Blawgletter argued a few weeks ago to a bench that few practicing lawyers know much about — the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Repeat appearers call it simply "the Panel" or "the MDL Panel". Its website defines its mission thus:
Origin and Purposes
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, known informally as the MDL Panel, was created by an Act of Congress in 1968 – 28 U.S.C. §1407.
The job of the Panel is to (1) determine whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings; and (2) select the judge or judges and court assigned to conduct such proceedings.
The purposes of this transfer or “centralization” process are to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary. Transferred actions not terminated in the transferee district are remanded to their originating transferor districts by the Panel at or before the conclusion of centralized pretrial proceedings.
Since its inception, the Panel has considered motions for centralization in over 1,900 dockets involving more than 250,000 cases and millions of claims therein. These dockets encompass litigation categories as diverse as airplane crashes; other single accidents, such as train wrecks or hotel fires; mass torts, such as those involving asbestos, drugs and other products liability cases; patent validity and infringement; antitrust price fixing; securities fraud; and employment practices.
Membership of the MDL Panel
The MDL Panel consists of seven sitting federal judges, who are appointed to serve on the Panel by the Chief Justice of the United States. The multidistrict litigation statute provides that no two Panel members may be from the same federal judicial circuit.
What makes the job such a good one? We think several things do. First, the Chief Justice appoints Panel members, and partly as a result a slot on the Panel carries a lot of prestige. Second, the Panel’s docket includes the biggest, highest-dollar, and sprawlingest cases in the U.S. From its inception in 1968 through September 30, 2007, the Panel had transferred a total of 202,601 cases, 76,842 of which remained pending. Third, the Panel exercises tremendous discretion in choosing whether and where to centralize multidistrict cases for pretrial purposes. Review is rare, and reversal is even rarer. Finally, each lawyer’s argument typically lasts no more than two minutes — every judge’s dream.