Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is used within the federal court system to consolidate several pending civil cases throughout the country under a single federal judge. The decision to consolidate is made by a panel of seven federal judges – the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML)– who are appointed by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. The clerk of the panel is located in Washington, DC, but the panel meets throughout the United States periodically to review cases.
The JPML was formed in 1968 in response to the challenges of coordinating 2000 related cases that were pending in 36 courts throughout the country related to a nationwide antitrust conspiracy among electrical equipment manufacturers.
When the JPML determines cases should be consolidated, the judge to which the cases are assigned is known as the transferee judge. Judges throughout the country (the transferor judges) send the pending cases to the MDL court for all pretrial proceedings and discovery. MDL is used to speed the process of handling cases that share common issues and involve hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs in dozens of different federal courts, such as complex product liability lawsuits. Should a case not be settled in the MDL court, it is remanded to the transferor court for trial.
How is MDL Formed?
There are two actions that trigger the formation of an MDL. Either the JPML initiates the transfer of cases or a motion is filed with the Panel by a party in any action. Prior to the designation of multidistrict litigation, the Panel holds a hearing and notifies all parties regarding the location and time of the hearing. The Panel basis its decision for transfer on the material evidence presented by any party to an action in any federal court that would be affected by the transfer.
Multidistrict litigation is sometimes confused with class action because it involves a group involved in legal action. Class actions are different than MDL, but can be transferred to MDL just the same as single plaintiff cases. For cases to be treated as proper MDL consolidation, the Panel must find class actions have one or more common questions of fact. For this reason – class action and MDL both requiring commonality – many class actions are litigated in MDL proceedings.
What If an Attorney Does Not Want a Case Consolidated to MDL?
If an attorney wants to avoid having a case consolidated under MDL, he or she must carefully draft the lawsuit to avoid “federal question” claims and to avoid federal “diversity jurisdiction.” Only federal cases can be consolidated, so if a case is tried at the state level and remains at the state level, it will not be eligible for MDL.
According to MDL rules, once cases are consolidated, all cases of a similar nature filed later are sent to the transferee judge. Cases that are filed later are known as “tag-a-long” cases.
If you have questions about multidistrict litigation or you would like to know more about how MDL is handled, contact the Andrus Wagstaff law firm at 866.534.5014 or visit the firm's website at www.andruswagstaff.com.