What is a Multidistrict Litigation?

multidistrict litigation class action
A multidistrict litigation, or MDL,  is a centralized proceeding in which a large number of federal civil lawsuits are transferred to a single judge in one jurisdiction. A multidistrict litigation  is intended to streamline discovery and ensure greater consistency in pretrial rulings.

History of Multidistrict Litigation

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) was created by Congress in 1968 to reduce judicial backlog in the federal court system.  The JPML is composed of seven district or appeals court judges, each of whom must be from a different judicial circuit. Members of the Panel are appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States. As of September 30, 2001, the Panel had transferred more than 150,000 lawsuits in more than 800 multidistrict litigations. Read More

When is a Multidistrict Litigation Appropriate?

A multidistrict litigation may involve any type of civil litigation matter, with the exception of antitrust cases in which the federal government is complainant. These may include litigations stemming from:

  • Defective drugs, medical devices and other products
  • Airplane and mass transit accidents
  • Patent infringement
  • Securities fraud

How Does a Multidistrict Litigation Work?

The JPML has discretion to centralize federal cases of its own accord. However, usually a plaintiff or defendant will move for the creation of a multidistrict litigation. Once oral arguments have been heard on the petition, the JPML will make its decision. The establishment of a multidistrict litigation requires that:

  • All of the lawsuits involve  one or more common questions of fact.
  • The transfer will serve the convenience of all of the parties involved.
  • The transfer will promote judicial efficiency, economy, and fairness.

If a multidistrict litigation is created, all federally-filed lawsuits involving that particular issue will be transferred to a single U.S. District Court Judge. That Judge presides over pretrial motions, discovery proceedings, and settlement conferences. He or she will have the authority to dismiss some claims, and even entire cases. In most instances, the Court will schedule a series of bellwether trials involving a small number of representative lawsuits. The outcomes of these trials often provide valuable insight into possible jury ruling on similar claims.

Any lawsuits that cannot be resolved via the multidistrict litigation process will eventually be returned to their original court of filing for trial.

How Can I Find Out More about Multidistrict Litigation

Bernstein Liebhard LLP represents plaintiffs in multidistrict litigations involving defective drugs, faulty medical devices and dangerous consumer products. If you would like to learn more about these types of centralized proceedings, please contact our Firm by calling (888) 994-5118.

  1. American Bar Association (2016) “Class Action 101: MDL for Beginners” https://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/committees/classactions/articles/081810-101-MDL.html
  2. Legal Information Institute (N.D.) “28 U.S. Code § 1407 – Multidistrict litigation” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/1407
Last Modified: June 2, 2016

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