40 Years 40 Cases

Four Decades of Justice

As Public Justice’s 40th year came to a close in 2022, we launched our #40Cases40Years campaign, highlighting our top 40 cases on our social media feeds. Learn more about some of our favorite cases on this timeline spanning all four decades.

Liuzzo v. United States

We filed and tried this historic lawsuit charging the federal government with responsibility for the death of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo during the Freedom Rides in Selma, Alabama. The trial team proved that Ku Klux Klan member Gary Thomas Rowe participated in Liuzzo's murder as a paid undercover informant for the FBI. Even though the government was not held liable, the case exposed and drew attention to abusive government law enforcement efforts.

Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee

This was our first amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, helping win a 5–4 decision ruling that energy company Kerr-McGee's compliance with federal regulations did not preempt — i.e. wipe out — punitive damages claims against it for Karen Silkwood's plutonium contamination and death. We have been actively involved in preemption cases before the Supreme Court ever since.

Haffer v. Temple University

As the nation's first Title IX sex discrimination case involving intercollegiate athletics, we joined the National Women's Law Center as co-counsel and lead trial counsel resulting in a landmark settlement requiring new women's teams and comparable treatment for men and women athletes.

Brogan v. Kimberly Services

With the assistance of the public interest law firm National Gay Rights Advocates, Public Justice brought the nation's first case against a private AIDS-testing clinic for failing to follow proper testing procedures and providing false positive results. The company compensated Brogan and adopted stringent new testing and disclosure procedures.

International Union v. Johnson Controls

To shield itself from legal liability, battery manufacturer Johnson Controls banned all "non-sterile" female employees from positions involving lead exposure. Our amicus brief helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that this “fetal protection policy” could not be justified, and that the policy was blatant, illegal gender discrimination.

Cox v. Shell

We represented a class of homeowners who had defective and failing plumbing systems installed in their homes. We were part of a team that negotiated a groundbreaking settlement that actually fixed the pipes and installed proper systems in more than 320,000 homes at no cost to the class members.

U.S. Bancorp Mortgage v. Bonner Mail Partnership

We filed an amicus brief which helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to end the practice of routine vacatur. We and others had criticized this practice, where wealthy litigants were regularly erasing precedents that they didn’t like, and the Court unanimously agreed that the practice was improper.

Cohen v. Brown University

In a case lasting almost more than two decades, we sought to hold Brown University accountable for violating Title IX when demoting its women's gymnastics and volleyball teams from university-funded to donor-funded varsity status. We won rulings that Brown had violated Title IX in the trial court and then on appeal, and won a precedent that would be widely cited and influential in shaping strong protections for women athletes. We ultimately also won substantial changes where Brown reinstated the women’s teams that had been cut.

Puerto Rico Tuna Canneries

We secured the largest Clean Water Act citizen suit settlement in Puerto Rico's history, forcing the Starkist and Bumble Bee Tuna canneries and a water treatment company to agree to comply with the law, pay $500,000 in penalties to Puerto Rico, and pay $500,000 for studies to revive the polluted Mayaguez Bay.

Bragg v. Robertson

We successfully represented West Virginia citizens in a challenge to the practice of mountaintop removal, which literally tore the tops off of entire mountains and destroyed neighboring streams and killed all life that had once lived there. The case led to substantial reforms in how the practice was regulated in the future.

Hankin v. City of Seattle

We represented protestors who were illegally arrested when they demonstrated at the 1999 World Trade Organization conference. We won a trial and an appeal that the city violated our clients’ constitutional rights, and ultimately won an important settlement that both won justice for our clients but also won important relief changing the training and procedures for future events. The case is a landmark victory for freedom of expression and against unreasonable arrest.

Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine

Our client was killed by a defectively designed boat propeller, and she sued the manufacturer under Illinois law. The defendant argued that a federal statute and regulations preempted – wiped away – the state law dealing with defective products. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed with us, and permitted the case to go forward. This landmark ruling shaped the law to help protect the rights of people injured and even killed by other types of defective products as well.

Aleksich v. Remington Arms Co.

Public Justice convinced a federal court to unseal records that showed gun manufacturer Remington was hiding evidence that a popular rifle model was defective and could fire without the trigger being pulled. Unsealed documents revealed that Remington knew of the defects since the 1940s yet failed to take its dangerous rifles off the market.

Cureton v. NCAA

We sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), when a minimum test score requirement for freshman eligibility had a sharply disproportionate impact on African-American student-athletes, even though the NCAA’s own studies showed that this requirement was not necessary to improve educational outcomes. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed (after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in another case undermined a requirement of the cause of action), but the NCAA subsequently changed the rule as we had argued it should.

Ryan v. Koehler International

We joined this lawsuit against Smith & Wesson on behalf of an eight year old boy who was seriously and permanently injured by another child playing with a gun that appeared to be unloaded. We achieved a first-of-its-kind settlement with the gun manufacturer for defectively designing and failing to childproof their product.

Wells v. Chevy Chase Bank

We represented a class of consumers whose credit card company promised in writing it would “never” raise their interest rates over 24% — and then did. Twice the trial court dismissed the case (once because of the bank's forced arbitration clause and once because of a federal preemption defense), but we prevailed in the state's high court and overturned these barriers to justice. Ultimately we won a $16 million settlement and cleared improper debts off the consumers' credit reports. It was one of the first times in the nation that a bank’s arbitration clause was defeated.

Ting v. AT&T

We represented a class of seven million California customers challenging AT&T’s arbitration clause, which included a number of illegal provisions. The case was tried and we proved that AT&T tried to keep consumers from noticing the arbitration clause, and that it would make it nearly impossible for cheated consumers to win justice.

Kucan v. Advance America

We joined a team of consumer advocates to take on three payday lenders in North Carolina who were exploiting consumers with interest rates as high as 500%. Not only did our team recover $45 million for class members, we were able to clear their credit histories of illegal debts the payday lenders claimed were from consumers. It was the largest settlement that any class of consumers had won from a payday lender in the U.S.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Huffman West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Norton

We challenged acidic mine discharges violating the Clean Water Act in West Virginia after the state assumed responsibility for 169 former privately-operated mine sites. The state argued it was not in violation of the CWA because it did not need permits. The courts ruled the state was not exempt from the permitting process, and the same standards for CWA discharges applied. The state agreed to clean up the contaminated sites and undergo the same permitting process as other operators to keep the sites under its control cleaner and safer.

Yakima Valley Dairy Cases

We secured a huge victory in our lawsuit against mega dairies in Washington State's Yakima Valley for their role in dumping tons of manure onto the ground and contaminating the local water supply. A landmark court ruling found that livestock manure should be regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, resulting in clean drinking water for Yakima residents for the first time in decades.

Castaneda v. United States and Castaneda v. State of California

After eight years of litigating two companion cases -- a federal case that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court and back to the trial court, and a state court case that went to trial -- we secured landmark settlements totaling $3.2 million for the family of Francisco Castaneda, an immigrant detainee who died at age 36 because the federal and state medical professionals entrusted with his care failed to diagnose and treat a cancerous penile lesion. The case spurred important changes to the federal government's detainee healthcare policy.

T.E. Pine Bush Central School District

We secured a $4.48 million settlement ensuring that an upstate NY school district would enact broad reforms following the events in which a group of former Jewish students were victims of pervasive, anti-Semitism in the schools. We won an important federal district court decision recognizing that anti-Semitic harassment is a form of race discrimination prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This settlement serves as a blueprint for what school districts across the country can do to prevent and address harassment.

T.H. v. Novartis

In an important victory holding Big Pharma accountable, the California Supreme Court ruled that name brand drug maker Novartis could be held liable for injuries caused by mislabeled generic versions of its drugs. This was the first appellate decision in the country creating accountability for brand-name drug makers for problems with the labels on drugs sold by generic competitors (because of the brand name manufacturers’ huge role in the content of the labels).

Snyder-Hill v. The Ohio State University & Moxley v. The Ohio State University

We represent more than 100 survivors of sexual abuse by Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss, who preyed on male students and others while employed at the university from 1978-1998. We filed Title IX suits to hold the university accountable for facilitating and concealing the abuse for decades. A district court dismissed the survivors’ claims as untimely, but we successfully argued on appeal that the survivors are entitled to proceed with their claims.

As we argued, most survivors—typically abused during medical examinations—weren’t aware that Strauss had abused them until 2018, when the university publicly announced it was opening an investigation into allegations of abuse by Strauss. And none of the survivors understood before 2018 that the university had known about Strauss’s predation from early on, could have prevented their assaults, and actively concealed the abuse. Our clients are still fighting for justice in these ongoing cases.

RCWA & Jane Doe v. Smithfield

We represented workers and people in the neighboring community who sued Smithfield, when a Missouri meatpacking plant was exposing workers and the community with leave policies that discouraged people who had COVID from staying home and that had no PPE or other protections. In response to the lawsuit, Smithfield made a number of very substantial changes to its operations to operate more safely, and the case made national news. After the various improvements were made, the court ultimately dismissed our case, but we considered it a success.

Palmer v. Amazon

We sued Amazon on behalf of workers and their families at the company's Staten Island fulfillment center for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the facility and in the workers' communities. In a tremendous victory, the Second Circuit rejected the district court's dismissal of our clients' claims, affirming their power to vindicate their rights through the court and hold employers like Amazon accountable for maintaining their safety practices.

Carter v. City of Montgomery

We alleged that the City of Montgomery, Alabama and its contractor, for-profit company Judicial Correction Services (JCS) are responsible for illegally jailing Montgomery residents who were unable to pay traffic tickets and other fines. The district court ruled that there was enough evidence for our lawsuit to go forward, paving the way for our clients to finally get justice.

Morgan v. Sundance

In this important case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that where a corporate defendant chooses to litigate a case in court, it may waive and lose its right to later try to take the case to arbitration. We were lead counsel in the Supreme Court and one of our attorneys argued the case, and the opinion may reshape a lot of law that has built up that created artificial doctrines favoring forced arbitration clauses over other types of contracts.

Moore v. LaSalle Management

We helped a family win their appeal after a lower court dismissed the family’s civil rights case against a private prison, its operating company, several employees, and the city that hired the private prison. Erie Moore, Jr., died in custody hours after being arrested. The appeals court held that a reasonable jury could find the prison’s employees caused Mr. Moore’s death and that they are not entitled to qualified immunity from liability; that the private prison corporations can be held liable for implementing policies that caused Mr. Moore’s death; and that the private companies may be held liable for punitive damages.

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