What is included in this dataset?
The multistate settlements dataset covers consumer protection, antitrust, and environmental protection actions finalized from 1980 to the present. While a few examples of coordinated enforcement actions occurred before 1980, this period covers nearly all of the modern period of multistate litigation.
To be included in the dataset, each entry has to meet the following four criteria:
- It must involve “litigation,” broadly defined as including both filed lawsuits or prelitigation investigations.
- It must involve coordinated activities by at least two state attorneys general.
- It must share the same defendants and at least one common issue of fact.
- It must conclude in a judicial decision, a settlement or consent decree, or another similar agreement. Ongoing litigation is not included in this database.
What is excluded from this dataset?
Because of these inclusion criteria, two difficult-to-identify forms of multistate litigation are not included in this dataset.
- First, the dataset excludes investigations or lawsuits not definitively resolved, even if initial cross-state collaboration was involved. Multistate investigations ultimately ending in no finding of wrongdoing or that the state attorneys general otherwise voluntarily end without further action are not included. The details of most multistate investigations are confidential until the attorneys general file a suit, achieve a settlement, or otherwise reach a point in the investigation where some final action is likely. Further, many unresolved cases are technically still open, as attorneys general could potentially continue a voluntarily terminated investigation in the future.
- Second, this dataset does not include cases in which multiple states file similar suits but that involve separate investigations and resolutions rather than coordinated activity. These suits may include some level of coordination among attorneys general, but they are closer to single-state cases rather than the coordinated litigation efforts that are this dataset’s focus.
Additionally, this database does not include Medicaid fraud cases, which are typically handled by specialized Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) within attorney general offices. These cases differ from most of the litigation included in this database because they are based upon federal False Claims Act statutes rather than broad state-level consumer protection or antitrust statutes. You can learn more about MFCUs and attorneys general’s work to combat Medicaid fraud here.
How were these cases collected?
Given that most multistate enforcement actions against businesses are resolved in out-of-court settlements rather than in reported court decisions, obtaining information on these cases required searching several sources.
For some multistate cases filed in federal court, which typically involve collaboration both among the states as well as federal agencies, entries were identified in the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service maintained by the U.S. federal court system. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Civil Cases and Settlements website also provided information concerning a handful of multistate environmental consent decrees with private industry.
For multistate cases filed in state courts and many of the federal cases, attorney general press releases available on individual attorney general webpages were a significant source of information. Press releases concerning settlements frequently describe the allegations and details of the settlement, and often include an electronic copy of the filed documents along with the posted press release. The Lexis-Nexis “United States News Verdicts, Settlements & Decisions” database was a supplement to the press release searches on attorney general websites, particularly for older cases. This database contains news reports and archived press releases concerning decisions and out-of-court settlements from a large number of U.S. newspapers, magazines, and wire services.
A number of publications of the National Association of Attorneys General also were a source of settlement information, including for older cases in the 1980s and 1990s when press releases were unavailable. These publications included the AG Bulletin, Consumer Protection Report, Antitrust Report, Telemarketing Fraud Bulletin, Medicaid Fraud Report, and the NAAG National Environmental Enforcement Journal.