Sarah A. Westby ’11 has won the 2009-2010 University of Iowa School of Law Trandafir International Business Writing Competition with her article, “Associations to the Rescue: Reviving the Consumer Class Action in the United States and Italy.” It will be published in the Iowa Journal of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems and she will receive a $2,000 prize.
The article surveys the inadequacies in the consumer protection regimes of Italy and the United States, as well as the aggregate litigation devices that can address the problem of negative-value consumer claims. Unscrupulous business practices, such as predatory lending, have exposed the deficiencies in the United States consumer protection regime, Westby explained. Similarly, mass consumer fraud at the hands of large Italian-based food companies exposed flaws in the Italian system.
“Civil procedure in both countries allows for two collective action devices with similar benefits: the class action for damages and associational standing,” Westby said. Two important goals are advanced by these collective actions: access to justice, through ensuring that injured consumers will be compensated for the harm caused, and deterrence, providing an incentive for corporate entities to avoid future harms. In her paper she argues that, rather than utilizing each device separately, they should be harmonized. “Applying associational standing and class action devices to a single lawsuit maximizes the deterrence and access potential of that suit. Therefore, ensuring the integrity and proper functioning of these devices, as well as encouraging their combined use, should be the focus of the legislative solution to inadequate consumer protection,” she wrote.
The idea for the article, Westby said, occurred to her when she read that Italy recently enacted a law which, for the first time in its history, allows class actions for damages. The concepts crystallized further at a BLS symposium she attended in fall 2009 that examined financial regulation reform in the U.S. and the E.U. Westby is the incoming Executive Notes and Comments Editor on the Brooklyn Journal of International Law, which co-sponsored the symposium. “Finding my topic was an evolving process,” she said. “I am especially grateful to Professor Robin Effron, who is an expert in international civil procedure, for all her help.”
A graduate of the University of Delaware, at BLS Westby is a Prince Merit Scholar, Dean’s Merit Scholar Academic Achievement Award Centennial Grant winner and recipient of a 2009 Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest Summer (BLSPI) Fellowship, which supported her internship at Connecticut Legal Services, Waterbury, CT. She has been a Research Assistant to Professor Aaron Twerski, and also interned at the New York City Law Department. She will be working at the United States Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division this summer.