Q&A about “Multidistrict Litigation” — Also Known as MDLs

January 17, 2014  |  Other

Multidistrict litigation. It’s a big name, but it doesn’t have to be such a big head-scratcher. To help you learn more about multidistrict litigation as it may pertain to your potential case, we have compiled the following Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Q&A.

First things first, what is multidistrict litigation?

Multidistrict litigation is a special federal legal procedure that is used to more effectively handle complex legal cases such as financial litigation or complex pharmaceutical litigation. Often involving a few dozen to a few hundred cases, MDLs are set up when lawsuits are pending in different districts but could be expedited by gathering them together because of their common issues. If civil actions pending in two or more federal judicial districts have one or more common questions of fact, then they may be joined together into an MDL.

Why were MDLs first created?

MDLs were first created — and are still used for the same purpose today — out of the need to better coordinate complex cases of a similar type filed in multiple districts.

Who decides whether a case should be an MDL or not?

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), a special body within the United States federal court system, decides whether cases should be consolidated under an MDL. The MDL Panel also decides which single federal district court (or single state) to transfer the cases to, should an MDL be formed. In addition to selecting the district court, the MDL Panel assigns one or more judges to be in charge of the litigation.

The MDL Panel is made up of seven sitting federal judges and is presided over by the chairman. The federal judges are all appointed to serve on the MDL Panel by the Chief Justice of the United States. The multidistrict litigation statute provides that no two Panel members may be from the same federal judicial circuit.

What happens once an MDL is formed?

Cases subject to an MDL are sent from one court, the “transferor,” to another, the “transferee,” for pretrial proceedings and discovery. Then, if a case is not settled or dismissed in the transferee court, it is sent back (or “remanded”) to the transferor court in trial.

How are MDLs helpful?

The transfer is also known as the “centralization” process as it allows a conservation of resources for almost everyone involved. Meaning: the judiciary as well as the parties and their counsel are able to avoid multiple discovery hearings which in turn helps to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings as witnesses, for instance, are permitted to provide their testimony a single time. Were it not for MDLs, witnesses might have to provide their testimony multiple times, even in different districts.

Is an MDL the same thing as a lawsuit?

No. However, class actions are often litigated in MDL proceedings since both MDL’s and class actions require one or more common questions of fact. Similarly, class actions may be transferred to an MDL consolidation in the same way that single plaintiff cases are.

In closing, a good point to keep in mind when it comes to MDLs is: the bigger and more complicated the case, the more likely it is or will become an MDL. Baron and Budd lawyers are experienced in working with MDLs because we have the size, resources and dedication to go after the big and complicated cases. As such, Baron and Budd lawyers are often chosen as lead or co-lead attorneys for newly formed MDLs.

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