"We have declared you a public nuisance," the dour headmaster informs the goofy student in THE NEW YORKER cartoon. No, that cartoon hasn't appeared yet but it will. The odds are that the Rhode Island (RI) lead paint trial saga will end up exposing how ridiculous the legal theory public nuisance is.
So far, this legal theory has been tried out or will be tried out in courts in a number of states like New Jersey and cities like Milwaukee. Where it has made its way fully through the court system has been in Chicago. There, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld dismissal of the public nuisance claim and the Illinois Supreme Court denied reviewing the appellate decision.
In RI, there are so many landmines that can blow up the whole thing. On February 22nd, yes, the jury found three of the four defendants guilty of contributing to the presence of a public nuisance in RI and ordered the three to abate the nuisance.
That was February 22nd. That following Monday, Judge Michael Silverstein ruled against punitives. In April, the three defendants filed over 200 pages of motions requesting dismissal or a new trial, a separate one for each of the three. In addition, in RI Supreme Court the four original defendants argued against the contingency arrangement between the RI Attorney General (AG) and private law firm Motley Rice. And more recently, the defendants were back in court requesting that the penalty for the AG's contempt of court, after the verdict, be to set aside the abatement.
Moreover, the federal indictment of law firm Milberg Weiss has cast a harsh light on the whole issue of class action lawsuits. Milberg Weiss, much like law firm Motley Rice, had been perceived as champion of the victim. Motley Rice's website states just that. Now, many in America are questioning who really has been the victim in this class-action movement. Could the real victim have been corporate America?
When will we know that the public nuisance as legal theory is really over? When Jay Leno, along with THE NEW YORKER and foreign media, start the jokes.