NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt Law School honored local attorney Cecil D. Branstetter this week by naming its first endowed curricular program “The Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program.”
A 1949 alumnus of the school, Branstetter is the senior partner in Branstetter Stranch & Jennings, the Nashville law firm that brought the class action lawsuit in Tennessee Circuit Court that resulted in a $2.9 million settlement directed by the court to endow the new program at Vanderbilt Law School.
Two of the principal attorneys for the plaintiff class in the case are Vanderbilt Law School graduates. Dewey Branstetter, who earned his undergraduate degree in 1978 and his law degree from Vanderbilt in 1981, is Cecil Branstetter’s son. Gerard Stranch, a 2003 law school graduate, is his grandson.
The civil litigation and dispute resolution program, which will be directed by Professor of Law Richard Nagareda, a noted legal scholar whose work focuses on complex litigation, is designed to prepare graduates to enter sophisticated litigation practice.
In 1952, Branstetter founded the law firm that bears his name. He is a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, where he sponsored and passed a bill in the early 1950s allowing women to serve on juries. As a member of the Charter Commission, he drafted the charter that combined the Nashville and Davidson County governments in 1963.
Dean Edward Rubin said, “Cecil Branstetter has been an important and productive member of the legal community and of Nashville for a half a century. We owe our innovative form of government in part to his efforts, and now we owe a major innovation in legal education to Cecil and the members of his firm. I’m honored that our first endowed curricular program bears his name.”
Branstetter said, “I want to thank Vanderbilt Law School for naming the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program in my honor. I consider this a great tribute to my office, my family and myself. I congratulate the law school for once again leading the nation in innovative legal education.”
In addition to educating the litigators of the future, the law school will invest in legal scholarship and scholarly events in the areas of civil litigation and dispute resolution, Nagareda explained. Vanderbilt Law School already has three conferences focusing on complex litigation scheduled in 2006.
Vanderbilt was not a party to the lawsuit that ultimately resulted in the endowment of this new program. Lankford v. Dow Chemical Co. was a class action involving plaintiffs in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Plaintiff’s counsel alleged that three companies – The Dow Chemical Company, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and DuPont Dow Elastomers LLC – conspired to fix the price of the versatile synthetic rubber Neoprene, violating trade practices, consumer protection and antitrust statutes during a four-year period ending in 2003.
Because the wronged parties purchased products containing the material rather than purchasing Neoprene directly, it was judged impossible to identify individuals harmed; even if that were possible, the cost of distributing the settlement funds to individual class members easily could dwarf their actual recoveries.
In such cases, the court turns to the doctrine of cy pres, meaning, literally, “so close.” In the Lankford case, the defendants agreed to a $4.2 million settlement to resolve the case, with no admission of liability. Once court costs and other fees were deducted, Judge Marietta Shipley directed that the more than $2.9 million remaining go to “an appropriate charitable or government organization,” subject to the court’s approval.
In seeking a recipient that would satisfy the requirement that the funds be used to benefit as closely as possible the class of individuals harmed, plaintiff’s counsel, Jim Stranch, recommended endowing Vanderbilt’s civil litigation and dispute resolution program.
The court deemed the Vanderbilt program an appropriate recipient, in part because it is a nationally regarded school with graduates throughout the country, including all the jurisdictions in which the case’s class members are located. As importantly, the law school promises to use “the settlement award [to] benefit each of the jurisdictions by producing well-educated attorneys in matters concerning settlement agreements.” In short, allegations of corporate malfeasance often result in litigation and the design of complex settlements, precisely what the Vanderbilt program addresses.
The Branstetters’ ties to Vanderbilt also include daughters Kay Johnson, a 1975 Peabody graduate, and Jane Stranch, a 1975 graduate of the College of Arts and Science who earned her law degree from Vanderbilt in 1978 and is a member of Branstetter Stranch & Jennings. Several grandchildren have graduated from or are presently enrolled at Vanderbilt, and 2003 Vanderbilt Law School graduate Joe P. Leniski Jr. and 2005 graduates Teresa Chan and Michael Wall are also members of the firm.
Media contact: Susanne Hicks, (615) 322-NEWS