By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Michael L. DeMarino

Seyfarth Synopsis: Every year the American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report.” The Report focuses on litigation issues in state court systems and challenges for corporate defendants in the fair and unbiased administration of justice. The ATRA’s 2018 Report was recently published; find a copy here and the executive summary here.

The Judicial Hellholes Report is an important read for corporate counsel facing class action litigation because it identifies jurisdictions that are generally disadvantageous to defendants. 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 Report is a “must read” for anyone litigating class actions and making decisions about venue strategy.

The 2018 Hellholes

The ATRA identified 9 jurisdictions on its 2018 hellholes list – which, in order, include: (1) California; (2) Florida (particularly in the Florida Supreme Court), (3) New York City (especially in its treatment of asbestos litigation and hedge fund investing in some of the most expensive litigation), (4) St. Louis, Missouri (focusing on “no-injury” consumer class actions), (5) Louisiana; (6) Philadelphia (especially in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and with asbestos litigation), (7) New Jersey, (8) Illinois (especially St. Clair and Madison counties), and (9) the Twin Cities, Minnesota. As corporate counsel are undoubtedly aware, these are the “magnet” venues for Plaintiffs’ class action lawyers and less than optimal venues for corporate defendants in which to be sued.

The 2019 “Watch List”

The ATRA also included 7 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including Colorado (principally the Colorado Supreme Court), Georgia (in the Georgia Supreme Court), Montana (particularly the Montana Supreme Court), Newport News, Virginia (especially in asbestos litigation), Ohio (notably in the Court of Appeals for the Eighth District), Pennsylvania (in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court), and West Virginia. Just a qualitative 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 California, Florida, New York, Missouri, Louisiana, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Illinois, and Minnesota are among the leading states where Plaintiffs’ lawyers file a high number of employment discrimination and wage & hour class actions. These jurisdictions are linked by class certification standards that are more plaintiff-friendly and by generous damages recoveries possibilities under state laws.