The Officers and Trustees of the Pound Civil Justice Institute have given the 2019 Appellate Advocacy Award jointly to the lawyers for the plaintiffs for their work on two crucial U.S. Supreme Court cases decided in 2019. The decisions represent outstanding results with far-reaching implications for two groups who have historically been treated unfairly: transportation workers who are frequently manipulated and cheated by employers; and maritime workers exposed to unsafe working conditions. The awards will be presented on July 28, 2019, at the Pound Fellows reception, 6:00-7:30 pm in San Diego, CA.
Transportation workers’ victory by Jennifer Bennett. In New Prime, Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532 (2019), a truck driver, on behalf of himself and fellow workers, sued his employer for wage theft. The employer attempted to enforce an arbitration “agreement” the workers has signed as part of their employment contract, arguing that the Federal Arbitration Act compelled arbitration, one claim at a time. The plaintiffs demonstrated that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to the “contracts of employment” of transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce, even if they are classified as independent contractors. The Court’s unanimous decision clears the way for perhaps hundreds of thousands of transportation workers to take their cases to court if their employers break the law. The appeal was argued before the Supreme Court by Jennifer Bennett (Public Justice, Oakland, CA), who litigated the case with Andrew Schmidt (Andrew Schmidt Law, Portland ME) and Hillary Schwab (Fair Work Law, Boston, MA).
Maritime asbestos win by the team of Clancy, Harty, Goldstein, Myers, and Ruckdeschel. In Air & Liquid Systems Corp. et al. v. DeVries et al., 139 S.Ct. 986 (2019), the widows of two navy shipmen sued the manufacturer of engine parts installed in a ship built for the U.S. Navy. Their husbands worked on Navy ships during the time when asbestos insulation was routinely used on ships. They later developed cancer that the plaintiffs alleged was caused by exposure to asbestos that was applied to the ship parts after delivery. The manufacturers argued that they could not be held liable, as they supplied only “bare metal” parts that would not cause cancer. However, in Devries, the Supreme Court held that, under maritime law, product manufacturers have a duty to warn when they have reason to know that a product is likely to be dangerous when integrated and used as intended. The plaintiffs were represented by William Harty (Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein, Newport News, VA), Richard Myers (Paul, Reich & Myers, Philadelphia, PA), Jonathan Ruckdeschel (Ruckdeschel Law Firm, Ellicott City, MD), Thomas Goldstein (Goldstein & Russell, Bethesda MD) and Denyse Clancy (Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, Oakland, CA). Myers brought the case from the trial level through the Third Circuit and oversaw the appeal. Clancy, Harty and Ruckdeschel wrote the SCOTUS brief. Goldstein argued the case before the Supreme Court.
These lawyers’ dedication to the civil justice system, and their persuasive advocacy in the Oliveira and DeVries cases, have had a significant impact on the right of access to justice in future civil cases in the United States.