In In re Garlock Sealing Technologies, LLC, 504 B.R. 71 (Bankr. W.D.N.C. 2014), the court confirmed what many asbestos defendants and their insurers long suspected: that “the withholding of exposure evidence by plaintiffs and their lawyers was significant and had the effect of unfairly inflating the recoveries against Garlock” and other defendants. This “startling pattern of misrepresentation” included plaintiffs’ attorneys who, out of “perverted ethical duty,” counseled their clients to file claims against multiple trusts without valid factual grounds for so doing. Such “double dipping” and other abuse not only harms asbestos defendants and insurers, but also dilutes recoveries for legitimate claims. Now – five years after Garlock – the Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched a coordinated initiative to fight asbestos trust fraud and mismanagement. However, a series of recent bankruptcy court rulings suggests that this initiative stumbled out of the gate by focusing on the wrong issues. Asbestos defendants and their insurers can learn from the DOJ’s missteps.
In November 2017, invoking Garlock, 20 state attorneys general wrote to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to devote DOJ resources to fighting asbestos trust abuse. A September 13, 2018 DOJ press release announced an initiative to increase the transparency and accountability of asbestos trusts. Through its United States Trustee Program (UST), the DOJ objected to the debtors’ proposed legal representative for future claims (FCR) in several Chapter 11 cases involving asbestos liabilities: Lawrence Fitzpatrick in Duro Dyne and James L. Patton, Jr. in Maremont, Fairbanks and Imerys Talc.