Challenges To Tort Reform: The Single Subject Rule And Comprehensive Legislation

By Rob Sirianni. on January 16, 2019 in Law
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State Constitutions contain various mechanisms which place procedural limitations on a state’s legislative process. One such limitation is the single-subject rule, which states adopt as a constitutional method to ensure that each section of a bill is limited to one subject. Legislative enactments are required to share a “natural” and “logical” connection with the subject expressed in the bill’s title. Single-subject rules prevent legislative “logrolling’ and the placement of two unrelated matters in one act. An implicit purpose of the single-subject rule is to prevent the unintentional adoption of a surprise provision, which is not expressed in an act’s title, and, therefore, is somehow carelessly overlooked by unsuspecting legislators. Such rules promote an open and deliberative legislative process. In sum, the single-subject rule is “designed to eradicate perceived abuses in the legislative process, such as hasty, corrupt, or private interest legislation. They are intended to promote open, orderly, and deliberative processes, and can be found in almost all state constitutions.” See Martha J. Dragich, State Constitutional Restrictions on Legislative Procedure: Rethinking the Analysis of Original Purpose, Single Subject, and Clear Title Challenges, 38 HARV. J. ON LEGIS. 103, 104 (2001).Article Ill, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution mandates that “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” Legislative enactments come before a court of law with a strong presumption of constitutionality. However, there is a growing trend within state judicial systems to use the single-subject rule as means of invalidating entire tort or civil justice reform statutes: thus, the rule has become a major source of judicial power, rather than merely a check on the legislative process. For example, in 1 999 the Florida State Legislature enacted the Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA). The CJRA was composed of thirty-six chapters, each of which intended to correct various problems within the state civil justice system. The CJRA “raised the burden of proof in certain circumstances, provided new defenses, established presumptions, limited recovery damages, and required alternate dispute resolution in certain instances.” See Enterprise Leasing Co. South Central, Inc., v. William W. Hughes, 833 so. 2d 832 (Fla. App. 1 Dist. 2002). More importantly, Chapter 99-225, S 20 and S 23 limited the amount of punitive damages plaintiffs could recover in a civil suit.

Recent lawsuits seek to undermine the extent to which the Florida State Legislature can enact comprehensive reforms, such as civil reform measures implemented in 1999. See State of Florida v. Florida Consumer Action Network, 830 So. 2d 148 (Fla. App. I Dist. 2002). Thus, the State of Florida provides a good case study for examining the single-subject rule and its effect on tort or civil justice reform legislation.

The Single Subject Rule And Comprehensive Legislation

Florida Case Study. In Florida Consumer Action Network v. Bush, (2001 WL 1921989) (Case No. 99-6689) (Fla. Leon County Second Judicial Circuit Court, February 9, 2001) (not reported), the Second Circuit ruled that the Florida legislature can only enact comprehensive legislation if it is necessary to resolve a crisis. The Second Circuit stated that the legislative history surrounding the adoption of Chapter 99-225 indicated the legislature was not attempting to cure a crisis• — thus Chapter 99-225 violated Florida’s single-subject rule. The Second Circuit’s understanding of Article Ill S 6 is completely misplaced. A crisis is not a prerequisite for enacting comprehensive legislation.

For example, in State v. Lee, 356 So. 2d 276 (Fla. 1978), the Florida Supreme Court held that tort reform is a single subject. See also Heggs v. State, 759 So. 2d 620 (Fla. 2000); Burch v. State, 558 So. 2d I (Fla. 1990). The tort reform scrutinized in Lee did not involve a declared crisis and was much more comprehensive than the thirty-six chapters contained in the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1999. More importantly, the Lee court held that the state legislature has the inherent power to enact comprehensive legislation. The court stated:

“The Legislature, in enacting Chapter 77-468, has dealt comprehensively with a broad subject, but we cannot say that Appellees have demonstrated a plain violation of Article Ill, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution. Prior comprehensive enactments by the Legislature demonstrate that wildly divergent rights and requirements can be included without any challenge in a statute covering a single subject matter… With the presumption of validity that Chapter 77-468 carries with it, we must give the Legislature the benefit of the doubt.” State v. Lee, 356 so. 2d 276, 282-283 (Fla. 1978).

Even though tort reform in Lee involved multiple subjects, such as civil litigation reform and insurance regulation, the court found that Chapter 77-268 comprised a single subject. Id at 282.

Consequently, Chapter 99-225 of the CJRA only involves civil litigation reform. In light of this, Chapter 99-225 ought to be interpreted in the same way the Lee court interpreted Chapter 77-468, namely, as a single subject. It is unreasonable to square the holding in Lee — that civil litigation reform and insurance regulation is a single subject with the view that civil litigation reform alone comprises multiple subjects. Chapter 99-225 is a typical tort reform measure, which attempts to ensure greater efficiency, fairness, and predictability in litigation of civil damage claims. A thorough examination of Chapter 99225 leads to the conclusion that the 1999 Florida State Legislature tailored the Act to the narrow ends of improving the civil justice system. Moreover, the single-subject rule does not require each section of a legislative enactment to connect directly with each other section—it only requires a connection “therewith.”

Like many other states, the State of Florida has two different constitutional provisions concerning the single subject requirement. As stated previously, Article Ill S 6 pertains to bills passed by the legislature: it mandates that “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith.” Alternatively, Article XI S 3 pertains to revisions or amendments to the Florida constitution. It states: “The power to propose the revision or amendment of any portion or portions of this constitution by initiative is reserved to the people, provided that, any such revision or amendment shall embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith?

The Single Subject Rule And Comprehensive Legislation
13941985 – justitia, the goddess of justice

The single-subject rule of Article XI is a rule of restraint, designed to insulate Florida’s organic law from precipitous and cataclysmic change. Like Article Ill S 6, Article XI S 3, is intended to prevent “logrolling” an unpopular issue into a single initiative. Although the intent of both rules is similar, an analysis of the language leads to dramatically different constraints on the legislative process.

In Fine v. Firestone, 448 So. 2d 984 (1984), the Supreme Court of Florida defined the purpose of Article Ill, S 6: “The purpose of this provision is to prohibit the aggregation of dissimilar provisions in one law in order to attract the support of diverse groups to assure its passage.” Fine, 448 So. 2d 984, 988 (1984). The court added: “We recognized that we have taken a broad New of this legislative restriction but only to the extent that the contents of legislation must be reasonably related.” Fine, 448 So. 2d 984,988 (1984); Chenoweth v. Kemp, 396 so. 2d 1 122 (Fla. 1981); State v. Lee, 356 so. 2d 276 (Fla. 1978) (emphasis added). The Fine court also differentiated between the legislative one-subject restriction of Article Ill S 6, and, the initiative constitutional proposal one-subject limitation of Article XI S 3. First, the court found that the language, “shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith” in Article Ill S 6, is broader than the language “shall embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith,” in Article IX, S 3, regarding constitutional change by the initiative. Fine, 448 So. 2d 984, 989 (1984) (emphasis added). Second, a broader reading of Article Ill S 6 is appropriate because “any proposed law must proceed through the legislative debate and public hearing.” Id at 989. Thus, the democratic process of adopting legislation allows the law to be changed before its adoption. It is important to note that Chapter 99-225 was drafted and debated over a period of three years. Third, the court found strict compliance with the single-subject rule in the initiative process for constitutional change is necessary because “the  constitution is the basic document that controls our government function, including the adoption of any laws passed by the legislature.” Id at 989. There is a compelling difference in the statutory language between Article Ill S 6 and Article XI S 3. The Fine analysis lends to the conclusion that a court will exercise strict scrutiny when reviewing Article XI, and, a lesser standard of review when interpreting a challenge brought pursuant to Article Ill. Furthermore, the phrase “properly connected therewith,” signifies that the legislature is given the widest possible latitude to include a broad array of sections in a single act. Fine, 448 So. 2d 984, 988 (1984); Burch v. State, 558 So. 2d l, 2 (Fla. 1990) (stating, “the court must give the widest possible latitude to the Legislature in the manner of enacting its laws’.’). Deference to the legislature’s determination is appropriate. The components of Chapter 99-225 need only be “fairly and naturally germane to the subject of the act” or alternatively, they need only “tend to make effective or promote the objects and purposes of legislation included in the subject.” See Smith v.Dept ofIns., 507 So. 2d 1080, 1087 (Fla. 1987). This analysis leads to the conclusion that the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1999 is a single subject and does not violate the Florida Constitution.

Other Jurisdictions. Unlike Florida’s construction of their single-subject rule, the California single-subject rule — Article IV S 9 — receives a liberal construction. The constitutional provision that an act shall embrace only one subject is not intended to preclude the legislature from treating the several branches of the same general subject as one law, or from inserting in a single act all legislation germane to the general subject. See Hunt v. Manning 24 Cal. App. 44, 140 P. 39 (1914). The single-subject rule was designed to prevent the inclusion in a single act of disconnected subjects. See Exparte Maginnis 162 Cal. 200, 121 P. 723, (1912). Like the Florida Constitution, the provision of an act passed by the California Legislature must be logically germane to the act’s title. The California rule places more emphasis on the goal of the legislation, Even if the provisions of an act are numerous, it is still constitutional so long as they fairly fall within a general subject matter and do not contain dissimilar subjects. By concentrating on the object of the legislation the California jurisdiction provides greater deference to legislative determinations. See Evans v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, 215 Cal. 58, 8 P.2d 467 (1913). The state courts of Missouri exercise great deference to the wisdom of the legislative body when reviewing single subject challenges. Contrary to Florida’s position, bills and statutes in Missouri come before a state court with a presumption of constitutionality. In C.C. Dillon Co. v. City of Eureka, 12 S.W.3d 322, 327 Mo. 2000), the Missouri Supreme Court, sitting en banc, held: The use of these procedural limitations to attack the constitutionality of status is not favored. A statute has a presumption of constitutionality. We interpret procedural limitations liberally and will uphold the constitutionality of a statue against such an attack unless the a clearly and undoubtedly violates the constitutional limitation. The burden of establishing [a statute’s] unconstitutionality rests upon the party  questioning it.”Illinois has a similar rule. So long as the matters in the enactment have a “natural” and “logical” connection to a single subject, then the legislature has complied with the requirements imposed by the rule. No additional requirements exist. Thus, the provisions of an enactment need not relate to each other. See People v. Malchow, 193 Ill. 2d 413, 250 Ill. Dec. 670, 739 N.E.2d 433 (2000). Normally in order to pass constitutional muster, an act must be confined to one subject. the Illinois rule— (the oldest one in the Nation) — is a much more lenient standard than Florida’s harsh judicial review process. Article il S 15(D) of the Ohio Constitution states: “[n] o bill shall contain more than one subject.” To pass constitutional muster in Ohio, the provisions of a bill must have a “common purpose and relationship.” See State ex rel. Ohio AFL-CIO v. Voinovich, 631 N.E.2d 582 (Ohio 1994). Under this test, the bill will be upheld, even if it contains multiple subjects, as long as those subjects are not disunified. See James Schuck, Returning the “One “to Ohio ‘s ‘One-Subject Rule,” 28 CAP.U.L.REV. 899, 909 (2000). Yet, even if the subjects are disunified, Ohio courts will defer to state legislative judgments so long as there is a “rational practical or legitimate reason” for combining the subjects. See Hoover v. Board of Franklin County Commissioners, 482 N.E. 2d 575, 580 (Ohio 1985). After briefly examining the single-subject rules of jurisdictions throughout the nation, it appears that Florida’s Civil Justice Reform Act of 1999 would pass constitutional scrutiny in nearly every state except for Florida. The need for state tort and civil justice reform is a determination to be made by the elected political branches of government. State courts should practice judicial restraint when reviewing single subject challenges to tort reform statutes such as the CJRA.

Rob Sirianni

Rob Sirianni

Mr. Sirianni is digital growth mastermind and also CEO of Big Law Titans. He works as a content specialist for Legal writing categories. As a digital nomad, he seeks the perfect integration of life with creative enterprise.

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