What Is Multi-District Litigation?

In the federal court system, when there are cases that contain similar issues and common parties, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for a procedure known as multi-district litigation, or MDL, to consolidate the cases into a single federal district court to resolve all pre-trial matters. The process can be beneficial for plaintiffs as well as defendants, saving substantial time and money during the legal process. Here’s how it works:

Suppose that 10 different people are injured in 10 different states by a product either manufactured, designed or distributed by a single defendant. That defendant has its operations in a state where none of the plaintiffs reside, so there is federal jurisdiction in the case. Each injured person will likely file a personal injury claim in his or her home state, and the defendant may be required to defend 10 separate actions at the same time.

The defendant can, however, apply to the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to have all the cases brought together in the same jurisdiction. The defendant will not need to hire local counsel in 10 different states, and will not need to incur travel expenses to 10 different states. The plaintiffs may also benefit from a consolidation of the cases into multidistrict litigation, as they stand a better chance of uniform decisions, because all pre-trial motions will be decided by a single court, and plaintiff’s lawyers will not have to make the same arguments again and again.

The JPML has ultimate authority to determine which cases will be consolidated into MDL. A panel of seven federal judges, the JPML addresses two specific issues when making a determination:

  • Do the similarities of the cases warrant a consolidation?
  • Which court will have responsibility pursuant to the consolidation?

The JPML may, in its discretion, assign the multidistrict litigation to a district that is home to neither the defendant nor any of the plaintiffs. MDL, however, only addresses pre-trial issues, such as discovery and motions. Once all pre-trial matters are resolved, each case will be returned to the court of original jurisdiction.

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