A selection of the need-to-know civil justice news for the week of February 1-7, 2014.


Lawsuit Alleges NASA Is Failing To Investigate Alien Life

Colin Lecher | Popular Science

You may recall, NASA recently announced that a strange rock had somehow “appeared” in front of its Mars Opportunity rover. The explanations for the mystery rock were straight-forward: maybe some kind of nearby impact sent a rock toward the rover, or, more likely, the rover knocked the rock out of the ground and no one noticed until later.


Not so, says self-described scientist Rhawn Joseph, an author of trade books on topics ranging from alien life to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (Sample article: “Dreams and Hallucinations: Lifting the Veil to Multiple Perceptual Realities.”) The rock was a living thing, and he’s filed a lawsuit to compel NASA to examine the rock more closely. Joseph is involved with the Journal of Cosmology, online publisher of some very controversial papers. In fact, this isn’t the first report of alien life to come out of the journal.

Full Story.



Paulsboro Freight Train Derailment Lawsuit Highlights NJCJI Concerns with New Jersey Court System

David Gialanella | New Jersey Law Journal

Personal injury suits by first responders to the 2012 Paulsboro freight train derailment that released industrial toxins into the air and water are headed back to New Jersey state court.


U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler on Jan. 13 granted a motion by about 30 plaintiffs in Belbin v. Consolidated Rail Corp. to remand their claims based on a lack of complete diversity.


Most plaintiffs’ claims remain in federal court. About 100 individual plaintiffs in 17 cases, consolidated as In Re Paulsboro Derailment Cases,have sued for personal injury and economic damages stemming from the Nov. 30, 2012, accident, when seven freight cars derailed on the East Jefferson Street Bridge and fell into Mantua Creek.

Full Story.



Case Sheds Light On The Murky World Of Asbestos Litigation

Michael Tomsic | NPR

This is a case about a bankrupt company, legal shenanigans, and a rare type of cancer.


You may have seen TV commercials about mesothelioma, mainly caused by inhaling asbestos — minerals many companies once used in insulation and other products.


According to from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, companies have set aside more than $30 billion for mesothelioma victims since the 1980s. Asbestos lawsuits have played a role in about 100 companies’ going bankrupt.


One of those is a gasket manufacturer called Garlock. Its parent company, EnPro Industries, is based in Charlotte, N.C. As part of Garlock’s $1 billion bankruptcy case, a judge has slashed what the manufacturer owes asbestos victims after finding that the victim’s lawyers abused the system.


Some call Garlock’s bankruptcy case a watershed moment.


“It’s laid bare the massive fraud that is routinely practiced in mesothelioma litigation,” says Lester Brickman, a Cardozo law school professor who has researched asbestos litigation for more than 20 years and who testified on behalf of Garlock.

Full Story.



Workers’ Lawsuit Over Government Shutdown Gains Steam

Claire Zillman | Fortune

Remember that time the government shut down for 16 days in October? Federal employees who were deemed “essential” and still had to work during the shutdown certainly do.


A lawsuit filed against the U.S. government seeking so-called liquidated damages is gaining steam, with more than 1,000 workers joining the suit last week.

Full Story.



New U.S. Chamber Research Shows Costs of Securities Class Action Lawsuits Outweigh Benefits to Investors

U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) today released a new white paper “What’s Wrong with Securities Class Action Lawsuits?” which demonstrates the “irrationality and ineffectiveness” of securities class actions, and concludes that the costs that they impose on investors outweigh any benefits.


The paper, which includes the latest related studies and academic research, cites that in 2013, attorneys’ fees and expenses in securities class actions totaled $1.1 billion and that over the past decade the amount that went to plaintiffs’ attorneys from settlements was more than $10 billion.

Full Story.



No Retroactivity for N.J. Ban on Auto Policy Step-Down Clauses

Mary Pat Gallagher |  New Jersey Law Journal

A New Jersey law meant to counteract step-down clauses in automobile insurance policies has been denied retroactive effect by the state Supreme Court.


Monday’s ruling in James v. New Jersey Manufacturers Ins. Co. means a man injured driving a company vehicle cannot tap his employer’s $500,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, because the accident occurred two months before the law kicked in.

Full Story.



Something Got Left Behind on the Race to the Courthouse

U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Is it better to be first, or to be right?


For lawyers wanting to reap big fees in securities cases, speed matters.


Bristol-Myers Squibb announced in September 2010 that it agreed to buy ZymoGenetics at an 84% premium. Almost immediately, a lawyer filed a lawsuit, citing “possible breaches of fiduciary duty” by ZymoGenetics.


But there was a problem – his purported client hadn’t agreed to let the lawyer represent him.

Full Story.



PepsiCo and Goya Foods targeted in lawsuit over 4-MEI

Elaine Watson | Food Navigator-USA

First the report, now the class action lawsuits: PepsiCo and Goya Foods – who were both cited in a recent report from product testing firm Consumer Reports about allegedly “concerning” 4-MEI levels in soft drinks – have been targeted in lawsuits filed in California based on those test results.

Full Story.



Author of App That Skirts Web Ads In Return for Bitcoin Is Subpoenaed

New Jersey Law Journal

Citing potential violation of state consumer-protection law, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has subpoenaed a 19-year-old M.I.T. student who developed a program allowing Internet users to visit websites with no advertising in exchange for Bitcoin credits.

Full Story.