Volume 52, Issue 1

4 posts

Settling High: A Common Law Public Nuisance Response to the Opioid Epidemic

By Michael J. Purcell

As legislatures and administrative agencies have struggled to successfully address the ongoing opioid crisis, many state attorneys general have stepped in and filed suit against major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. Among the claims being made in such suits is one of “public nuisance.” Though these types of parens patriae claims have historically been a controversial means of dealing with major social issues, they also have the potential to serve an invaluable role in getting defendants to the settlement table. In order for such settlements to prove valuable, however, state attorneys general must think critically about how to structure them to ensure that they work in conjunction with ongoing legislative and administrative policies to address the full scope of the opioid epidemic.

By analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of past settlements in public health litigation, state attorneys general can structure a settlement which builds on these strengths and supports an effective response to the largely unique issues posed by the opioid crisis. Specifically, this Note argues that states should continue to pursue public nuisance causes of action against opioid manufacturers in an effort to get them to negotiate large-scale settlements that could then be used to finance immediate and ongoing legislative responses to the opioid epidemic. Part II discusses the background of the opioid crisis, explores how state and federal governments have unsuccessfully responded to it, and argues that the greatest impediment to the success of such legislative and administrative efforts has been a lack of financial resources. Part III then explores public nuisance law as it has been used in dealing with public health issues and how it might serve an invaluable role in incentivizing high settlement in the context of opioid manufacturers. Finally, Part IV draws on previous settlements to create a template for how state attorneys general in settlement negotiations with opioid manufacturers ought to structure settlements moving forward. Ultimately, the Note posits that they should turn their attention away from viewing settlements as a means to establish new substantive regulations for the industry and should instead focus their efforts on maximizing financial returns from these settlements such that they may fill the resource gap that has crippled the state’s ability to fully combat the opioid crisis.

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Operationalizing the Third Prong of the Federal Trade Commission’s 2015 Statement Regarding “Unfair Methods of Competition”

By Harris S. Rothman

Courts have long held that the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to prohibit “unfair methods of competition” embraces not only the enforcement of the prohibitions of the Sherman and Clayton Acts, but also a “standalone” mandate to challenge practices that violate the spirit but not the letter of these laws. In a 2015 Statement, the Commission announced that it “is less likely to challenge an act or practice as an unfair method of competition on a standalone basis if enforcement of the Sherman Act or Clayton Act is sufficient to address the competitive harm arising from the act or practice.” The meaning of the “sufficient to address” condition is not immediately obvious, and the statement’s critics have pointed to it as just one respect in which the statement is unhelpfully vague. Despite a recent surge in scholarship arguing that the Clayton and Sherman Acts as applied are insufficient to promote the original goals of antitrust law, scholars have not devoted extensive analysis to the interpretation of the third prong’s language.

This Note argues that the third prong reflects the Commission’s determination that the most appropriate use of standalone authority is to fill gaps in the “traditional” antitrust regime of the Sherman and Clayton Acts. The Note proceeds to propose a decision-making framework that the Commission could use to actuate that interpretation. Part II introduces the basic policies of the antitrust laws and the provisions of the Sherman, Clayton, and Federal Trade Commission Acts. Part III reviews the scope of the Commission’s standalone authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Part IV analyzes the third prong of the Commission’s 2015 Statement, and argues that it is best interpreted as favoring gap-filling uses of standalone authority relative to other applications. It then develops a framework to guide the Commission in identifying legitimate gaps in the antitrust regime, identifies circumstances in which standalone enforcement may be most appropriate outside of such gaps, and demonstrates how the Commission might apply the framework in weighing a standalone complaint against Google’s allegedly anticompetitive implementation of “Universal Search.”

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Whiter and Wealthier: “Local Control” Hinders Desegregation by Permitting School District Secessions

By Meaghan E. Brennan

When a school district is placed under a desegregation order, it is to be monitored by the district court that placed the order until the district is declared unitary. Many school districts have been under desegregation orders since shortly after Brown v. Board, but have failed to desegregate. Even when a school district is making an honest attempt, fulfilling a desegregation order is difficult. These attempts can be further complicated when a racially-identifiable set of schools secedes from the district. Such school district disaggregations make traditional desegregation remedies more difficult by further isolating children of different races.

In the past few decades, dozens of school districts have seceded to create wealthy districts filled with white children adjacent to poorer districts with children of color. This Note argues that school district secessions harm desegregation efforts and, in turn, the educational achievement of students in those districts. Two school districts — one in Jefferson County, Alabama and another in Hamilton County, Tennessee — serve as examples of how secession movements arise and how the conversations progress. Secession proponents often advocate for increased “local control” — seemingly innocuous rhetoric that serves as a guise for racism and other prejudice.

This Note argues that school district disaggregation is made far too easy by judicial preoccupation with local control and by the moralpolitical failure of state legislatures. But it is possible to discourage segregative school district disaggregation by reworking the concept of local control so that it prioritizes all children, and by adopting state legislation that promotes consolidated, efficient school districts.

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The Freedom of Tweets: The Intersection of Government Use of Social Media and Public Forum Doctrine

By Samantha Briggs

In recent years, American presidents and other government actors have moved much of their communications with the general public online, through their use of social media. President Donald Trump is particularly known for his use of Twitter and his extensive communications via his account, @realDonaldTrump. Such government social media usage has historically gone unchecked by the courts, but that changed when the Knight Institute brought suit against President Trump for violating the First Amendment rights of users blocked by @realDonaldTrump.

This litigation is an illuminating example of why First Amendment analysis must extend to government social media pages, and yet raises new challenges. There are logical reasons why government actors may want to exert certain controls over their social media pages, though these controls will potentially run against the First Amendment. As such, this Note not only argues why First Amendment analysis must extend to government use of social media, but also proposes methods for how government actors might structure their online presences to avoid First Amendment rebuke.

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