Frequently Asked Questions about Class Actions

This page contains answers to common questions asked about multidistrict litigation. For more detailed information, links to other sites are provided.

United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a multidistrict litigation?

Multidistrict litigation is a procedure utilized in the federal court system to transfer to one federal judge all pending civil cases of a similar type filed throughout the United States. The decision whether cases should be transferred is made by a panel of seven federal judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation meets periodically to review requests that cases be consolidated for pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1407, (http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/Rules/28_usc_1407.pdf ) a law passed by Congress. Although the panel meets in different cities in the United States on a periodic basis, the Clerk of the Panel is permanently stationed in Washington, D.C.

The judge who gets all the federal cases assigned to him is known as the "transferee judge." The judges from throughout the United States who send cases to the MDL judge are know as the "transferor judges" or "transferor courts." An introductory brochure prepared by the Panel is available in pdf format PanelBrochure-06-07.pdf

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Q. Why was the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation formed?

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation was created by legislation in 1968 in response to the difficulty among the courts in coordinating almost 2,000 related cases that were then pending in 36 districts around the country which alleged a nationwide antitrust conspiracy among electrical equipment manufacturers. A consensus evolved among lawmakers and the judiciary that the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation was needed to coordinate complex cases filed in multiple districts. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation consists of seven judges presided over by the chairman. The duties of each panel member are the same with respect to deciding cases. The chairman of the panel has additional responsibilities since he is responsible for the oversight of the panel's office, its staff of 20 employees, and its budget. Also, the chairman usually handles any necessary contacts with the transferee district. See The Third Branch, December 1995. Statistics regarding the cases handled by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation are available at: http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/General_Info/Statistics/statistics.html

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Q. How is the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Contacted?

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is located in Washington, DC at the following address:

Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building
One Columbus Circle, NE
Room G-255, North Lobby
Washington, DC 20002-8004

The hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Telephone: (202) 502-2800
Facsimile: (202) 502-2888 (24 hours)

Q. How are cases transferred from one court to another in the MDL setting?

Proceedings for transfer may be initiated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation upon its own initiative or a motion filed with the Panel by a party in any action in which transfer for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings may be appropriate. Before cases are designated multidistrict litigation and transferred to one federal court, the Panel convenes a hearing and notifies all parties of the place and time of the hearing. The Panel's order of transfer is based on a record of such hearing at which material evidence may be offered by any party to an action in any federal court that would be affected by the transfer.

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Q. Is multidistrict litigation a type of class action?

No. Although class actions may be transferred to an MDL consolidation in the same manner as single plaintiff cases. However, for cases to be treated as proper for an MDL consolidation the Panel must find they one or more common questions of fac t. Since commonality is also an required element for a class action, class actions are frequently litigated in MDL proceedings.

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Q. What happens to a lawsuit after it is transferred to a federal judge by the Panel?

Generally, the transferee court (the MDL court) will set standing orders or pretrial orders informing the lawyers involved of the ground rules, deadlines and procedures the court expects the litigants to follow. Steering committees may be appointed to manage the substance of the litigation and the discovery of facts. In theory, discovery and case management by the MDL court should allow completion of pretrial matters, then the case must be remanded back to the transferor case for trial. The only cases that would not be remanded are those cases originally filed in the court with the MDL judge is seated. In practice, many cases sent to an MDL court are settled at some point in time during the pretrial proceedings. Many suggested procedures for MDL case management are found in the Manual for Complex Litigation, Fourth, from the Federal Judicial Center. Also, Conte & Newberg, Newberg on Class Actions, Third, at Chapter 9 discusses complex case management including MDL consolidations.

Presently there is legislation pending which would allow the MDL court to conduct a trial of cases before it rather than remand the cases. Further discussion in Congress may result in passage of legislation permitting MDL trials of cases not originating in the transferee court. The proposed legislation has been named The Multidistrict Litigation Restoration Act and details are available in HR 1038 posted on this website.

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Q. Does a litigant have a right to have a case decided in the state where it was filed?

Yes and No. A judge acting as an MDL judge has the power to issue rulings on motions that may be dispositive of a case. For instance, if the MDL court should decide that as a matter of law a litigant must prevail in a lawsuit, he may grant "summary judgment" to that litigant without a trial. An MDL judge may also dismiss counts in a complaint if he determines they lack merit. Finally, an MDL judge may oversee a class action settlement if the facts of the case permit such an action. However, if a case was filed in a federal court in a different state, and issues remain to be tried after all discovery and pretrial rulings have been made by the MDL judge, he cannot "self assign" that case to himself for trial. Rather, he must remand the case back to the transferor court for it to be tried in the court where the lawsuit was originally filed.

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Q. How Does a lawyer avoid having a case consolidated under multidistrict litigation rules?

Only federal cases may be sent to one judge under the federal multidistrict litigation statute and rules. If a lawyer wants to have a case heard in a state court, he must carefully draft the lawsuit to avoid "federal question" claims and to avoid what is known as federal "diversity jurisdiction." Under certain circumstances, a case filed in state court may be removed to federal court by a defendant. After a case is removed to federal court it is then subject to being transferred to one judge as any other federal case.

The MDL rules provide that when a consolidation occurs all cases of a similar nature then filed as well as all later cases that may be filed are to be sent to one judge. These later cases are call "tag-a-long" cases. Therefore, what sometimes occurs is a lawyer will file a case in a state court, have it removed to the federal court in the state where it was filed, and then, have the case subsequently transferred to a distant state. To avoid this scenario, the complaint filed in state court must assert claims over which a federal court does not have jurisdiction.

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Q. What statute allows all federal cases to be sent to one judge?

The federal statute that permits consolidation is 28 U.S.C., TITLE 28 - JUDICIARY AND JUDICIAL PROCEDURE, PART IV - JURISDICTION AND VENUE, CHAPTER 87 - DISTRICT COURTS; VENUE Sec. 1407. Multidistrict litigation.

(a) When civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts, such actions may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. Such transfers shall be made by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation authorized by this section upon its determination that transfers for such proceedings will be for the convenience of parties and witnesses and will promote the just and efficient conduct of such actions. Each action so transferred shall be remanded by the panel at or before the conclusion of such pretrial proceedings to the district from which it was transferred unless it shall have been previously terminated: Provided, however, That the panel may separate any claim, cross-claim, counter-claim, or third-party claim and remand any of such claims before the remainder of the action is remanded.

(b) Such coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings shall be conducted by a judge or judges to whom such actions are assigned by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation. For this purpose, upon request of the panel, a circuit judge or a district judge may be designated and assigned temporarily for service in the transferee district by the Chief Justice of the United States or the chief judge of the circuit, as may be required, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 13 of this title. With the consent of the transferee district court, such actions may be assigned by the panel to a judge or judges of such district. The judge or judges to whom such actions are assigned, the members of the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation, and other circuit and district judges designated when needed by the panel may exercise the powers of a district judge in any district for the purpose of conducting pretrial depositions in such coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.

(c) Proceedings for the transfer of an action under this section
may be initiated by -

(i) the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation upon its own initiative, or

(ii) motion filed with the panel by a party in any action in which transfer for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings under this section may be appropriate. A copy of such motion shall be filed in the district court in which the moving party's action is pending. The panel shall give notice to the parties in all actions in which transfers for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings are contemplated, and such notice shall specify the time and place of any hearing to determine whether such transfer shall be made. Orders of the panel to set a hearing and other orders of the panel issued prior to the order either directing or denying transfer shall be filed in the office of the clerk of the district court in which a transfer hearing is to be or has been held. The panel's order of transfer shall be based upon a record of such hearing at which material evidence may be offered by any party to an action pending in any district that would be affected by the proceedings under this section, and shall be supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law based upon such record. Orders of transfer and such other orders as the panel may make thereafter shall be filed in the office of the clerk of the district court of the transferee district and shall be effective when thus filed. The clerk of the transferee district court shall forthwith transmit a certified copy of the panel's order to transfer to the clerk of the district court from which the action is being transferred. An order denying transfer shall be filed in each district wherein there is a case pending in which the motion for transfer has been made.

(d) The judicial panel on multidistrict litigation shall consist of seven circuit and district judges designated from time to time by the Chief Justice of the United States, no two of whom shall be from the same circuit. The concurrence of four members shall be necessary to any action by the panel.

(e) No proceedings for review of any order of the panel may be permitted except by extraordinary writ pursuant to the provisions of title 28, section 1651, United States Code. Petitions for an extraordinary writ to review an order of the panel to set a transfer hearing and other orders of the panel issued prior to the order either directing or denying transfer shall be filed only in the court of appeals having jurisdiction over the district in which a hearing is to be or has been held. Petitions for an extraordinary writ to review an order to transfer or orders subsequent to transfer shall be filed only in the court of appeals having jurisdiction over the transferee district. There shall be no appeal or review of an order of the panel denying a motion to transfer for consolidated or coordinated proceedings.

(f) The panel may prescribe rules for the conduct of its business not inconsistent with Acts of Congress and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

(g) Nothing in this section shall apply to any action in which the United States is a complainant arising under the antitrustlaws. ''Antitrust laws'' as used herein include those acts referred to in the Act of October 15, 1914, as amended (38 Stat. 730; 15 U.S.C. 12), and also include the Act of June 19, 1936 (49 Stat. 1526; 15 U.S.C. 13, 13a, and 13b) and the Act of September 26, 1914, as added March 21, 1938 (52 Stat. 116, 117; 15 U.S.C. 56);but shall not include section 4A of the Act of October 15, 1914, as added July 7, 1955 (69 Stat. 282; 15 U.S.C. 15a).

(h) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 1404 or subsection (f) of this section, the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation may consolidate and transfer with or without the consent of the parties, for both pretrial purposes and for trial, any action brought under section 4C of the Clayton Act.

This statute also available at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode28/usc_sec_28_00001407----000-.html Back to Top

Q. Where can I find the rules that apply to multidistrict litigation?

The multidistrict litigation rules may be found on this website. The rules are also posted on the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation website (http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/Rules___Procedures ) The rules are revised periodically and are also published in the Federal Rules Decisions reporter published by West Publishing. To be certain the rules being reviewed are current, the Federal Rules Decision publication should be consulted.

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Q.Are the decisions of the JPMDL Published, and if so, where?

Yes, to a limited extent. The Federal Supplement contains those decisions and Transfer Orders the Panel determines should be published. Decisions of the Panel are also available through the LEXIS, and Westlaw commercial legal databases.

Q.What fees are charged by the JPMDL?

The Clerk of the Panel may be contacted for a current fee charge information. However, the published set of fees for the JPMDL is posted at: http://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/fees/fees_m5.pdf
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