House votes to crack down on frivolous lawsuits

House votes to crack down on frivolous lawsuits
© Greg Nash

The House passed legislation Friday aimed at cracking down on attorneys who bring frivolous lawsuits.

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act was approved by 230-188 vote. The bill would amend the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures to require judges to sanction attorneys who bring forward a frivolous lawsuit — one that, due to lack of legal merit, a plaintiff has little chance of winning.

Attorneys would be forced to pay the party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred as a direct result of the violation, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said attorneys who bring cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose under the current rules. 

“Prior to 1993 it was mandatory for judges to impose sanctions such as order to pay for the other side’s legal expenses when lawyers filed frivolous lawsuits then the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, an obscure branch of the courts, made penalties optional,” he said.

“This needs to be reversed by Congress.”

But Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) pushed back, arguing the bill would lead to disastrous results. 

“We do not have to speculate about what would happen as a result of this bill because we have a decade of experience that shows us how catastrophic it would be and was,” he said.

The bill, he said, restores failed rules enacted in 1983 that were later reversed because it made the legal system more litigious. 

“Civil cases effectively became two cases — one of the merits and the other on a set of duly rule 11 allegations by both parties,” he said.

“The drain on the courts and the party’s resources caused the judicial conference to revisit the rule and adopt the changes that this bill would now have us undo.” 

Republicans voted down a series of amendments, including one offered by Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), to reinstate the rule’s safe harbor provision, which allows parties to avoid penalties by withdrawing or correcting a claim within 14 days.