Judicial Panel Grants Defense Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, Unopposed by Class Action Plaintiffs, but Transfers Class Actions to Eastern District of Wisconsin
Eight class actions – one in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania – were filed against common defendants Velocity Express Corp., Velocity Express, Inc., and Velocity Express Leasing, Inc. (collectively “Velocity Express”), and others, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaints alleged that defendants misclassified package delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than as employees. In re Velocity Express, Inc., Wage & Hour Employment Practices Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. October 8, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The several class action complaints had been filed in seven district courts – two in the Central District of California, and one each in the Northern District of California, the District of Connecticut, the Southern District of Florida, the Western District of New York, the Western District of North Carolina, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Id. Defense attorneys for Velocity Express 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 Northern District of California or, alternatively, in the Southern District of Texas. Id. Plaintiffs in the three California class actions supported centralization but argued that the Central District of California was the transferee district. Id. Plaintiffs in each of the other five class actions, as well as the lone potential tag-along class action, also supported pretrial coordination but argued for the Eastern District of Wisconsin as the appropriate transferee district. Id.
The Judicial Panel granted the motion to centralize the class action lawsuits: The court recognized that “While it is possible there are certain regional differences in the application of work rules, whatever differences exist do not negate the many common factual issues. On balance, centralization under Section 1407 will eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, especially with respect to class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.” In re Velocity Express, at 1. The Panel rejected the defense requests for transfer to either California or Texas, agreeing instead with those class action plaintiffs that argued for the Eastern District of Wisconsin as the transferee court. Id. The Judicial Panel reasoned, “Given the geographic dispersal of pending actions, as well as the nationwide business of Velocity Express, no particular district or region emerges as the focal point for this litigation. We are persuaded that the Eastern District of Wisconsin is an appropriate transferee forum for this litigation. It is a centrally located district with the time and resources to devote to this litigation.” Id. Accordingly, the Panel ordered all class actions pending outside of Wisconsin transferred to that district, id., at 2.