By Debbie Rolen
August 6, 2013
CHARLESTON — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today announced that West Virginia has joined an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief along with 45 other states that supports the State of Mississippi in a U.S. Supreme Court case concerning alleged price-fixing of liquid crystal display (LCD) panels.
The brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a recent Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case Mississippi v. AU Optronics, which held that the antitrust action had to be pursued in federal court, rather than Mississippi’s own state courts. The states argue the ruling violates their inherent right to bring lawsuits on behalf of and to protect their residents*commonly called parens patriae, or “parent of the country,” suits.
“This case is of critical importance to our Office and Attorneys General Offices throughout the country because it directly impacts our mission to protect consumers,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “The high court will decide whether state courts retain a primary role in enforcing state consumer protection laws. That will have significant consequences on the consistent enforcement of state and local laws in West Virginia and the other states in the union. State courts*which the Supreme Court has decreed are the last word on the meaning of state law*are simply better positioned to decide cases involving state consumer protection laws.”
Mississippi, like West Virginia and numerous other states, brought a civil action against manufacturers and distributors of LCD panels in its state courts, alleging the companies engaged in price fixing in violation of that state’s antitrust laws. However, the federal court of appeals in New Orleans held that Mississippi’s suit must be heard in federal court. The appellate court concluded that the LCD lawsuit constitutes a “mass action” under a 2005 federal law, the Class Action Fairness Act, despite a clear exemption in the statute for state parens patriae lawsuits.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed with Mississippi that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling*which is at odds with several other federal courts of appeals, including the Fourth Circuit that covers West Virginia*warrants review.
The states joining the amicus brief this week argued that the appellate court’s decision violates states’ rights, as it “encourages federal courts to override a state’s determination that a particular action and mode of relief will serve the public interest.” The lower court ruling “forces states to litigate in federal court “cases they bring in their own courts, under their own laws, for conduct occurring within their own borders.” Worse yet, it could create an administrative and logistical nightmare for both state and federal court systems by dividing a single case into multiple cases, because the Class Action Fairness Act only requires claims exceeding $75,000 to be removed to federal court.
“This is yet another example of unnecessary federal overreach,” Morrisey said. “Moreover, the logic and reasoning behind the appellate court’s decision doesn’t make sense. In most consumer protection cases, the only party that has claims of more than $75,000 is the state. So if this ruling stands, the state would have to argue its case in federal court, while individual citizens could stay in state court. In addition, if there are several parties in federal court, some might be moved to multi-district litigation, which means in the end, a single court case filed over a single law could end up in three courts: state court, federal court and an MDL court.”
Oral arguments in Mississippi ex rel Hood v. AU Optronics Corp. will take place during the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming term