by James DeChene
Since 2002 Delaware had been ranked #1 in The Institute for Legal Reform’s Harris Poll Lawsuit Climate Survey. This year’s survey finds Delaware dropping to #11.
According to the report, “Participants in the survey were comprised of a national sample of 1,321 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenue who indicated they: (1) are knowledgeable about litigation matters; and (2) have firsthand, recent litigation experience in each state they evaluate.”
While Delaware still scores high in key element categories of scientific and technical evidence, trial judges' competence, quality of appellate review, and enforcing meaningful venue requirements, it fell significantly in Treatment of Class Action Suits and Mass Consolidation Suits (from #1 to #26) and Trial Judges’ Impartiality (down to #15).
When I asked about specifics that were factors in Delaware’s drop, I was given a handful of recent court decisions and specific pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly. From my perspective, no one decision or bill by itself precipitated the drop, instead the reasons for the decline seem to be a shift away from supporting what made Delaware a top corporate legal environment for so long. In fact, even though Delaware scored #1 in 2015, I was given warnings then about a potential slide in rankings if Delaware continued to focus on legislation and issued court decisions that were increasingly plaintiff friendly.
I’ve written about these issues before, and seemingly often, which include Delaware’s approach to abandoned property, the fee shifting debate that took place a few years ago resulting in the passage of SB75 that reversed the “loser pays” model of litigation, and the ATP Tours, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund decision that precipitated SB75.
In fact, over the last few years, Delaware’s cache has dropped when reviewed by other organizations as well. For example:
The fact remains that the constant drip of decisions and legislation designed to support plaintiffs over business has led directly to where Delaware is today: a world where South Dakota is ranked as having the top business legal climate, and where Delaware is on the decline according to recent national ratings.
One thing remains constant, however. If Delaware continues its current trend, our image will continue to suffer. Delaware relies on the billion dollars in revenue it receives each year from companies choosing to incorporate here. We should be doing what it takes to retain our corporate image if there is to be any realistic expectation of that being the case in the future.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.