The Center for Constitutional Litigation, PC (CCL) received two trial-level victories during the first week of February 2006. CCL is engaged in challenging laws that impede access to justice throughout the country. Additional details are available at ATLA’s Court News.
First, in Alaska, a trial court denied the Attorney General’s motion for reconsideration in Patrick v. State of Alaska, and upheld its earlier decision that the state’s $400,000 cap on non-economic damages is unconstitutional. Four years ago, the Alaska Supreme Court, by an equally divided vote, rejected a facial challenge to that statute. This case was an “as applied” challenge involving a Native Alaskan, who had been “tasered” by a state trooper and awarded $1 million in non-economic damages. The trial court invalidated the cap on equal protection grounds last spring, but the Attorney General moved for reconsideration on the basis of new evidence, consisting of some 1300 pages of legislative history and studies purporting to justify the cap. CCL’s Ned Miltenberg argued in a brief for the plaintiff that the “new evidence” could not be taken into account on a motion to reconsider, and was repetitive and unpersuasive. He supplemented the record with contrary evidence showing that Alaska had not experienced a litigation, insurance, business, or physician exodus crisis.
The second decision came in a CCL challenge to the application of the new federal vicarious liability law enacted last summer, which generally immunized car rental companies from vicarious liability. CCL attorney Andre Mura successfully argued to a state Circuit Court (trial level) in Brevard County, Florida, that the new law does not apply in Florida because the federal statute contains an exception that preserves liability for failure to meet state financial responsibility laws and that Florida has such a qualifying law. The judge ruled in favor of CCL’s argument from the bench and will be issuing an order shortly. The case, Poole v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Orlando, appears to be the first case to test the application of the new federal vicarious liability law. If interpreted broadly, the federal law could preempt the laws of fifteen states and the District of Columbia, which impose some measure of liability on lessors in order to ensure that compensation is available to innocent victims of motor vehicle accidents. CCL expects that constitutional challenges to the federal statute will be mounted in those other states as well.