• December 8, 2020
A Sleeping Scholar, a Photo by Adam Schneider

Update (December 8, 2020): Apparently, the defendant in the “pet lease class action,” which was the subject of an earlier post, is not a particularly deep-pocketed defendant, at least based on the modesty of the recently approved class action settlement. The class action plaintiffs were awarded a maximum of $50,200 (to be distributed pro rata after a claims process and with the administrative costs deducted). The plaintiffs’ lawyers were awarded $199,800 in fees and costs.

Original post (March 17, 2020): One of the attributes of rich countries is that many of their inhabitants adopt and care for animals, not to raise and eat them, not to milk them, not to use them in their work, but just because…Just for the company, for laughs, as exercise buddies, and for the opportunity to lavish love on a loyal dependent.

Some may look at this social phenomenon from a distance as quite irrational. One might imagine an extraterrestrial wondering, “You mean you buy them food, treats, and holiday gifts? You treat them as a part of your family? You bind yourselves to the obligations, to the medical care, to the clean-up, etc. of animals???).”

“You got that all 100% right,” millions of us would answer.

In fact, some of us go into debt to lease pets. Others challenge the legality of the interest rates and disclosures of pet leases, which exploit the profound difference between pets and, say, appliances or cars. (Can you imagine someone showing up at your door to repossess Bailey Rose, your Yorkie/Maltese mix?!)

See the complaint here and a pet lease here from the class action brought by Ms. LuAnn Danger on behalf of a class against Nextep Funding LL and Monterey Financial Services, LLC in U.S. District Court (D. Minn.)(S.R. Nelson, J.).

The case has been around for over two years but only recently caught our eye because of a recent motion to compel to reopen discovery to determine a defendant’s net worth.

In our view, an extreme short-coming in our civil justice systems (state and federal) is that plaintiffs cannot obtain discovery to determine defendants’ net worth as part of discovery in the normal course. It is deemed “irrelevant” to the claims and confidential, appropriate for discovery only post-judgment. Plaintiff Danger avoids this standard hurdle in her pet lease case because, under the particular federal law she invokes in her case, damages are correlated to corporate worth (capping statutory damages to 1% of a defendant’s net worth).

We hope that plaintiff’s lawyers succeed in their effort to get the discovery to which they have been entitled for over a year. We will continue to monitor the case.

We will also continue focusing on the broader issue of the discoverability of a defendant’s financial wherewithal in prejudgment discovery. Certainly, as of today, the discoverability of a defendant’s financial wherewithal prejudgment is not widely embraced. There is concern for the defendant’s privacy, the risk of using litigation to obtain information otherwise unattainable (such as a competitor seeking information about another competitor’s financial status), and the risk of the information being used to coerce settlements. In a future post, however, we anticipate responding to and rebutting these arguments. The damage to our civil justice system by its current practice is substantial (and unfair to many meritorious plaintiffs’ cases).