Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Dumb lawsuits are abundant, and serious ones
are often kept out

Commentary by James H. Shott

It seems as though anyone can sue anyone else for virtually any reason, anytime they please. The list of idiotic lawsuits that actually got into the system is long and defies common sense. In 2002, for example, a man sued the hospital where he worked for negligence because it did not prevent him from raping one of its patients.

A woman sued Universal Studios for $15,000, claiming to have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress after voluntarily visiting the park’s haunted house.

Judge Roy Pearson, Jr. – a judge! – tried to bully a family-owned dry cleaning shop by suing the owners for $54 million after they lost his pants.

All of these are real cases, and though most such cases are dismissed, what does it say about our system that such foolish cases are ever filed?

This kind of abuse of the legal system creates doubts that our court system truly dispenses justice. The courts should be a place where legitimate wrongs are adjudicated, not a lottery where people think they can file dumb lawsuits and have a chance of winning.

On the other side, cases raising significant questions sometimes can’t get a hearing, despite the important issues that are at stake.

One such example concerns the effort of a State Department employee to challenge the qualifications of Hillary Clinton to serve as Secretary of State, due to that position receiving a pay increase while Ms. Clinton served in the U.S. Senate. The U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 6, clause 2, provides: "No senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been [increased] during such time."

Given that, it appears the employee had a legitimate claim. However, the suit was dismissed by a special three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia not because the claim was without merit, but because the judges said he lacked legal standing to assert the claim.

Legal Standing involves being qualified to assert legal rights in a judicial forum because one has a sufficient and protectable interest in the outcome of a legal issue. In the first three examples involving absurd claims, legal standing was apparently not a factor, while in the case of the citizen challenging Ms. Clinton’s qualifications, it thwarts getting a ruling on what appears to be a legitimate legal question.

Who, after all, has a better reason to be certain that a government official with authority over them is qualified for the office than the employees who work for that public official?

There are other examples involving legal standing that have far more serious implications, such as the matter of the healthcare reform law. Who has a more legitimate interest in challenging the federal government over a legislative act or an administrative edict than the 50 states that will be forced to live with it?

A challenge by the Commonwealth of Virginia to the health care overhaul affectionately known as “Obamacare” was dismissed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, not because the Court determined that Virginia’s assertion that the healthcare law conflicts with Virginia law is without merit, but because the Commonwealth and its citizens lack legal standing to challenge the federal government on this question.

If the individual states, who under the system of federalism established by the U.S. Constitution have a substantial amount of sovereignty, don’t have standing to challenge in the federal courts a breathtakingly overt effort by the federal government to tread on and nullify that sovereignty, who does?

“The Founding Fathers fully intended that the states would serve as a check on federal power,” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in a news release. “When the 4th Circuit ruled that Virginia lacked standing to defend a duly enacted state law from federal preemption, it took away much of the states’ ability to serve that function.”

In such cases as the challenge to the qualifications of the Secretary of State and the government’s health care take-over, legal standing serves as a tool for protecting the federal government and government officials from being accountable to the people they serve.

The healthcare reform law is the most unpopular legislative misadventure in decades, or perhaps in history, so unpopular and so over-reaching that 30 states have challenged the take-over through court cases or referendums.

The fact that such action would be proposed by the president, and that it would be created in secret and passed without having been read or debated by the Congress says quite a lot about the shocking lack of understanding, or the outright abandoning of the founding principles our forebears fought and died for.

The question of constitutionality of healthcare reform will go to the U.S. Supreme Court this session. If the highest court in the land ignores the Constitution’s protections against unbridled, runaway government power – as the president, the Congress and some of the lower courts have done – the hard work and sacrifices of our forebears two hundred fifty years ago will have been for naught.

Cross-posted from Observations


  1. This is an excellent article. The question of legal standing has always bothered me. In the example of Clinton, who has better standing than trhe common citizen?

  2. I'm reading Rachel Ehrenfeld's 2011 updated FUNDING EVIL, it is a must read for everyone. I doubt most people even know about libel tourism, which to me is the worst form of lawsuit around.

    (p.s. the template looks great)

    Right Truth