Arkansas Supreme Court Rejects Wide-Ranging Tort Reform Ballot Measure As Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of Arkansas (“Arkansas Supreme Court”) issued an opinion on October 18, 2018 in which it held that a legislative initiative to submit for voter approval wide-ranging tort reforms on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot was unconstitutional.

In 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 8 (“SJR 8”) as a proposed constitutional amendment pursuant to article 19, section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution, for Arkansas voters to vote upon during the November 6, 2018 general election. SJR 8 contains four sections:

Section 1 proposes to place a 33 1/3 percent limit on attorney contingency-fee contracts and gives the General Assembly the power to pass additional laws for the implementation of section 1, while also giving the General Assembly the power to pass additional laws to further define and alter the terms of section 1 and the limits on contingency-fee contracts.

Section 2 proposes to (1) place a $500,000 limit on a person’s ability to recover noneconomic damages; (2) place a limit on punitive damages of the greater of $500,000 or three times a person’s compensatory verdict; and (3) give the General Assembly the power to enact additional laws to implement section 2 and to change the stated limitations to damages awards.

Section 3 seeks to amend amendment 80 of the Arkansas Constitution to give the General Assembly the power to adopt, amend, and repeal rules of pleading, practice, and procedure for the entire Arkansas Judiciary.

Section 4 proposes the following changes to amendment 80: (1) amend section 9 of amendment 80 by lowering the vote threshold by which the General Assembly may annul or amend certain rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court related to section 5 of amendment 80 under which the supreme court determines the appellate jurisdiction of the court of appeals; (2) amend section 6(B) of amendment 80 under which the Supreme Court exercises superintending control over the way in which circuit judges may divide the circuit courts into subject-matter divisions; (3) amend section 7(B) of amendment 80 under which the supreme court establishes the jurisdictional amount and the subject matter of civil cases in district court (as well as criminal jurisdiction); (4) amend section 7(D) of amendment 80 under which the supreme court exercises superintending control over the way district judges may divide the district courts into subject-matter divisions; and (5) amend section 8 of amendment 80, under which the Supreme Court exercises superintending control over the way in which referees, masters, and magistrates may be appointed by the circuit and district courts and the duties they can perform.

Article 19, Section 22 Of The Arkansas Constitution

Article 19, section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution states:

Either branch of the General Assembly, at a regular session thereof, may propose amendments to this Constitution; and if the same be agreed to by a majority of all members elected to each house, such proposed amendments shall be entered on the journals with the yeas and nays, and published in at least one newspaper in each county, where a newspaper is published, for six months immediately preceding the next general election for Senators and Representatives, at which time the same shall be submitted to the electors of the State, for approval or rejection; and if a majority of the electors voting at such election adopt such amendments, the same shall become a part of this Constitution. But no more than three amendments shall be proposed or submitted at the same time. They shall be so submitted as to enable the electors to vote on each amendment separately. (emphasis added)

The Arkanas Supreme Court stated that a plain reading of article 19, section 22 provides that the General Assembly can only submit up to “three” proposed amendments at a time and that the proposed amendments must be “submitted as to enable the electors to vote on each amendment separately.” Under article 19, section 22, there is no violation of the separate-issue requirement so long as all of the amendment parts are reasonably germane to each other and to the general subject of the amendment. “Germane” means relevant; pertinent or having a close relationship.

The Arkansas Supreme Court stated with regard to the ballot initiative: “it is simply untenable to assert that section 1 is reasonably germane to sections 3 or 4. Section 1 limits the rights of private parties to contract for legal services. Sections 3 and 4 broaden and diversify the legislature’s ability to exert influence over judicial rule-making authority. Section 1 does not operate to support, develop, clarify, or otherwise aid the function of sections 3 or 4 in any meaningful way, nor do sections 3 or 4 offer any such benefit to section 1. The first section of Issue No. 1 is simply not reasonably germane to the other sections.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court continued: “there is no “general subject” to which all of Issue No. 1’s contents can be said to be reasonably germane. Again, this is evident upon comparing Issue No. 1’s first section to its other sections … The first section of Issue No. 1 is simply not reasonably germane to the general subject of “courts and the judiciary” or “judicial power.””

Source Martin v. Humphrey, 2018 Ark. 295.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 at 5:28 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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