On Tuesday, April 3, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law comprehensive civil justice reform legislation (2017 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 773). The heart of the legislation centers on discovery procedures and class action rules. The new law also reduces statutes of limitations for a number of claims from six years to three years.
The original legislation included language mirroring the federal class action rule (Federal Rule 23). However, after the legislation was introduced, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin issued an order adopting the federal class action rule, which mooted that section of the legislation. The Wisconsin legislation did include a significant provision not contained under the federal rule: nondiscretionary right to an interlocutory appeal of class certification orders. This allows a party to seek an appeal once a class is certified. Often a case is settled after the trial court certifies the class. Therefore, the new law allows a party to appeal the lower court’s order if it believes the class was not properly certified before the party decides whether to settle the case or proceed to litigate on the merits.
The legislation also adopted the federal discovery rule (Federal Rule 26), along with other provisions not included in the federal rule. Most notably, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to adopt a requirement that a party provide notice of third-party litigation financing if the financier has a right to receive compensation that is contingent on the outcome of the action. The issue of lawsuit lending has gained more interest and was recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article.
The new law also addresses the escalating volume of electronically stored information (ESI), which is a significant issue driving up discovery costs. Most significantly, the legislation provides that a party need not produce certain categories of ESI, such as legacy data on obsolete systems or backup data that are substantially duplicative of data that are accessible elsewhere.
A full summary of the legislation can be found at the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council’s website.