A picture of Representative Alcee L. Hastings
Alcee H.
Democrat FL 20

About Rep. Alcee
  • Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2655, Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 982, Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (Fact) Act of 2013

    by Representative Alcee L. Hastings

    Posted on 2013-11-13

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    HASTINGS of Florida. I thank my good friend from Georgia for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Mr. Speaker, I listened to the gentleman, and he was very clear about, one, the process and, two, the basic substance of both measures that are on the floor today. To a relative degree, I agree with much of what he has said. I know that my friend from Georgia is an advocate of an open process, and with all due respect to him and the [[Page H7011]] committee, structured rules--whether Members have offered suggestions for change or not--are not open rules. However, in this particular case, he is correct that of the five amendments that were offered by Members of my party, three of them were made in order, and none were offered on the first of the two measures.

    Mr. Speaker, with only 15 days left in this session of the 113th Congress, we are here yet again doing more of the same, which is nothing. It has been reported that some among my friends across the aisle have even joked that the House shouldn't be in session in December at all.

    Instead of addressing our Nation's serious immigration needs--and I might add a footnote there. There is a substantial loss to our economic undertakings by virtue of us failing to do the things that we can and should do either comprehensively or step by step to deal with the immigration circumstances of this great Nation. We could be passing ENDA, as the Senate did last week, where we could end discrimination in the workplace.

    Or we could do something that all of us know needs to be done: we could work on ending sequestration. I was at two meetings this morning, one dealing with homelessness and the other dealing with the need for food, and in each instance, the parties that were the experts cited how sequestration has impacted their nonprofit organizations in trying to assist the homeless and the needy as it pertains to food. So we could be working on trying to stop this meat-ax approach that is set in motion. Yet we find ourselves passing bills that won't do anything and aren't going to go anywhere.

    In fact, H.R. 2655, as my colleague has pointed out, no Member offered any amendment to it. It is so bad that nobody even wanted to fix it. The bill is nothing more than a partisan solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

    The American Bar Association, the preeminent bar association among lawyers in every category in the United States of America, wrote the following: No serious problem has been brought to the Rules Committee's attention. There is no need to reinstate the 1983 version of rule 11 that proved contentious and diverted so much time and energy of the bar and bench.

    The ABA continued that the bill ``is not based on an empirical foundation, and the proposed amendments ignore lessons learned.'' {time} 1245 The proposed changes would ``impede the administration of justice by encouraging additional litigation and increasing court costs and delays.'' This bill not only prevents judges from calling balls and strikes; it forces members of the bench to call balks on every pitch before the ball can even reach the plate.

    The Judicial Conference, the preeminent conference of the United States courts in this country that is the body responsible for proposing the necessary changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asked Federal judges about these proposed changes. Eighty- seven percent of the judges asked prefer the existing rule 11 to the 1983 version; 85 percent of them support the safe harbor provisions; 91 percent oppose mandatory sanctions for every rule 11 violation; 84 percent think that attorneys' fees should not be awarded for every rule 11 violation. And here is the big one: 85 percent believe the amount of groundless litigation has not grown since promulgation of the 1993 rule.

    These are men and women who face these issues on a daily basis. They know better than most--and almost anyone in this House of Representatives--and believe that rule 11 has plenty of teeth as is.

    This bill would substitute the judgment of Congress for that of our judges. When the Judicial Conference of the United States opposes the changes in this bill, you would have to wonder who the bill is really benefiting.

    It is not just the judges who oppose this bill. There is a long list of groups that include attorneys, consumer protection groups, civil rights organizations, and public interest advocates, all in opposition to this bill.

    As late as this morning, I received an additional letter from the National Employment Lawyers Association. In sum and substance, they feel that they represent farms, fields, schools, factories, executive offices, military services, hospitals, and many others; and they feel that they are a unique voice in this category. They stand in opposition because they think it will proliferate the amount of litigation that is unnecessary in our overburdened courts as it is.

    The court already has discretion to award sanctions, attorneys' fees, and expenses. Mr. Speaker, H.R. 2655 will create more hurdles with which deep-pocketed businesses can drag out litigation that is already too expensive and time consuming.

    My friends across the aisle have produced a number of anecdotes in support of this bill; but most of the cases cited are demand letters or State law cases, neither of which are subject to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

    Furthermore, lawsuits are too complicated to explain with a quip of carefully selected and characterized facts. Just because a particular fact pattern is entertaining or seemingly silly does not mean the case is without merit. Just because a case makes for a good headline doesn't mean that real people weren't really injured.

    The most famous example that I can think of is the woman who sued McDonald's for her coffee being too hot. When you say it like that, it sounds like you want coffee to be hot when you get it. But what is skipped over when we say it that way is that the coffee caused third- degree burns, and the lady had to be hospitalized for 8 days, received skin grafts, and then 2 years of medical treatment. Well, that hot coffee doesn't sound so silly when you look at it from that standpoint.

    Speaking of bills opposed by the people they supposedly help, the second portion of this rule, H.R. 982, the FACT Act, is ironically titled because it was drafted without regard to any of the facts. There is no evidence of systemic fraud or that systemic failures encourage fraud. The GAO in its study was unable to identify endemic and overt instances of fraud that would justify these kinds of changes.

    Most of the information supporters seek is available through the standard discovery process.

    This bill seriously compromises the privacy of victims in order to provide offenders with litigation shortcuts. Claims of wanting to increase transparency are really laughable, since the offenders involved in these suits are allowed to maintain their privacy. This bill further victimizes people who have already been through so much.

    Human error is not fraud. Isolated incidents are troubling, but fraud prevention procedures are already in place and functioning adequately.

    Asbestos victims oppose this bill. My friends across the aisle would have known, if they had provided victims an opportunity; but they did not provide that opportunity. I asked the chair of this committee last evening whether or not the victims had been afforded an opportunity to make a presentation. When I pointed out to him that staff had allowed that they could have a private meeting, but they did not have an opportunity to testify during the proceedings, he agreed with me.

    That seems to be a favorite tactic of my Republican friends. They have done this to asbestos victims, and they have done it to judges.

    When it came to shutting down the government, they ignored the overwhelming desire of hardworking and working-poor Americans. They continued to ignore economists and the downgrading of our credit rating over the debt ceiling. They disregard the science of climate change, despite erratic, catastrophic weather patterns and rising sea levels.

    I am sure that all of us recognize the most recent typhoon that has devastated the Philippines. I am hopeful that we, along with others in the world, will hasten to the rescue. America is always to be commended for our efforts when tragedies strike other nations, and I would call on other nations who have not done so to become adherent to the kind of philosophy that we have. And I hope that we can help those in the Philippines to recover rapidly.

    If my friends continue to ignore the world as it is in favor of the red-tinted paradise they believe it to be, they will have no one to blame but themselves when the country decides it is time to ignore them.

    [[Page H7012]] I wish to say one additional thing regarding the privacy concern.

    Yesterday, I called Comcast Television. The Miami Heat, champions of basketball for the last 2 years, were playing last night. So I thought that I would order the NBA game last evening.

    Well, lo and behold, last evening and this morning, before I left to attend meetings, the Comcast system is down and it is not working. I was told that I would get a phone call yesterday; and I didn't get any phone call. So I called this morning and I was told I would get a phone call today, but I missed the game last night. Incidentally, the Heat won. I did see that in the paper this morning.

    But I am concerned about the privacy measures because when I called Comcast, after giving them my account number and after telling them who I was and what my address was--and this is through three different automatic systems--then the young man came over the telephone. And when he came over the telephone after doing all of this--the account, my name, where I live again--he then asked me for the last four digits of my Social Security number.

    The wife of a former colleague of ours who died of mesothelioma, Bruce Vento, has written actively, along with others, for us to see how this identity problem might persist if we pursue this course.

    This bill would make the private information of asbestos poisoning victims readily available on the Internet, and therein lies the difference. Different now is that any information anybody needs is already in the courthouse. And they can go to the courthouse and achieve that information. But this is part of what we mean when we say this bill ``re-victimizes'' asbestos victims all over again.

    If an employer or identity thief wants to get the information in a regular lawsuit, they have to physically now go to every courthouse in the country and look through paper records. But with this bill, if Alcee Hastings applies for a job at X Corporation, the manager at X can search for my name on the Internet, learn that I got money from an asbestos trust, and then decide, if he or she wanted, not to hire me out of some misplaced fear that I am someone who just goes around suing their employer. Or they could refuse to hire me because they fear I will be sick a lot or drive up their group health insurance.

    An identity thief could learn the last four digits of my Social Security number. That is the same piece of information that I gave to Comcast yesterday and that my bank and credit card companies use to verify my identity during customer service calls.

    What part of that do you not understand that, if you put it on the Internet, then anybody can utilize it? Risking employment discrimination and identity theft for asbestos poisoning victims just because my colleagues on the other side want to stick it to the trial lawyers seems awfully crass to me.

    Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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