Simplifying Complex Litigation

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08Jan2010

Simplifying Complex Litigation

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attorney at lawThe California court system is the nation’s largest, handling over 9 million case filings per year, not counting traffic cases. Although complex cases are not numerically a large part of the caseload, they do place a large burden on judicial resources and so new court rules and a new court structure are going into effect in California to handle such cases.

Changes to Rules of Court

In 1999, the Judicial Council of California approved new rules for handling complex cases. These rules went into effect on January 1, 2000. The primary changes involved establishing Division V of the rules as relating to complex cases and the enactment of Rules 1800 to 1830 within that Division. Conforming changes were also made to Rule 212 (meet and confer prior to initial case management conference), 982.2 (case cover sheets), Rule 1501.1 (Complex case – definition) and Standards of Judicial Administration Section 19 (Complex Civil Litigation.).

Rule 1800 defines a complex case as one which “requires exceptional judicial management to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on the court or the litigants and to expedite the case, keep costs reasonable, and promote effective decision making by the court, the parties, and counsel.” It further lays out five factors for the court to consider in deciding whether to designate an action as a complex case. It gives provisional complex case designation to seven types of actions (anti-trust, construction defect, mass torts, class actions, etc.)

Rules 1810, 1811 and 1812 involve actions to be taken by parties or the court to designate a case as complex or to oppose such a designation.

Rule 1830 states that, “The court may provide in a case management order that documents filed electronically in a central electronic depository available to all parties are deemed served on all parties.”

Section 19 of the Standards of Judicial Administration, in addition to the conforming changes also gave a new criteria for the selection of judges for complex litigation: “In selecting judges for complex litigation, the presiding judge should consider the needs of the court and the judge’s ability, interest, training, experience (including experience with complex civil cases), and willingness to participate in educational programs related to the management of complex cases.

The rules changes are available from the California Supreme Court at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/rules/amendments.htm

Complex Litigation Centers

In January 2000 a three-year Judicial Council pilot program was launched to create complex litigation centers. Six existing courthouses will be designated to act as clearinghouses for such cases – one each in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Orange and San Diego counties and two in Los Angeles County. Complex cases would then be transferred to these courts or judges from these courts would go to other counties to hear the cases there. A special 28-member task force has spent the last several years assembling a 154-page Deskbook on the Management of Complex Civil Litigation, a specialized judicial education curriculum on complex case management for all state judges, to be offered through the Center for Judicial Education and Research, and case management rules, standards, forms and proposed legislation. $1.2 million was approved in the fiscal year 2000 budget to start the pilot rolling.

Unlike the business courts of Manhattan or Delaware’s Chancery Courts, the California courts will not deal strictly with business cases. While they will handle securities and antitrust cases, they will also be dealing with environmental cases, toxic torts, class actions and construction defect litigation.

Additional research personnel will be hired to keep the judges up to date on the technological and legal issues involved and new case management technology will allow the courts to swiftly and efficiently manage the vast amount of exhibits, filings, parties and claims involved in such matters. Technical assistance will be provided to set up web sites for cases such as was done for the Fen/Phen litigation.

On January 17, 2000, the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, one of the pilot courts, announced that all such cases would be assigned to Judge Conrad Rushing for all pretrial matters and that no complex case filings would be accepted after February 3 without the new cover sheets as per rule 982.2. Similar announcements should be coming shortly from the other pilot courts.

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