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Thanks but no thanks, Ken

Harris County will continue to pursue its own lawsuit against VW.

Harris County has responded to Ken Paxton’s request to drop its lawsuit against scandal-plagued Volkswagen. Its answer? A polite no.

[…]

In a reply to Paxton dated Oct. 15, [Harris County Attorney Vince] Ryan wrote, “we were pleased to learn that the Office of the Attorney General has joined Harris County” in the claims against Volkswagen. “We look forward to working together once again in connection with this important effort.”

In other words: No, thanks.

By abandoning their lawsuits, the counties would leave millions of dollars in potential damages on the table.

That’s because under state law, when local governments file such suits, the state is required to join as a “necessary and indispensable party.” In these types of cases, the counties and state split any money.

But the counties would not directly get a share of any damages in the suits Texas is leading.

Any civil penalties recovered in Paxton’s environmental lawsuit would flow into the state’s general fund, while penalties from the consumer protection case will go to the Texas Supreme Court’s judicial fund for programs that provide legal services to poor people, said Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for Paxton’s office. Any other “meaningful restitution” she added, would go directly to consumers duped by Volkswagen’s emissions software.

Ryan’s letter to Paxton noted that, in 1998, Harris County, along with other counties, recovered about $2.2 billion from the tobacco industry through litigation — on top of the billions that the state recovered for itself.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of Ryan’s letter. I’m not an attorney, but as I said before I don’t see why Harris or any other county that wants to pursue its own lawsuit should bow to Paxton’s request. It doesn’t make good financial sense to do otherwise, if a county has the resources to handle the litigation itself. Many counties don’t, but Harris does, and that should be good enough. Stick to your guns, Vince.

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8 Comments

  1. Ross says:

    So, would you believe differently if the AG was a Democrat you liked?

  2. No. This is potentially a lot of money at stake. There’s no reason a county like Harris, which has filed many environmental lawsuits on its own over the years, can’t or shouldn’t handle its own litigation if it wants to.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Frankly, this all seems like ambulance chasing by our various governments, and proving damages I think will be very difficult. Oh noes, VW sold some extremely fuel efficient cars here, cars that get close to 50 mpg on the highway, How much pollution does my 15 mpg diesel truck create by chugging fuel like a drunken sailor? How much pollution was created in the process of extracting, transporting, and refining that fuel? Had I, instead, been driving a car with three times the mileage, I would have not needed all that pollution causing fuel in the first place.

    Yes, VW ought to face punishment, but what is the end game here? Shut down the world’s biggest automaker? Gee, I thought some businesses were “too big to fail.” With governments everywhere no doubt interested in a game of pile on, I don’t see how VW survives this. Oh, well, I guess all those folks who would have bought those high mileage VW’s can now buy 15 mpg diesel trucks, because, it’s all about the environment, right?

  4. Joe says:

    @Bill VW already admitted their violation and established a fund to pay out damages. Texas statute allows counties to sue for environmental violations. Harris County consistently falls into nonattainment and suffered because of VW breaking the law. Aside from people’s preexisting disdain for lawsuits in general and inability to do basic research before forming an opinion, I don’t understand any of the public opposition to this. Unless you agree with Paxton that the money should go to the state and not to the counties.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @Joe:

    If we absolutely must, must, play lawsuit lotto with VW, then it makes more sense to have one plaintiff, the state, and a predetermined agreement about how the proceeds will be paid out to each county. Maybe calculate how many cars are registered in each county, and divvy out a proportional amount to each county, based on how many of the effected cars each has?

  6. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, would you trust the geniuses in charge of the state to “do the right thing” such as that?

  7. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    I anticipate that all suits against VW for this issue will be grouped together by the federal Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, and settled somewhere. Probably Los Angeles.
    As such, this is hardly a good example of the things people most decry about lawsuits. There won’t be some giant jury award randomness involved. This sort of case winds up being a lot like filing an insurance claim. If you don’t file, you don’t get reimbursed for whatever damage you had that was covered under the terms of the policy (or, in this case, settlement).

    I’m agnostic on whether that is best done municipality by municipality or by states as a whole or both.

  8. Joe says:

    @Bill: That sounds like a good idea, but again, it’s not how this process works. With Paxton’s case, money goes into the state’s general revenue and the Supreme Court’s indigent defense fund. I can guarantee the Legislature will add that GR to backfill the holes from their tax cuts and not send that money to counties.

    As the article and the Harris County letter note, the counties did their own suits on tobacco on top of the state and recovered about $2.2 billion for themselves.