This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Legislative Solution Proposed to Lexecon
Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges (M.D. Fla.), chair of the U.S. Judicial Panel on
Multidistrict Litigation (Judicial Panel), last month appeared before a Senate
subcommittee to ask Congress to enact the “Multidistrict Litigation Restoration
Act.” The bill already has been passed by the House as H.R. 1038.
Currently, the multidistrict litigation process established in 28 U.S.C. §
1407 allows civil cases pending in multiple judicial districts involving common
questions of fact to be centralized for coordinated or consolidated pretrial
proceedings before one “transferee” judge by the Judicial Panel. Transferee
judges had used the venue statute for 30 years to transfer these cases for trial
purposes as well, until in 1998 the Supreme Court held in Lexecon Inc. v.
Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach that such cases must be remanded
upon completion of pretrial procedures.
“In cases that have been centralized by the Judicial Panel,” Hodges
testified, “this legislation will give the transferee judge and the litigants
the desirable option of transferring a case to the transferee judge for trial
purposes, as was often done for 30 years until the Supreme Court’s
Lexecon holding in 1998.”
According to Hodges the legislation would benefit both plaintiffs and
defendants with substantial savings of time and money. “Parties should not be
subjected to the uncertainties, delays, and expense created by unnecessary
duplication of litigation or subjected to possible inconsistent adjudications,”
Hodges testified on behalf of the Judicial Conference before the Senate
Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. Judge Thomas
W. Thrash, Jr. (N.D. Ga.) also testified in support of the bill at the
invitation of the subcommittee. Thrash related an example from his own judicial
experience where litigation was unnecessarily prolonged and expensive to the
courts and the parties because of Lexecon.
The Judicial Conference first asked Congress in September 1998 to amend the
multidistrict litigation statute to permit transferee judges to retain certain
MDL cases for trial.
“This legislation is needed for three primary reasons,” Hodges told the
subcommittee. “First the legislation will facilitate settlements in these
complex, multi-state cases. Second, it will reduce the needless waste that stems
from litigating these cases in multiple jurisdictions, thereby conserving scarce
judicial resources and reducing litigants’ expenses. Third, the legislation will
directly benefit litigants who will be better served by improving efficiency in
the handling of these cases.”