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Key Cases (By Date)
Public Justice brings together the country’s best litigators, supplementing their case work with research and staff support, to build a record of precedent-setting litigation for the public good. Over the years, our court victories have made history, news, books and movies.
Read the highlights of some of our landmark cases below:
- Public Justice, after 12 years of litigation, convinces the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to veto the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit that would allow a West Virginia mining company to fill seven miles of streams with mining waste—the first time EPA has ever vetoed a Corps permit for coal mining activities.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Wyeth v. Levine helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that federal law does not preempt lawsuits against drug manufacturers for failing to warn of their drug’s dangers. The amicus brief was the first ever filed on behalf of the editors and contributing authors of the New England Journal of Medicine.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in In re American Express Merchants helps persuade the U.S. Court of appeals for the Second Circuit to hold that the credit card company cannot use a class action ban in its customer agreement to bar antitrust class actions against it. The court finds that enforcing the class action ban would effectively “grant Amex de facto immunity from antitrust liability” in violation of federal law.
- Public Justice wins two federal court orders, one of which is on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, requiring the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to obtain Clean Water Act discharge permits for discharges of acid mine drainage at 21 abandoned mine sites in West Virginia.
- Public Justice wins a federal court order, which is on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, blocking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing two mountaintop mining permits because the Corps failed to provide sufficient information to the public to have a meaningful opportunity to comment about the environmental impacts of the mines.
- Public Justice wins a federal court order blocking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from approving new mountaintop removal mining operations through a streamlined “nationwide permit” process. The ruling, which is on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, requires mining companies to apply for individual permits in West Virginia and the Corps to conduct a more rigorous environmental review of each project.
- Public Justice sues to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a mountaintop removal mining permit in Virginia that would allow the A&G Coal Corporation to fill nearly three miles of streams with waste at its planned 1,291-acre Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine. Within a week, the Corps suspends the Ison permit.
- Public Justice’s amici brief helps convince the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Philip Morris’ latest challenge to the $79.5 million punitive damage verdict against it in Williams v. Philip Morris. The amici brief explained that Philip Morris had not legally preserved the challenge it was trying to make.
- Public Justice wins the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in Homa v. American Express Company, providing increased protection to consumer class actions in New Jersey. The court rejects the credit card company’s arguments that federal preemption, a mandatory arbitration clause banning class actions, and the Utah choice-of-law provision in its form agreement allows it to bar New Jersey consumers from bringing class actions against it.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts North Carolina Wesleyan College to reinstitute its women’s lacrosse team. A year earlier, the school had announced that it was eliminating the team.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Tillman v. Commercial Credit, Inc., helps persuade the Supreme Court of North Carolina to hold that a mandatory arbitration clause in a consumer loan contract banning class actions is unconscionable and cannot be enforced. The decision effectively preserves consumer class actions in that state.
- Public Justice’s amici brief with the ACLU in Boumediene v. Bush helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Bush Administration and Congress cannot constitutionally eliminate the habeas corpus rights of “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay to challenge their detention in federal court. The Court holds that detainees have the right to go before a court with the authority to consider the sufficiency of and assess the evidence.
- Public Justice’s amici brief helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to hold in Altria v. Good that federal law does not preempt lawsuits against the tobacco companies for fraudulently advertising that “light” cigarettes deliver less tar and nicotine than regular cigarettes. The decision reaffirms that there is a strong presumption against preemption of consumers’ rights under state law.
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of Washington’s decision in McKee v. AT&T, strengthening the protection of consumer class actions in that state. The court holds that the phone company cannot use federal preemption, mandatory arbitration, a class action ban, or a secrecy provision in its form consumer contract to deprive its customers of their day in court.
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of New Mexico’s decision in Fiser v. Dell, preserving consumer class actions in that state. The court holds the computer company cannot use terms in its form consumer agreement to deprive its customers of the ability to hold it accountable.
- Public Justice wins a temporary restraining order stopping the proposed mountaintop removal Hobet Mine in West Virginia and then negotiates a settlement requiring the coal company to stop flouting environmental laws and limit its discharges of selenium-contaminated water. As a result of our work, this mine – unlike nearly all that preceded it – will have no valley fills and no in-stream sediment control ponds.
- Public Justice sues Florida Gulf Coast University for violating Title IX and state law by retaliating against its women’s volleyball coach, Jay Flood, for speaking out about gender inequities in the school’s intercollegiate athletic program. Former FGCU women’s golf coach Holly Vaughn joins the suit too, and the school agrees to pay the women $3.4 million and have an independent expert monitor its compliance with Title IX.
- Public Justice files a Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit against the Indiana High School Athletic Association, challenging its rule that high school baseball teams are open only to boys and that girls cannot try out for them. Within weeks, the rule is changed.
- Public Justice and the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic’s threatened suit stops the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from illegally grinding and burning asbestos-contaminated homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Federal law flatly prohibits these activities, but the federal government was preparing to authorize and perform them.
- Public Justice and the Center for Constitutional Litigation win another challenge to federal preemption of damage claims against a drug manufacturer. Kellogg v. Wyeth holds that a generic prescription drug’s label does not preempt claims against the drug’s makers for failing to warn consumers of known risks.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief helps win the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s decision in Skirchak v. Dynamics Research Corporation, preserving employment class actions in Massachusetts. The court holds that employers cannot insulate themselves from liability for violating state or federal labor laws by burying class action bans in their employment contracts.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief helps win the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in O’Hara v. General Motors Co., which rejects federal preemption of injury victims’ claims against the auto companies for using unreasonably dangerous glass in their windows. Auto companies can be sued for failing to use windows with advanced glazing, not just tempered glass.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief helps win the Supreme Court of California’s decision in Gentry v. Circuit City, effectively preserving employment class actions in that state The court holds the electronic retailer cannot use a class action ban in its workers’ contracts to avoid liability for cheating them out of overtime pay.
- Public Justice’s amici brief in Watson v. Phillip Morris helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision preventing corporate defendants from eliminating most state court cases against them by removing them to federal court. The Court holds that a company sued in state court cannot remove the case to federal court just because a federal agency “directs, supervises, and monitors [the] company’s activities in considerable detail.”
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of Washington’s decision in Scott v. Cingular Wireless, effectively preserving consumer class actions in that state. The court holds the cellular phone company cannot use a class action ban in its form consumer agreement to insulate itself from liability for violating the law.
- Public Justice wins another victory against mandatory arbitration abuse in Lewallen v. Green Tree Servicing, L.L.C.. The Eight Circuit holds that a sub-prime lender cannot bar a consumer from court and force her into arbitration after litigating the case in court for 16 months.
- Public Justice wins another class action settlement for Maryland consumers illegally double-billed by their HMO. Optimum Choice agrees to repay $2.85 million to its customers.
- Public Justice wins a jury verdict that Seattle violated the U.S. Constitution when it arrested anti-WTO peaceful protestors inside the “no-protest zone” it created during 1999 WTO conference. Within months, the city agrees to seal and expunge the arrest records, use the federal court decisions we won to train its police, and pay $1 million to the protesters.
- Public Justice wins a $7 million settlement from a payday lender in Cardegna v. Check Cashing Stores for overcharging consumers in violation of Florida law. The loan company charged customers up to 16 times the state’s legal limit.
- Public Justice sues the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for violating the federal Clean Water Act in allowing unlimited acid drainage from 18 abandoned coal mining sites it took over. Within two years, Public Justice wins a federal court order requiring the state to limit and clean up acid drainage from the sites.
- Public Justice joins De La Cruz v. WFS Financial, wipes out an anti-consumer federal preemption decision, and helps hold the finance company accountable for issuing illegal repossessed car payment notices. The company agrees to forgive over $34 million in debts and refunds consumers.
- Public Justice files Castaneda v. United States of America to hold the government accountable for its cruel medical neglect of 35-year-old immigrant detainee Francisco Castaneda, whose cancer led to his penile amputation and death because the government denied him basic treatment. Within a year, Public Justice wins the nation’s first appeals court ruling that U.S. Public Health Service officials can be sued for violating the Constitution.
- Public Justice challenges and stops a proposed class action settlement involving “Ionic Breeze” air purifiers that Consumer Reports found did not purify the air and actually emitted harmful ozone levels. The settlement would have given consumers an $18 coupon and a retrofit that fit only some devices and was never proven to work.
- Public Justice challenges and helps defeat the Allstate Insurance Company’s attempt to seal trial exhibits showing the company’s fraudulent pay-out procedures for Hurricane Katrina claims. The jury in Weiss v. Allstate had ordered the insurer to pay $2.8 million for illegally refusing a hurricane-related claim.
- Public Justice and the Center for Constitutional Litigation win their second challenge to federal preemption of damage claims against a preemption drug manufacturer. Kelly v. Wyeth holds that the FDA’s approval of a generic prescription drug’s label does not immunize the manufacturer for failing to warn consumers of the drug’s dangers.
- Public Justice and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) prompt CBS-TV and Planet Toys to stop all sales of the toy CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Fingerprint Examination Kit and Field Kit after tests discover that the toy fingerprint powder in them contains tremolite, a particularly deadly form of asbestos. The toys are pulled from the shelves.
- Public Justice and Disability Rights Advocates sue Hotels.com on behalf of the AXIS Dance Company, a traveling dance troupe with both disabled and non-disabled dancers, for discriminating against disabled travelers. Within two years, Hotels.com and Expedia.com agree to transform their web sites to provide detailed information and personalized service to the disabled.
- Public Justice wins the en banc Ninth Circuit ruling in Nagrampa v. MailCoups, Inc. that courts, not arbitrators, must decide our challenge to the arbitration clause. The Court holds unconscionable an arbitration clause requiring a California franchisee to travel to Boston to assert her claims.
- Public Justice wins a unanimous Colorado Supreme Court decision in Jessee v. Farmers Insurance unsealing previously-public documents showing the insurer based adjusters’ compensation on the payouts they limited. The Court rules protective orders cannot restrict the disclosure of information publicly obtained.
- Public Justice wins a Florida decision in Reuter v. Check N’ Go striking down a payday lender’s class action ban. The payday lender can be held accountable for charging up to 650% interest.
- Public Justice and a team of consumer attorneys win a nationwide class action settlement in Watson v. Dell, Inc. requiring the company to fix its sales practices and refund overcharges to computer buyers. The settlement stops Dell’s classic “bait and switch” tactics.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts Assumption College of Worcester, Massachusetts to reinstate its women’s track and field teams. Months earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating both teams.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts Florida A&M University to reinstate its women’s swimming and diving teams. One month earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating the teams.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Bates v. Dow Agrosciences, LLC helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision rejecting the pesticide manufacturers’ argument that federal law preempts and bars all lawsuits for damages caused by pesticides. The Court calls the Bush Administration’s arguments for preemption “particularly dubious.”
- Public Justice’s amici brief with the National Employment Lawyers Association in Smith v. City of Jackson helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision broadening workers’ protection against age discrimination. The Court rules that federal law bars unjustified employers’ actions that have a discriminatory impact without requiring proof of the employers’ intent.
- Public Justice’s amici brief with a wide-ranging coalition in Hamden v. Rumsfeld helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating the military commission President Bush established to try “enemy combatants” held in Guantanamo Bay. The Court holds the commissions violate the right to a fair trial under U.S. law and the Geneva Convention.
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s decision in Muhammad v. County Bank, preserving consumer class actions in the state. The Court holds a payday lender’s class action ban “unconscionable and unenforceable.”
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of California’s decision in Discover Bank v. Boehr, preserving consumer class actions when small amounts per person are involved. Corporations cannot use class action bans in form consumer contracts to bar their customers from holding them accountable in California.
- Public Justice wins the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Raymond James v. Saldukas that corporations cannot start litigating in court and then demand arbitration only after they start to lose. Once the corporation goes to court, it waives arbitration.
- Public Justice wins a ruling in West Virginia Rivers Coalition v. McClung requiring the top mercury polluter of America’s water to dramatically cut its discharges into the Ohio River. The new limits PPG must meet are 76 times lower.
- Public Justice wins a precedent-setting preemption victory in Sweeney v. Savings First Mortgage, LLC. Maryland’s high court holds that federal law does not exempt mortgage brokers from liability under state law, so they can be held accountable for charging excessive, illegal fees.
- Public Justice wins a mandatory arbitration and class action preservation victory in Tamayo v. Brainstorm USA. The Ninth Circuit holds that Provident Bank cannot use a mandatory arbitration clause in its form agreement to bar low-income, mostly Spanish-speaking consumers from court or to ban class actions challenging a door-to-door home computer sales scam.
- Public Justice sues the City of St. Louis and its airport authority for endangering the public by illegally destroying more than 300 asbestos-laden buildings using the so-called “wet method” of demotion – spraying the buildings with a fire hose and knocking them down with a bulldozer. As the case proceeds, the federal court rules that the demolitions violated the federal Clean Air Act.
- Public Justice sues St. Louis and its International Airport for endangering the public and workers by demolishing over 300 buildings using the illegal “wet method” of asbestos removal – spraying the buildings with a fire hose and knocking them down with a bulldozer. The demolitions were discovered when Public Justice stopped Fort Worth’s proposal to do the same thing.
- Public Justice stops and improves a proposed nationwide Netflix class action settlement that would have automatically charged class members’ credit cards and left Netflix better off -- and its customers worse off -- than if no suit had ever been filed. The revised settlement drops the automatic charges and pays class members millions more in relief.
- Public Justice launches the Class Action Preservation Project to fight corporate and government efforts to eliminate many Americans’ access to justice by banning, limiting and abusing class actions. Companies are using these tactics against consumers and employees nationwide.
- Public Justice joins a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Moisés Carranza-Reyes, a Mexican immigrant whose one-week detention and medical neglect in a squalid Colorado jail run for profit resulted in the infection and amputation of his leg. The case ultimately wins $1.5 million for Carranza-Reyes.
- Public Justice challenges a secrecy order and unseals a 36-page sanctions decision in Davis v. Honda that found Honda and its expert witness, Robert Gratzinger, tried to destroy evidence and “win by cheating.” The decision is used nationwide to expose Honda’s and its expert’s improper conduct.
- Public Justice argues Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna before the U.S. Supreme Court, its third oral argument in five years. The Court holds that, if an arbitration clause is included in a contract challenged as illegal, the arbitrator and not the court must decide whether the contract as a whole is illegal.
- Public Justice and the Center for Constitutional Litigation win their first challenge to federal preemption of damage claims against a preemption drug manufacturer. Perry v. Novartis holds that the FDA’s approval of a drug label does not immunize drug manufacturers for failing to warn consumers of the drug’s dangers.
- Public Justice’s amici briefs with a wide-ranging coalition in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Rasul v. Bush help win U.S. Supreme Court decisions protecting the Constitution, the rule of law, and access to justice during the war on terrorism. The Court rejects the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has unlimited, unreviewable power to designate U.S. and foreign citizens “enemy combatants” and hold them indefinitely without any hearing or court review.
- Public Justice wins the nation’s first ruling in Brailsford v. Nissan Motor Company that crash victims injured because their cars lack rear center seat shoulder harnesses can hold the manufacturers accountable. The court rejects Nissan’s federal preemption defense and Nissan pays compensation.
- Public Justice wins settlements requiring two Maryland HMOs – Columbia Medical Plan and Kaiser Foundation – to pay nearly $4 million combined to members they had illegally double-billed. Suits against other HMOs continue.
- Public Justice sues the nation’s largest electric utility, American Electric Power, for spewing up to 32 tons per day of sulfuric acid mist from its coal-fired power plant in Cheshire, Ohio. Within two years, the company agrees to cut its emissions and file new detailed, publicly available reports.
- Public Justice launches the Access to Justice Campaign to expose, fight and defeat the frontal assault taking place on the right to a day in court. The campaign battles to keep America’s courthouse doors open to all, fighting federal preemption, unfair mandatory arbitration, class action bans and abuses, outrageous court secrecy, attacks on the right to counsel and jury trial, and unconstitutional legislation.
- Public Justice helps defeat Fort Worth’s plan to demolish the asbestos-laden Cowtown Inn by using an illegal, experimental “wet method ” of asbestos removal – spraying the building with a fire hose and knocking it down with a bulldozer. The plan would have endangered public health and violated federal law.
- Public Justice and Disability Rights Advocates file a class action against a U.S. military housing contractor for discriminating against military families with disabled family members – including families sending soldiers to Iraq. The suit yields a model settlement making the housing and surrounding communities fully accessible to disabled residents.
- Public Justice and a team of consumer groups and advocates file class actions against three payday lenders in North Carolina -- Advance America, Check Into Case, and Check N’ Go – for exploiting the poor and charging up to 500% interest. Within a year, the state Attorney General opens an investigation and the largest payday lender stops operating in the state.
- Public Justice’s strategic assistance helps a boy left paralyzed in an accidental shooting win a $50.9 million jury verdict against a “Saturday Night Special” gun manufacturer in Maxfield v. Bryco Arms. The jury finds the gun defectively designed because its safety has to be disengaged before it can be unloaded.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Stephenson v. Dow Chemical helps win a U.S. Supreme Court decision preserving Agent Orange victims’ rights and preventing class action abuse. Vietnam veterans who suffer Agent Orange-related illnesses after 1994 are free to sue the manufacturer since the 1984 class action settlement provided no relief for these future victims.
- Public Justice wins the Supreme Court of Mississippi’s decision in Sanderson Farms, Inc. v. Gatlin that a huge poultry producer cannot force farmers out of court and into arbitration. The company must answer in court because it broke its promise to pay half of the arbitration costs.
- Public Justice wins a federal court decision overturning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of West Virginia’s stream protection policy. The court holds that the state’s “anti-degradation” rules do not provide the minimum protection necessary under the federal Clean Water Act.
- Public Justice wins a class action settlement expanding opportunities for minority workers in Maxey v. Alcoa, Inc. The settlement requires the aluminum manufacturer to revamp its method for selecting trade apprentices and increase opportunities for African-Americans and Hispanic workers nationwide.
- Public Justice stops and improves the proposed class action settlement in Dotson v. Bell Atlantic/Verizon, which would release claims for over $25 million in illegal late fees by paying class members $156,000 and class counsel $18 million. After a three year battle, the revised settlement pays the class $16.8 million and class counsel a fair fee.
- Public Justice helps a coalition of American Indian activists and environmental advocates save a sacred Zuni salt lake from destruction by a proposed strip mine. Public Justice’s new legal strategy prompts the mining company to abandon its proposal.
- Public Justice files a Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit against West Chester University in Pennsylvania for eliminating and refusing to reinstate its women’s gymnastics team. The court finds the school in violation of Title IX and orders the immediate reinstatement of the team.
- Public Justice files a sex discrimination suit against the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a national civic organization, for refusing to admit women as full members in Massachusetts. Within two years, the organization changes its rules and admits women as full members.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the University of Northern Iowa to reinstate its women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams. One month earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating both teams.
- Public Justice’s amici brief in WLF v. LFW helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a constitutional challenge to IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) programs that fund legal services for the poor. The attacks on legal services for the poor continue.
- Public Justice wins a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine that people injured because boat engines lack propeller guards can hold boat engine manufacturers accountable. The court rejects the manufacturers’ claim that the suit is preempted and barred by federal law.
- Public Justice wins a Maryland high court decision in Harvey v. Kaiser Foundation overturning a Maryland statute, passed in response to Public Justice’s 2000 victory in Riemer, retroactively authorizing the HMO’s unlawful double-billing of their members. The court holds the statute unconstitutional because it tries to retroactively void consumers’ rights.
- Public Justice joins Ryan v. Koehler International, Inc., a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson on behalf of an 8-year old shot and brain-injured by another boy playing with a gun he thought was unloaded. The suit results in the first settlement by a gun manufacturer for defectively designing and failing to child-proof a gun.
- Public Justice challenges and overturns an injunction in In re Metropolitan Life Insurance Company stopping 392 MetLife policyholders who opted out of a class action against the company from pursuing their individual claims. The court that issued the injunction responds to Public Justice’s arguments by writing, “Wisdom so often never comes that she ought not to be spurned just for coming late.”
- Public Justice and Mountain State Justice win a mandatory arbitration victory before the Supreme Court of West Virginia in Toppings v. Meritech Mortgage. The Court bars arbitration before arbitrators who are dependant for their income on cases sent by creditors in large, repeat volume.
- A threatened sex discrimination lawsuit by Public Justice, Planned Parenthood, and the National Women’s Law Center prompts George Washington University to revise its student health plan to add insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives. The plan previously provided men, but not women, comprehensive health care coverage.
- Public Justice argues and wins a mixed decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Geier v. Honda Motor Company, Inc., on whether federal law preempts and bars damage claims against the auto manufacturers by drivers and passengers injured because their cars lack airbags. The court rules unanimously that no claims are expressly preempted, but holds 5 to 4 that most claims involving cars manufactured after 1987 are barred.
- Public Justice wins a federal court ruling that West Virginia’s system for obtaining coal company bonds to repair the environmental harm done by mountaintop removal mines is “totally inadequate” and violates U.S. law. The state later changes its rules to comply with the law and increases funding for the system by over $60 million.
- Public Justice stops and improves a proposed Bank of America class action settlement that would provide almost no relief to the class and pa y nearly $1.5 million to five hand-picked “charities” including the Bank’s own Consumer Education Fund. The revised settlement pays over $3.1 million to the class and eliminates the “charitable” payments.
- Public Justice joins Singleton, a gender discrimination class action charging Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with depriving over 3,000 women employees of equal pay and promotions. Three years later, the Lab agrees to dramatically change its procedures, revamp the performance management and human resource systems, and pay over $10.6 million to the class members.
- Public Justice files Ting v. AT&T, a consumer class action charging the company with trying to eliminate its long distance customers’ rights by amending its form consumer agreement to require mandatory arbitration, ban class actions, and bar punitive damages. Public Justice tries and proves its case, barring enforcement of the provisions and making new law that benefits consumers nationwide.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the University of Wisconsin to allow Jennifer Wong to participate in its previously all-male intercollegiate athletic wrestling program. A freshman and world-class wrestler, Wong had enrolled at the school based on the promise that she would be allowed to participate.
- Public Justice’s amici brief in Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw helps win a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of citizens to bring suits and enforce civil penalties against companies that violate the Clean Water Act. Several environmental groups joined in Public Justice’s brief.
- Public Justice sues the City of Seattle for unconstitutionally arresting and imprisoning hundreds of peaceful protesters after declaring most of downtown a “no-protest zone” during the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) conference. After a four-year battle, the agrees to pay $250,000 to nearly 200 protesters arrested outside of the “no-protest zone,” but the class action continues on behalf of those arrested inside the “no-protest zone.”
- Public Justice wins a Maryland high court ruling in Riemer v. Columbia Medical Plan that Maryland HMOs have been illegally double-billing their members by billing them a second time if the members receive compensation from others for their injuries. Public Justice then files a group of class actions for HMO members to recover the double-billing.
- Public Justice files a sex discrimination lawsuit against Macalester College in Minnesota for firing its women’s softball coach, Joel Kaden, for reporting Title IX violations and gender inequities in the school’s intercollegiate athletics program. The school settles with Kaden.
- Public Justice wins a settlement requiring the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection to abandon its rubber-stamp approval of all mountaintop removal mining applications. The Division agrees to implement several steps and new regulations to protect the environment and properly evaluate applications.
- Public Justice stops and defeats a proposed class action settlement in Cash v. Farmland Industries that would force the class members to sell their homes to the defendant and release all of their present and future personal injury clauses against the company. Farmland Industries abandons the proposed class action and deals with homeowners individually.
- Public Justice seeks and later wins public access to the court file and documents in Foltz v. State Farm, a case charging the insurer with cheating its policyholders that settled and was then erased from the public record. The file and documents are unsealed and opened to the public.
- Public Justice launches the Mandatory Arbitration Abuse Prevention Project to protect all Americans’ right to their day in court. The project quickly makes Public Justice the national leader in the battle to protect consumers, employees, and health care recipients from unfair mandatory arbitration clauses slipped into corporate form agreements.
- Public Justice files Wells v. Chevy Chase Bank, FSB, a national class action on behalf of credit cardholders, after the bank breaks its promise to “never” charge more than 24% interest. After a seven-year battle and two Public Justice victories in Maryland’s highest court, Chevy Chase agrees to pay $16.1 million and correct the consumers’ credit reports.
- Public Justice stops the largest proposed mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia from opening. On the eve of trial in Bragg v. Robertson, the U.S. government rescinds the approval permit it issued because there is “virtually no chance” the court will find it legal.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corporation helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a no-opt-out class action settlement binding all present and future asbestos victims. The decision creates new safeguards against the use of no-opt-out class actions to cap corporate liability and limit victims’ rights.
- Public Justice and Disability Rights Advocates file Advocates for Special Kids v. Oregon State Board of Education, challenging the state’s new high school assessment tests that discriminate against learning disabled students. Within two years, Oregon agrees to make extensive changes to fully accommodate learning disabled students.
- Public Justice wins the largest Clean Air Act citizen suit settlement in New Jersey history. The New Jersey Steel Corporation spends millions on plant improvements to comply with the law and pays a $1.3 million civil penalty for its past violations.
- Public Justice wins a New York high court ruling in Drattel v. Toyota Motor Corp. that crash victims injured because their cars lack airbags can hold the auto manufacturers accountable. The case later settles, with the crash victims winning compensation.
- Public Justice wins a multi-media environmental citizen suit settlement forcing the El Dorado Chemical Company to comply with federal air, water, hazardous waste, and right to know laws. The company also pays $165,000 for an environmental audit, a $50,000 penalty to the U.S. Treasury, and compensation to nearby residents.
- Public Justice helps stop and improve the proposed no-opt-out class action settlement of all claims against the University of Cincinnati, the U.S. government, and others for conducting human radiation experiments on hospital patients. The settlement is changed to let class members opt out.
- Public Justice’s threatened sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the U .S. Military Academy at West Point to admit 14-year-old female wrestler Jennifer Radzik to its summer wrestling camp. Radzik had successfully competed on her school’s otherwise all-male wresting team for the past two years.
- Public Justice files Bragg v. Robertson, the first of its lawsuits to stop the coal companies’ illegal mountaintop removal mining practices in West Virginia. Within months, the federal government agrees to alter its entire regulatory approach to the practice, giving greatly enhanced protection to the environment.
- Public Justice stops and improves the proposed First USA Bank consumer class action settlement in Kalhammer v. First USA, which would have provided rebate certificates to credit cardholders, required no minimum payment from First USA, and kept the total settlement award and attorneys’ fees secret. The revised settlement provides automatic payments to most class members, requires First USA to pay a minimum of $6 million, and eliminates the secrecy.
- Public Justice stops and defeats Tower Loan of Mississippi’s proposed no-opt -out consumer class action settlement with class counsel who had already moved to dismiss the case because it would not settle. The proposed settlement would have paid no money to most class members, but paid class counsel up to $100,000 if the settlement was approved and up to $50,000 if the settlement was rejected.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down an unprecedented class action settlement binding all present and future asbestos victims. The decision creates important safeguards against the use of class actions to cap corporate liability and limit victims’ rights.
- Public Justice wins dismissal of State Industries, Inc. v. Fandey, a water heater manufacturer’s defamation lawsuit against a former U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission manager who voiced his safety concerns on ABC-TV’s “Primetime Live.” The case is a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit.
- Public Justice stops and improves the proposed Bank of America national consumer class action settlement in Graham, which would have paid the class $2 million, class counsel $5.4 million, and barred some class members from opting out. The revised settlement pays the class $7.9 million, class counsel $1.92 million, and allows all class members to opt out.
- Public Justice joins Bartkowiak v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, charging the health insurers with improperly terminating payments for in-home health services to a severely disabled child. The court enters an order requiring the company to continue paying and the company then compensates Bartkowiak.
- Public Justice files Cureton v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, charging that the minimum test score requirement of the NCAA’s freshman eligibility rule illegally deprives academically-qualified African-American student-athletes of opportunities to receive athletic scholarships and participate in intercollegiate athletics. Public Justice wins on the merits in the trial court, the appeals court reverses on technical, jurisdictional grounds, and Public Justice’s position prevails -- the NCAA drops the minimum test score requirement.
- Public Justice defeats a cigarette manufacturer’s attempt in Walker v. Liggett Group, Inc. to stop all tobacco-related litigation against it based on a proposed national no-opt-out class action settlement binding all present and future victims. As the litigation proceeds, Public Justice convinces courts in West Virginia and Alabama that the proposed settlement is illegal and cannot be approved.
- Public Justice files Texans United v. Crown Central Petroleum, the first federal Clean Air Act citizen suit in Texas, charging the company with over 15,000 hours of illegal sulfur dioxide emissions. Four years later, the suit yields a landmark settlement, with the company paying $1.6 million to the county, state, and U.S. Treasury, and agreeing to pay even more if continuous monitoring shows further violations.
- Public Justice wins a Montana Supreme Court ruling in Kleinhesselink v. Stillwater Mining Company that workers can sue their employers for job-related emotional injuries, since the state’s workers’ compensation system provides no compensation for them. As trial then approaches, the company compensates Kleinhesselink.
- Public Justice joins Guzman v. Amvac Chemical Corporation, a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Phosdrin, a pesticide banned by the EPA in 1994, for poisoning three farmworkers. The suit shows Amvac knew of Phosdrin’s dangers long before it was banned, makes new Washington law protecting consumers, and wins a settlement for all three farmworkers.
- Public Justice wins the largest Clean Water Act citizen suit settlement in Puerto Rico’s history. The Starkist and Bumble Bee Tuna canneries and a water treatment company agree to comply with the law, pay $500,000 in penalties to Puerto Rico, and pay $500,000 for studies to revive polluted Mayaguez Bay.
- Public Justice wins the largest Clean Water Act citizen suit settlement in Tennessee history. The Dana Corporation agrees to comply with the law, pay $125,000 to the U.S. Treasury, and pay $1.125 million to establish a new Tennessee Environmental Endowment.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief in U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to unanimously overturn the federal courts’ practice of routine vacatur – wiping out lower court decisions when they are appealed and the case then settles. The practice allowed wealthy, repeat litigants to control the development of the law by effectively buying and destroying judicial decisions.
- Public Justice’s Federal Rules Project discovers, exposes, and stops a last-minute attempt to change the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to authorize judges to order secrecy whenever the parties agreed to it, whether there is “good cause” for secrecy or not. The project continues to monitor proposed rule changes.
- Public Justice wins another key Clean Water Act citizen suit settlement in Tennessee. Harmon Automotive agrees to comply with the law, pay $112,500 in penalties to the state, and pay $112,500 to the new Tennessee Environmental Endowment.
- Public Justice wins an environmental citizen suit settlement forcing Michigan’s Bradford-White Corporation to comply with the Clean Water Act and pay for violating it. The settlement funds are used to clean up the Thornapple River.
- Public Justice wins a unanimous New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in Tebbetts v. Ford Motor Company that crash victims injured because their cars lack airbags can hold the auto manufacturers accountable. It is the first state high court decision rejecting the companies’ federal preemption argument.
- Public Justice launches the Class Action Abuse Prevention Project to preserve the integrity of class actions and prevent corporations from improperly using class actions to limit their liability and eliminate their victims’ rights. The project especially focuses on attempts to create “no-opt-out” damage class actions and eliminate future victims’ rights.
- Public Justice helps win a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick that injured crash victims can sue truck manufacturers for failing to install anti-lock brakes. Public Justice is Counsel of Record for the plaintiff before the Court.
- Public Justice files a Title IX sex discrimination against the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut for eliminating and refusing to reinstate funding for its women’s gymnastics team. After a court conference, the school reinstates the team.
- Public Justice files a disability discrimination lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act against a Virginia homeowners association that refused to take reasonable steps to protect a chemically sensitive homeowner, Melinda Lebens, from pesticide exposure. Five months later, the association agrees to implement a development-wide program to effectively eliminate Lebens’ exposure to pesticides.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts ULCA to reinstate its women’s gymnastics team. Three weeks earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating the team.
- Public Justice wins the first federal Clean Water Act citizen suit ever in Oklahoma. Total Petroleum agrees to comply with the law and pay $575,000 to Oklahoma’s Trust for Public Land.
- Public Justice files a national class action on behalf of millions of property owners against Shell Oil Company, DuPont, and Hoescht Celanese for manufacturing and marketing defective polybutylene pipes and plumbing systems. The case results in the largest property damage class action settlement in U.S. history and a new model for the resolution of mass torts: the companies pay over $1 billion and accept continuing responsibility for replacing defective leaking pipes.
- Public Justice and the Tidewater Legal Aid Society file Chisholm v. Charlie Falk Auto Wholesale, Inc., a class action against Virginia’s largest used car dealership for defrauding customers by repeatedly reselling and repossessing the same cars while charging several customers for them simultaneously. The next year, the defendants agree to forgive over $10 million in defaulted loans, pay $400,000 to the class, and institute new procedures favorable to consumers.
- Public Justice and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation win the largest Clean Water Act citizen suit settlement in Arkansas history. Hudson Foods, Inc., one of the nation’s largest poultry companies, agrees to comply with the law, pay $50,000 to the U.S. Treasury, and pay $650,000 for environmental preservation projects.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the University of New Hampshire to reinstate its women’s tennis team and develop a long range plan to ensure compliance with all laws prohibiting sex discrimination in intercollegiate athletics. A few months earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating the team.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the University of Massachusetts and Amherst to reinstate its women’s lacrosse, tennis and volleyball teams and ensure that all aspects of the intercollegiate athletics program comply with Title IX with five years. Several months earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating the teams.
- Public Justice sues the New Mexico Department of Health and state psychiatric hospitals for failing to evaluate and properly treat “dual diagnosis” patients with both mental illnesses and development disabilities. The patients get the specialized medical attention and treatment they need.
- Public Justice files Cohen v. Brown University, a Title IX sex discrimination class action, after the school eliminates and refuses to reinstate funding for its women’s gymnastics and volleyball teams. The challenges the school’s entire intercollegiate athletic program, gets the teams reinstated, proves Brown liable, and makes new law affecting schools nationwide. After fighting for years, Brown adds several women’s teams and agrees to provide equal opportunities and treatment to its men and women athletes.
- Public Justice files a Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit against Indiana University of Pennsylvania after the school eliminates funding for and refuses to reinstate its women’s field hockey and gymnastics teams. Public Justice quickly wins a court order reinstating both teams.
- Public Justice’s lawsuit prompts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release a Congressionally-mandated report on ways to improve the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The report was due three years earlier, but issued only after Public Justice sued.
- Public Justice’s revives its Environmental Enforcement Project and sues two Arkansas companies for violating the Clean Water Act. Within a year, both companies agree to comply with the law and pay for environmental improvements.
- Public Justice files a national consumer class action against aluminum window and door manufacturer Capital Products of Pennsylvania for falsely representing that its products meet industry standards. The company agrees to pay nearly $4 million to compensate class members.
- Public Justice’s amicus brief helps persuade the U.S. Supreme Court in International Union v. Johnson Controls that a battery manufacturer’s fear of future tort liability cannot justify its “fetal protection policy” of banning non-sterile women from all jobs involving lead exposure. The Court agrees that the policy is blatant, illegal gender discrimination.
- Public Justice and Public Citizen seek and win public access to documents filed under seal in the Republic of Philippines’ lawsuit against Westinghouse Electric for bribing Ferdinand Marcos to win a contract to build the Philippines’ first nuclear power plant – and then building an unsafe plant. The court holds that summary judgment documents should be open to the public.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts Virginia’s William and Mary College to reinstate its women’s basketball and swimming teams. Ten days earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating both teams.
- Public Justice files the first environmental citizen suit in the southern U.S. under the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), against a Virginia manufacturer for failing to report toxic discharges. The company agrees to comply with the law, reduce toxic chemical use by 90 percent, pay $115,000 for an environmental audit and pollution prevention, and contribute $25,000 to the Virginia Environmental Endowment.
- Public Justice’s threatened Title IX sex discrimination lawsuit prompts the University of Oklahoma to reinstate its women’s basketball team. Eight days earlier, the school announced that it was eliminating the team.
- Public Justice starts challenging the pesticide manufacturers’ claim that they cannot be sued for the deaths and injuries caused by inadequately labeled pesticides. The federal preemption battle continues for 15 years, until the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the manufacturers’ argument in 2005.
- Public Justice challenges the protective order sealing evidence of three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles’ (ATV’s) dangers in Oberg v. Honda Motor Co., the first case to award punitive damages against an ATV manufacturer. The court unseals the evidence and opens it to the public.
- Public Justice launches Project ACCESS, its nationwide campaign against unnecessary court secrecy. Project ACCESS continues to this day, helping plaintiffs and attorneys fight over-broad protective orders, challenging outrageous secrecy, and educating the courts, the press, and the public about the dangers of litigation in secret.
- Public Justice files the first of its amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing corporate efforts to create new constitutional limits on punitive damage awards. The Court rejects the efforts in Browning Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal, Inc. The battle continues to this day.
- Public Justice files its first amicus brief on the admissibility of expert testimony, helping persuade the Third Circuit to overturn a district court ruling in In re Paoli Railyard PCB Litigation that “expert opinions based on animal studies are inadmissible.” Over the years, Public Justice files a series of challenges to decisions improperly limiting the admissibility of scientific evidence and expert testimony. The battle continues to this day.
- Public Justice files Buenrostro v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, a class action on behalf of migrant farmworkers lured to Washington by false advertisements of plentiful jobs and free immigration assistance. Two years later, the Commission agrees to pay $617,500, a record settlement for migrant farmworkers.
- Public Justice sues Exxon over the environmental harms caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Wildlife Federation of Alaska. The suit helps document the full effects of the disastrous spill and prompts a major increase in the government’s recovery for environmental damage.
- Public Justice joins Domingo v. Marcos, a lawsuit against former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos for ordering the murders of anti-Marcos union activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in Seattle. At trial, the jury finds Marcos liable and awards $15 million in damages.
- Public Justice files New York City v. Lead Industries Association, the first lead paint abatement lawsuit in the country. Designed to make the lead industry pay to eliminate lead paint’s dangers in New York City, the case lays the groundwork for litigation now being prosecuted throughout the United States.
- Public Justice takes on Conlogue v. United States for Kansas plane owner Walter Conlogue, whose plane was leased by the U.S. Customer Service as part of the war on drugs and then crashed in the Cayman Islands filled with marijuana. Two years later, the U.S. government agrees to pay Conlogue for the plane.
- Public Justice starts challenging tampon manufacturer International Playtex’s claim that federal preemption immunizes it from liability for the toxic shock syndrome deaths and illnesses caused by its super-absorbent tampons. In the first case Public Justice enters, Playtex settles on the eve of oral argument.
- Public Justice files Strom v. Boeing, charging the aerospace company with treating its employees as human research subjects to discover the effects of electromagnetic pulse radiation and causing technician Robert Strom’s leukemia. Two years later, Boeing agrees to pay Strom over $500,000 and establish an independent medical examination program for the workers.
- Public Justice and the National Gay Rights Association file Brogan v. Kimberly Services, the nation’s first case against a private AIDS clinic for failing to follow proper testing procedures and providing false positive results. The company compensates Brogan and adopts stringent new testing and disclosure procedures.
- Public Justice files the nation’s first lawsuits against the lead industry for poisoning children with lead-based paint. The suits disclose that the industry knew of lead paint’s danger to children for over 50 years, but marketed it for home use anyway.
- Public Justice agrees to assist the Christic Institute with discovery in Avirgan v. Hull, the Contragate racketeering case alleging that the federal government’s illegal activities against the Contras in Nicaragua led to the bombing of a press conference and the injuries of journalist Tony Avirgan. More than 45 Public Justice cooperating counsel volunteer to take depositions in the case.
- Public Justice takes the lead in the federal preemption battle against the auto manufacturers, challenging the car companies’ claim that they cannot be sued by passengers injured because their cars lack rear shoulder harnesses or airbags. The work grows into Public Justice’s Federal Preemption Project, helping attorneys and victims nationwide preserve their day in court.
- Public Justice joins the National Women’s Law Center as co-counsel and lead trial counsel in Haffer v. Temple University, the nation’s first Title IX sex discrimination case involving intercollegiate athletics. Two years later, after three weeks of trial, Temple agrees to a landmark settlement requiring new women’s teams and comparable treatment for men and women athletes.
- Public Justice files amicus briefs protecting victims’ rights in two cutting-edge class action cases, In Re Bendectin and In re School Asbestos, helping persuade two federal appeals court that no-opt-out class actions cannot be used to settle present and future victims’ compensatory and punitive damages claims.
- Public Justice and the National Coalition Against the Misuses of Pesticides create the Chlordane/Heptachlor Litigation Project to hold the manufacturer of these two deadly termiticides accountable. Within two years, the manufacturer removes them from the market.
- Public Justice files Atchison v. Brown & Root on behalf of nuclear whistleblowers fired after reporting safety violations at the Comanche Peak plant in Texas. The case ultimately settles with the whistleblowers compensated, the plant’s corporate owner conceding it is unsafe, and the local citizens’ group allowed to participate in safety decisions.
- Public Justice launches the Airbag Litigation Project to help hold the auto manufacturers accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by their delay in installing airbags. Within years, airbags are included in more and more cars.
- Public Justice files its first amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, helping win a 5-to-4 decision in Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee that the nuclear power company’s compliance with federal regulations does not preempt, i.e., wipe out, punitive damages claims against it for Karen Silkwood’s plutonium contamination and death. Public Justice has been actively involved in preemption cases before the Supreme Court ever since.
- Public Justice files and later tries Liuzzo v. United States, a lawsuit charging the federal government with responsibility for the death of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo during the Freedom Rides in Selma, Alabama. The trial team proves that Ku Klux Klan member Gary Thomas Rowe participated in Liuzzo’s murder as a paid undercover informant for the FBI.
- Public Justice begins filing the country’s first 25 citizen suits under the U.S. Clean Water Act on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Hudson Sloop Clearwater, and New Jersey PIRG. The cases hold polluters accountable and force them to comply with the law nationwide.
- Public Justice files and develops crucial evidence to prove Anderson v. W.R. Grace, a landmark toxic tort case on behalf of eight families in Woburn, MA, whose children contracted leukemia from toxic chemicals dumped in the town’s drinking water. Several years later, a settlement is reached, W.R. Grace is held criminally liable for lying to the E.P.A., and the case is the subject of the bestselling book and movie, “A Civil Action.”