The Amicus Curious Brief

Friends – Are They Boxers or Briefers*

Amicus briefs help appellate courts by bringing important views to bear on the facts and the law in disputes. Amicus briefs ameliorate the problem of the common law system, in which litigation takes place between specific parties, with many interested parties looking on, without the ability to participate in the discussion or shape the outcome.

There are dangers, however, of hidden advocacy in the amicus brief. Even the most unsophisticated court is not likely to be misled by the interests and potential conflicts of interest of groups such as the American Association for Justice or the Defense Research Institute. If the description of the group is not as fully forthcoming as one might like, a quick trip to its website will quickly clarify the group’s mission on Earth. No one is fooled, and the amicus briefs can be judged on their merits.

What happens when the amici are identified only by their individual names and institutional affiliations? A court might be misled into thinking that the signatories are merely disinterested academics, who believe that important information or argument is missing from the appellate discussion.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has offered itself up as an example of a court snookered by “58 physicians and scientists.”1 Rost v. Ford Motor Co., 151 A.3d 1032, 1052 (Pa. 2016). Without paying any attention to the provenance of the amicus brief or the authors’ deep ties with the lawsuit industry, the court cited the brief’s description of:

“the fundamental notion that each exposure to asbestos contributes to the total dose and increases the person’s probability of developing mesothelioma or other cancers as an ‘irrefutable scientific fact’. According to these physicians and scientists, cumulative exposure is merely an extension of the ancient concept of dose-response, which is the ‘oldest maxim in the field’.”

Id. (citing amicus brief at 2).

Well, irrefutable in the minds of the 58 amici curious perhaps, who failed to tell the court that not every exposure contributes materially to cumulative exposure such that it must be considered a “substantial contributing factor.” These would-be friends also failed to tell the court that the human body has defense mechanisms to carcinogenic exposures, which gives rise to a limit on, and qualification of, the concept of dose-response in the form of biological thresholds, below which exposures do not translate into causative doses. Even if these putative “friends” believed there was no evidence for a threshold, they certainly presented no evidence against one. Nonetheless, a confused and misguided Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the judgment below in favor of the plaintiffs.

The 58 amici also misled the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on several other issues. By their failure to disclose important information about themselves, and holding themselves out (falsely but successfully) as “disinterested” physicians and scientists, these so-called friends misled the court by failing to disclose the following facts:

1. Some of them were personal friends, colleagues, and fellow-party expert witnesses of the expert witness (Arthur Frank), whose opinion was challenged in the lower courts;

2. Some of the amici had no reasonable claim to expertise on the issues addressed in the brief;

3. Some of the amici have earned substantial fees in other asbestos cases, involving the same issues raised in the Rost case;

4. Some of the amici have been excluded from testifying in similar cases, to the detriment of their financial balance sheets;

5. Some of the amici are zealous advocates, who not only have testified for plaintiffs, but have participated in highly politicized advocacy groups such as the Collegium Ramazzini.

Two of the amici are historians (Rosner and Markowitz), who have never conducted scientific research on asbestos-related disease. Their work as labor historians added no support to the scientific concepts that were put over the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Both of these historians have testified in multiple asbestos cases, and one of them (Markowitz) has been excluded in a state court case, under a Daubert-like standard. They have never been qualified to give expert witness testimony on medical causation issues. Margaret Keith, an adjunct assistant professor of sociology, appears never to have written about medical causation between asbestos and cancer, but she at least is married to another amicus, James Brophy, who has.

Barry Castleman,2 David F. Goldsmith, John M. Dement, Richard A. Lemen, and David Ozonoff have all testified in asbestos or other alleged dust-induced disease cases, with Castleman having the distinction of having made virtually his entire livelihood in connection with plaintiffs-side asbestos litigation testifying and consulting. Castleman, Goldsmith, and Ozonoff have all been excluded from, or severely limited in, testifying for plaintiffs in chemical exposure cases.

(Rabbi) Daniel Thau Teitelbaum has the distinction of having been excluded in case that went to the United States Supreme Court (Joiner), but Shira Kramer,3 Richard Clapp, and Peter F. Infante probably make up for the lack of distinction with the number of testimonial adventures and misadventures. L. Christine Oliver and Colin L. Soskolne have also testified for the lawsuit industry, in the United States, and for Soskolne, in Canada, as well.

Lennart Hardell has testified in cellular telephone brain cancer cases,4 for plaintiffs of course, which qualified as an expert for the IARC on electromagnetic frequency and carcinogenesis.5

Celeste Monforton has earned credentials serving with fellow skapper David Michaels in the notorious Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) organization.6 Laura S. Welch, like Monforton, another George Washington lecturer, has served the lawsuit industry in asbestos personal injury and other cases.

Exhibit A to the Amicus brief lists the institutional affiliations of each amicus. Although some of the amici described themselves as “consultants,” only one amicus (Massimiliano Bugiani) listed his consultancy as specifically litigation related, with an identification of the party that engaged him: “Consultant of the Plaintiff in the Turin and Milan Courts.” Despite Bugiani’s honorable example, none of the other amici followed suit.

* * * * * * * *

Although many judges and lawyers agree that amicus briefs often bring important factual expertise to appellate courts, there are clearly some abuses. I, for one, am proud to have been associated with a few amicus briefs in various courts. One law professor, Allison Orr Larsen, in a trenchant law review article, has identified some problems and has suggested some reforms.7 Regardless of what readers think of Larsen’s proposed reforms, briefs should not be submitted by testifying and consulting expert witnesses for one side in a particular category of litigation, without disclosing fully and accurately their involvement in the underlying cases, and their financial enrichment from perpetuating the litigation in question.

* Thanks to Ramses Delafontaine for having alerted me to other aspects of the lack of transparency in connection with amicus briefs filed by professional historian organizations.


1 Brief of Muge Akpinar-Elci, Xaver Bauer, Carlos Bedrossian, Eula Bingham, Yv Bonnier-Viger, James Brophy, Massimiliano Buggiani, Barry Castleman, Richard Clapp, Dario Consonni, Emilie Counil, Mohamed Aquiel Dalvie, John M. Dement, Tony Fletcher, Bice Fubini, Thomas H. Gassert, David F. Goldsmith, Michael Gochfeld, Lennart Hadell [sic, Hardell], James Huff, Peter F. Infante, Moham F. Jeebhay, T. K. Joshi, Margaret Keith, John R. Keyserlingk, Kapil Khatter, Shira Kramer, Philip J. Landrigan, Bruce Lanphear, Richard A. Lemen, Charles Levenstein, Abby Lippman, Gerald Markowitz, Dario Mirabelli, Sigurd Mikkelsen, Celeste Monforton, Rama C. Nair, L. Christine Oliver, David Ozonoff, Domyung Paek, Smita Pakhale, Rolf Petersen, Beth Rosenberg, Kenneth Rosenman, David Rosner, Craig Slatin, Michael Silverstein, Colin L. Soskolne, Leslie Thomas Stayner, Ken Takahashi, Daniel Thau Teitelbaum, Benedetto Terracini, Annie Thebaud-Mony, Fernand Turcotte, Andrew Watterson, David H. Wegman, Laura S. Welch, Hans-Joachim Woitowitz as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellee, 2015 WL 3385332, filed in Rost v. Ford Motor Co., 151 A.3d 1032 (Pa. 2016).

2 SeeThe Selikoff – Castleman Conspiracy” (Mar. 13, 2011).

4 Newman v. Motorola, Inc., 218 F. Supp. 2d 769 (D. Md. 2002) (excluding Hardell’s proposed testimony), aff’d, 78 Fed. Appx. 292 (4th Cir. 2003) (affirming exclusion of Hardell).

6 See, e.g., SKAPP A LOT” (April 30, 2010); Manufacturing Certainty” (Oct. 25, 2011); “David Michaels’ Public Relations Problem” (Dec. 2, 2011); “Conflicted Public Interest Groups” (Nov. 3, 2013).

7 See Allison Orr Larsen, “The Trouble with Amicus Facts,” 100 Virginia L. Rev. 1757 (2014). See also Caitlin E. Borgmann, “Appellate Review of Social Facts in Constitutional Rights Cases,” 101 Calif. L. Rev. 1185, 1216 (2013) (“Amicus briefs, in particular, are often submitted by advocates and may be replete with dubious factual assertions that would never be admitted at trial.”).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.