Judicial Panel Grants One Plaintiff’s Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 in Central District of California, Rejecting Competing Request of Plaintiff in Different Class Action to Centralize Lawsuits in Eastern District of Louisiana
Eleven class actions – five in California, three in Louisiana, and one each in the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida and in West Virginia – were filed against various Toyota Motor entities arising out of product defect liability claims: “Each of the actions…asserts economic damages on behalf of certain classes and/or individuals stemming from an alleged defect in certain Toyota vehicles that causes sudden, unintended acceleration.” In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Prac., & Prods. Liab. Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. April 9.2010) [Slip Opn., at 1, 2] . At least 100 additional class actions also had been filed, and were treated as potential tag-along cases. Id., at 1 n.1. Attorneys for plaintiffs in one of the California class actions filed a motion with the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) requesting centralization of the class actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 in the Central District of California, where their class action was pending. Id., at 1. Attorneys for plaintiffs in one of the Louisiana class actions filed a competing motion with the Panel requesting centralization of the class actions in the Eastern District of Louisiana, where their class action was pending. Id. The Judicial Panel observed, “Though these cases have attracted an unusual amount of publicity to the Panel’s work, in all relevant aspects, the issues here are neither dramatically different nor more complex than those we regularly resolve.” Id. The responses filed with the Panel were, literally, all over the map: the defendants, together with plaintiffs in the other California class actions and in 8 of the tag-along cases, supported centralization in California; plaintiffs in 5 other tag-along cases supported centralization in Louisiana; plaintiffs in other pending and tag-along cases supported centralization but argued in support of any of 15 other transferee courts. Id. The Panel also received conflicting briefs as to whether to include personal injury and wrongful death cases within the scope of any centralization order. Id., at 2. Additionally, the Panel noted additional concerns raised by various parties, such as “whether one judge or a particular judge would have the necessary time and resources to handle such a complex, multi-faceted MDL” or whether “the individual personal injury cases might become sidetracked by larger, more complex class action economic loss cases.” Id. The Panel recognized that “[t]hese are absolutely legitimate concerns,” but nonetheless believed that “the federal judiciary is well equipped to handle this litigation under Section 1407.” Id.
The Judicial Panel granted the motion to centralize the class action lawsuits, explaining at page 2: “The cases involve common questions of fact. No doubt, centralization under Section 1407 will eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, including with respect to class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary. Consequently, centralization will create convenience for the parties and witnesses and will promote the more just and efficient conduct of this litigation.” In re Toyota, at 2. The Panel also opted to include the personal injury and wrongful death cases with the economic damage cases, explaining that this ruling was without prejudice to “any later-filed motion to vacate a conditional transfer order in this docket,” because even though “the personal injury and wrongful death claims will require considerable individual discovery in addition to the common discovery in each case,” the Panel was “confident that the transferee judge can design the kind of distinct discovery tracks often employed to address these concerns.” Id. In considering the appropriate transferee court, the Panel agreed that the Central District of California was most appropriate because “Toyota maintains its United States corporate headquarters within this district, and relevant documents and witnesses are likely located there” and because “[f]ar more actions are pending there than in any other district.” Id., at 3. Accordingly, the Panel ordered all of the class actions pending outside the Central District of California be transferred to that district, id.