“Venue shopping” is typically reserved for newly engaged couples or others planning major life events. But in the civil justice world, venue shopping is a well-used tool in the trial lawyer playbook. Plaintiffs’ lawyers “shop” cases by filing them in jurisdictions with reputations for awarding large verdicts, even if their clients have no connections there. Once they identify a court friendly to a particular issue, they file as many lawsuits as possible to secure massive verdicts.
The sheer number of cases trial lawyers file in “magnet” courts can make it nearly impossible for defendants to receive a fair trial. Courts faced with swelling dockets sometimes adopt special procedures, like consolidating cases for trial, making it difficult for jurors to be presented with and fully consider the facts and circumstances important to each case.
In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on venue shopping that said California courts shouldn’t decide lawsuits brought by plaintiffs with no connection to the state. Now, the High Court has another opportunity to reinforce its 2017 decision and address the due process problems consolidated trials can create by agreeing to hear an appeal of a Missouri-based talcum powder case.
In 2018, a St. Louis jury awarded $2.1 billion to 20 plaintiffs, most from out-of-state, who claimed talcum powder causes cancer, even though there is no scientific consensus on that point.
The civil justice system is supposed to offer plaintiffs and defendants an even playing field and fairly resolve disputes. That includes making sure cases are heard where the parties reside or where the challenged act occurred. Once cases are before the proper court, it’s important jurors are given the information they need to decide them fairly. Jurors should not be overwhelmed by being asked to resolve so many cases at once that they can’t tell them apart. Allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to continue to ignore these foundational requirements will send the wrong signal and invite further abuse.
The U.S. Supreme Court should not pass up the chance to protect the fairness of our judicial system.
Nathan Morris is the vice president for legislative affairs for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.