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R.I. Supremes Decline to Decide Due Process/Contingent Fee Challenge

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court has declined to settle, for now, a dispute over attorney fees in the state's case against former lead paint manufacturers, saying unresolved issues needed to be decided first.

The state hired private lawyers when it sued the lead paint industry in 1999 for creating a public nuisance by selling an unsafe product. The contingency fee contract entitled the lawyers to just over 16 percent of whatever the state received if it won the lawsuit.

A jury in February found three companies -- Sherwin-Williams Co., Millennium Holdings LLC and NL Industries, Inc. -- liable for creating a public nuisance and ordered them to clean up lead paint contamination in Rhode Island. JNOV motions, among others, are still pending. An appeal is expected if there is a judgment on the verdict

The court said it wanted to wait until those issues are resolved before deciding whether the state can honor its contract for attorney fees. The court appeared to acknowledge that important questions of due process and separation of powers are raised by the attorney general's delegation of power to private attorneys via the contingency fee.

The state has said the defendants might be on the hook for billions of dollars.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.