Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee moved forward Wednesday, over the objection of Democrats, on a bill aimed at reducing "frivolous" lawsuits.
The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013, which the committee passed 17-10, would bring back four key sanctions provisions in Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Critics say the legislation would make the judicial system even more litigious and costly.
The bill would require judges to impose monetary sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits and require any sanction go to the defendant’s attorney fees and costs. It also would allow judges to impose additional sanctions, and it would eliminate the 21-day period for parties to avoid sanctions by withdrawing claims.
Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), a chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement today that the bill would eliminate what he described as "legalized extortion."
"Lawsuit abuse is common in America because the lawyers who bring these frivolous cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Lawyers can file meritless lawsuits, and defendants are faced with the choice of years of litigation, high court costs and attorneys' fees or a settlement," Smith said. He added: The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act "encourages attorneys to think twice before filing frivolous lawsuits."
At a markup hearing in June, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the bill "a very radical change in civil procedure" and said it would return the legal system to a failed 1983 rule, "which the Judicial Conference rightly rejected after a decade of catastrophic experience."
"Rather than serving as a disincentive, the old rule 11, which this bill to a large extent would revive, actually made the system even more litigious and costly," Nadler said, according to a House transcript. "Civil cases routinely became two cases, one on the merits and the other dueling rule 11 complaints."
A bill with the same language has been proposed in the Senate by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The House version now awaits action on the House floor.