When product liability actions involving one or more common issues of fact (e.g., an allegedly harmful product or chemical) are filed in multiple jurisdictions, they are typically consolidated for pretrial proceedings in a multidistrict litigation (MDL). 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). In an MDL, the lawsuits are transferred from their filing courts to a single “transferee” Court (the MDL Court) chosen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The purposes of this centralization are to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary. For example, overarching issues of law, such as preemption admissibility of common-issue expert opinions, are often resolved by the MDL Court instead of needing to be re-litigated in several different courts. Additionally, MDL Courts can hold bellwether trials to help the parties structure a global settlement process to resolve many or all of the filed cases.
On March 27, 2020, a five-year legal battle between three certified classes of Jeep Cherokee drivers and Fiat Chrysler came to a sudden end, when a federal judge in the Southern District of Illinois held that allegations that the vehicles were vulnerable to cyber-attacks did not give plaintiffs standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has put an end to a jurisdictional contrivance used by the plaintiffs’ bar to shop for a friendly state forum, even if neither the plaintiff, nor the defendant, nor the actionable conduct took place in those states. In last month’s Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court decision, the Court ruled that out-of-state plaintiffs could not piggyback on the claims of in-state plaintiffs to assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. In doing so, the Court rejected the notion that plaintiffs’ counsel can exploit the claims of a handful of in-state plaintiffs as a hook to bring a nationwide lawsuit against an out-of-state corporation in the plaintiffs’ preferred forum.