LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas judge on Tuesday rejected an initial request to disqualify a ballot measure that would place limits on damages awarded in lawsuits and give the Legislature control of state court rules.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce rejected the motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from counting any votes cast for the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Pierce said former Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, who is challenging the measure, failed to show he would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction issued.
Pierce did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit, which is still pending in his court. He said Humphrey still has an adequate remedy left through that lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the proposal violates the constitutional separation of powers between legislative and judicial branches, and unconstitutionally combines disparate measures into one amendment. An attorney for Humphrey declined to comment on Pierce’s ruling.
The proposed amendment would cap noneconomic damages awarded in lawsuits to $500,000 and would restrict punitive damages to $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. The Legislature would be able to increase these limits with a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. It also would cap attorneys’ contingency fees at 33 1/3 percent of the net amount recovered in the lawsuit. The measure also would give the Legislature the power to change, repeal or adopt rules for the state’s courts.
Opponents of the measure have said it would supersede juries and place arbitrary limits on damages. The measure has the backing of business groups like the state Chamber of Commerce, which argue the limits are needed to make Arkansas more competitive with surrounding states.
“Ultimately, this lawsuit will be decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court and we remain confident that the Court will allow Arkansans to vote on Issue 1 and decide whether Arkansas should be a tort reform state like most of the country,” Carl Vogelpohl, campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, the group campaigning for the measure.