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.
Addressing an issue of first impression, and one that is becoming increasingly important as the legal industry has become more comfortable with and dependent on video conference technology in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the 100-mile limitation under Rule 45(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure applies to remote testimony.
In In re John Kirkland, et al. v. USBC, Los Angeles, the petitioners, Mr. and Mrs. Kirkland who resided in California before relocating to the U.S. Virgin Islands, moved to quash subpoenas commanding them to testify via video conference at a trial before a bankruptcy court in the Central District of California. The bankruptcy court denied the motions finding that “good cause and compelling circumstances” existed to warrant the petitioners’ remote testimony pursuant to Rule 43(a), which provides that “[a]t trial, the witnesses’ testimony must be taken in open court unless a federal statute, the Federal Rules of Evidence, these rules, or other rules adopted by the Supreme Court provide otherwise[; and f]or good cause in compelling circumstances and with appropriate safeguards, the court may permit testimony in open court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location.” The bankruptcy court also concluded that Rule 45(c)’s “place of compliance” should be based on where a witness is located as requiring a witness to testify remotely from the witness’s home is not contrary to the purpose of Rule 45(c), which is to protect witnesses from the burden of having to travel extensively to testify at a trial or other proceeding.