The Federal Judicial Center has prepared the Complex Litigation Manual, fourth edition, with analyses and recommendations from experts. Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a type of legal procedure designed to help federal courts efficiently manage many related cases filed in different jurisdictions. To be eligible for an MDL, a group of claims must include one or more common issues of fact. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, composed of seven appellate judges and district courts from different circuits, decides by majority vote whether to create an MDL and where to send it.
The Panel may consider an MDL appropriate even if neither party requests or desires it, if it concludes that the transfer will serve “the convenience of the parties and witnesses” and will promote the fair and efficient conduct of such actions. The district court that presides over an MDL is called a “transferred court” and has jurisdiction over all pre-trial issues in all transferred cases. Claims can be resolved in full by dismissal or summary judgment, and the court can control the pace and scope of discovery and the limits of expert testimony.
Most class tort lawsuits are resolved before they are referred to their “referring court” for trial.An MDL offers several advantages that can be both economic and strategic.
Instead of having many cases pending in different courts across the country, litigation is coordinated in a single forum. This helps to save the parties attorneys' fees and costs, as well as proceed in an orderly manner. Another advantage is consistency; most important decisions are made by a single judge who is an expert in both the facts and relevant law. This prevents defendants from winning certain battles in some courts and losing them in others. An MDL also provides defendants with a more complete understanding of the nature and scope of the claims, which can place them in a better position to consider reaching an agreement that can be addressed globally.
Furthermore, publicity from an MDL may attract other demands, some of which may not be frivolous. Finally, an MDL gives plaintiffs an organizational advantage by making it easier to coordinate dozens or hundreds of plaintiff lawyers from across the country. In conclusion, mass torts differ from class action lawsuits because they involve large numbers of plaintiffs who have suffered similar injuries or damages but are handled as individual lawsuits rather than as a single case. An MDL can provide many benefits for both plaintiffs and defendants alike.