On June 27, 2023, the United States Supreme Court decided Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 2023 WL 4187749, 600 U.S. ___ (June 27, 2023), a decision that likely will reinvigorate forum-shopping efforts by plaintiffs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and possibly elsewhere. The decision—supported by a plurality of Justices and the concurrence of Justice Alito—upholds a Pennsylvania law that requires out-of-state corporations registering to do business in Pennsylvania to consent to general personal jurisdiction within the Commonwealth. Overlooking decades of personal jurisdiction jurisprudence, Mallory reinstates a form of personal jurisdiction previously cast by many courts as a dead letter: general jurisdiction by statutory “consent.”
On May 20, 2023, the amendments to the Minnesota wrongful death and survival statutes, Minn. Stat. §§ 573.01, 573.02, became effective. This means that duly appointed administrators can now bring claims for “all damages suffered by the decedent resulting from the injury prior to the decedent’s death” – on top of the pecuniary losses that have traditionally been available. While the meaning of the term “all damages” has yet to be fully hashed out, this new change appears to open the door to claims for pre-death personal injuries, pain and suffering, and more.
Traditionally, Minnesota law has not provided compensation for personal injuries following the death of a decedent—including in wrongful death cases. See Holtegaard v. Soo Line R.R. Co., No. A13-2079, 2014 WL 3396871, at *3 (Minn. Ct. App. July 14, 2014). In fact, the applicable jury instructions have specifically excluded amounts “for the pain and suffering” of the decedent before death. CIVJIG 91.75 Wrongful Death, 4A Minn. Prac., Jury Instr. Guides (6th ed.). Instead, Minnesota historically allowed damages only for what courts have interpreted to be pecuniary losses “created by the decedent’s death.” Regie de l’Assurance Auto. du Quebec v. Jensen, 399 N.W.2d 85, 89 (Minn. 1987). These have included the financial losses associated with death (e.g., medical expenses and funeral costs), as well as the loss of advice, comfort, assistance, and protection previously provided by the decedent. Fussner v. Andert, 113 N.W.2d 355, 363 (1961).
Class certification is the feature fight of any putative class action lawsuit. If granted, it can multiply the stakes of a case several hundred- or thousand-fold. If denied, it can signal the end of the litigation. Because of its importance, parties often invest heavily in the class certification fight, including by offering – and challenging – expert testimony.
As this trend has become more common, more focus has been devoted to answering a key question – to what extent should Rule 702 apply at this critical juncture? A number of circuits have held that Rule 702 applies in full force and that opinions deemed inadmissible under Rule 702 should not be considered in regard to class certification; others, such as the Ninth Circuit, have taken a somewhat different approach. Recently, the Southern District of California, in Stewart v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Labs., Inc., 2022 WL 5236821 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 5, 2022), weighed in on this question.
The JPML held its second hearing of 2022 at the end of March. We addressed the results of the first hearing recently here, and further observed the JPML’s trend over the course of the last several years in forming fewer MDL proceedings each year. As we move further into 2022, it is clear this trend has continued.
In April, the JPML formed two new MDLs out of four total petitions, bringing the cumulative total of new MDLs in 2022 to four (out of seven petitions considered)—well below the typical quarterly pace for new MDLs, including that of 2021. Through its orders, the JPML provided insights into the circumstances that justify MDL formation, and those that do not. We briefly discuss these orders below:
Centralization of claims in multidistrict litigation has become the new normal—so much so, that MDL proceedings now comprise more than 50 percent of the federal civil caseload. But has MDL practice in the United States peaked? Only time will tell. While the total number of MDL cases remains high (424,720 cases as of mid-February), the vast majority of these cases are concentrated in just a few of the more crowded MDL dockets. And as the annual MDL statistics in recent years show, the total number of new MDL petitions submitted, and granted, has been in decline. In 2021, for example, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation received 33 total MDL petitions, granting only 19—compared with 44 petitions (26 granted) the year before.
When plaintiffs request damages for noneconomic loss such as pain and suffering, courts are split on whether a defendant can require a plaintiff to disclose during discovery how much the plaintiff intends to ask the jury to award in noneconomic damages. A recent decision from a federal district court in Minnesota, however, required the plaintiff to do just that.
In Lewis v. City of Burnsville, 2020 WL 3496990 (D. Minn. June 29, 2020), the defendants asked the plaintiff during discovery to itemize the damages that she was seeking and “produce documentary support for her damages claim.” The plaintiff declined to provide this information, arguing that it was impossible to calculate her noneconomic loss. The magistrate judge, however, ruled that the plaintiff had to disclose how much she was seeking in noneconomic damages “along with the basis for that figure,” if the plaintiff intended to ask the jury for a specific dollar amount (or range) of noneconomic damages at trial.