), (2) California, (3) St. Louis, Missouri, (4) New York (especially in its treatment of asbestos litigation in New York City), (5) Philadelphia (especially in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas), (6) New Jersey, (7) Illinois (especially Cook and Madison counties), and (8) Louisiana. As corporate counsel are undoubtedly aware, these are “magnet” venues for Plaintiffs’ class action lawyers and less than optimal venues for corporate defendants to be sued.

The 2017 “Watch List”

The ATRA also included 7 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including Baltimore, Maryland, Georgia (principally in the Georgia Supreme Court), Newport News, Virginia (especially in asbestos litigation), Oregon (particularly in the Oregon Supreme Court), Pennsylvania (in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and West Virginia. Just a notch below the 8 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 Florida, California, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, and Louisiana 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 by generous damages recoveries possibilities under state laws.