Multidistrict litigation
In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, multidistrict litigation (MDL) refers to a special federal legal procedure
Civil procedure
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits...

 designed to speed the process of handling complex cases such as air disaster litigation or complex product liability
Product liability
Product liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause...


MDL cases occur when "civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts." In order to efficiently process cases that could involve hundreds (or thousands) of plaintiffs in dozens of different federal courts which all share common issues, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation
Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation
The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is a special body within the United States federal court system which manages multidistrict litigation. It was established by Congress in 1968 under 28 U.S.C...

 decides whether cases should be consolidated under MDL and where to transfer the cases. Cases subject to MDL are sent from one court, known as the transferor, to another, known as the transferee, for all pretrial proceedings and discovery
Discovery (law)
In, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for...

. If a case is not settled or dismissed in the transferee court, it is remanded (i.e., sent back) to the transferor court for trial.

The MDL statute is in the United States Code
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

. Section 1407 was enacted in 1968 as a belated response to a price-fixing scandal at General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

 in the early 1960s which badly swamped the federal courts with a flood of criminal prosecutions and related civil litigation.

Most MDLs involve a few dozen to a few hundred cases. The notable exception is MDL No. 875, based in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is the largest and longest-lasting MDL of all. It was created in 1991 by the JPML to manage all asbestos
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals used commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their eponymous, asbestiform habit: long, thin fibrous crystals...

 personal injury and wrongful death cases in the federal courts. As of 2011, over 121,000 cases had been transferred into MDL No. 875, and over 108,000 cases had been settled, dismissed, or remanded, leaving about 13,000 pending.

One controversial aspect of MDLs is that the statutes do not give the transferee court any discretion as to remand for trial, even when both courts would prefer that the case stay in the transferee court for trial. After all, by the time a case reaches the trial stage, the transferee has become intimately familiar with the issues, the parties, and their attorneys, while the transferor must spend a lot of time catching up on what happened while the case was away in the MDL. Therefore, the JPML promulgated a court rule authorizing the transferee to try a case before itself, if it wished. However, in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the plain language of the MDL statute required remand back to the transferor for trial, and invalidated the JPML's rule. Congress has not yet amended the MDL statute to resolve this issue.

Most corporate defendants prefer MDL proceedings. Not only can they consolidate all federal cases pending at the time the MDL consolidation request is granted, they can also bring in any subsequent federal cases (and most state cases as well) as so-called "tag-along" cases. Furthermore, from a defendant's point of view, it is more efficient and less dangerous to have each defense witness cross-examined in a single marathon deposition; otherwise, a witness may have to be deposed in hundreds of depositions around the country, which raises the risk that the witness may inadvertently give inconsistent testimony and destroy his or her credibility.

When state law cases filed in federal court under diversity jurisdiction
Diversity jurisdiction
In the law of the United States, diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court has the power to hear a civil case where the persons that are parties are "diverse" in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are...

 are consolidated into MDLs, the Erie doctrine
Erie doctrine
In United States law, the Erie doctrine is a fundamental legal doctrine of civil procedure mandating that a federal court in diversity jurisdiction must apply state substantive law....

 comes into play and confronts federal district judges with some of the most difficult, multilayered legal questions they will ever see in their careers. The problem is that when sitting in diversity and asked to decide dispositive pretrial motions like the motion for summary judgment
Summary judgment
In law, a summary judgment is a determination made by a court without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued as to the merits of an entire case, or of specific issues in that case....

, the transferee court must apply the law of the state of the transferor court, which could be located anywhere in the United States. But in complex product liability cases such as airplane crashes, the victims might not even be American citizens and the plaintiffs' losses may not even have occurred within the borders of the United States, and of course, every U.S. state has its own choice-of-law rules. The result is that a MDL judge often has to sort through the laws of two, three, or four separate jurisdictions, none of which may be the state which the transferee court sits in, just to determine whether a plaintiff has a viable cause of action. Naturally, the lawyers in the proceeding must first educate themselves and the judge about the relevant laws from all those jurisdictions.

As of 2008, the District of Minnesota
United States District Court for the District of Minnesota
The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota is the Federal district court whose jurisdiction is the state of Minnesota. Its two primary courthouses are in Minneapolis and Saint Paul...

is the busiest district for MDL cases, with 6 active MDL cases pending as of May 2008.
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