The 2023 state legislative session is in full swing, and there’s been no shortage of movement on key legal reforms, including reining in the misuse of public nuisance. As we’ve previously written, public nuisance lawsuits were traditionally used to address problems like blocked roads or polluted waterways, not lawfully sold products or public policy issues best left to legislatures. Texas is among the states considering legislation that would ensure public nuisance isn’t going to be abused by plaintiffs’ lawyers who promise easy revenue to cities and counties if they file cookie-cutter lawsuits.
HB 1372 would prevent plaintiffs’ lawyers from filing public nuisance suits over legal activities and products, including those permitted or regulated by the state or federal government, or from using public nuisance to file a lawsuit where another cause of action is more appropriate.
The legislation will protect Texas businesses from recent examples of misuse of public nuisance that have been seen across the country, such as lawsuits that blame businesses for actions entirely outside their control. For example, several cities and counties are now suing some car manufacturers over rising car thefts, claiming cars are too easy to steal. Rather than hold those who steal the cars accountable, local governments are trying to hold businesses liable for criminals’ misconduct.
Stopping the misuse of public nuisance will also prevent a small subset of plaintiffs’ attorneys from setting policy for the entire state. Those decisions should be made by elected officials, not private lawyers.
What HB 1372 won’t do is prevent officials from protecting consumers against bad actors. Public nuisance claims can still be filed if HB 1372 is enacted, and other remedies remain available to redress harms, including the state attorney general’s ability to enforce Texas’s robust Deceptive Trade Practices Act. HB 1372 will ensure the rules of the road are clear and that plaintiffs’ lawyers and local governments can’t sneakily abuse nuisance claims to influence public policy or upend state-level decisions on complex public policy questions.
ILR testified in support of HB 1372 before the Texas House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee, which reported the bill favorably in late March. The bill also has the support of the Texas Association of Business, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and the Texas Civil Justice League, among others.
Public nuisance reform is just one of the many legal reforms state lawmakers nationwide are considering. Check out the latest episode of our podcast, Cause For Action, to hear how ILR’s state team is staying busy this session.
To learn more about the misuse of public nuisance, check out ILR’s research, Taming the Litigation Monster: The Continued Threat of Public Nuisance Litigation, which looked at how plaintiffs’ lawyers have teamed up with cities and counties to hire them on a contingency-fee-basis to file public nuisance lawsuits and the implications this has on the lawsuit system.
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