Subject: Multi-District Litigation

It’s an MDL World: Agreement is enough, or is it?

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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:

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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Issues Lone Pine Order in Zostavax MDL

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Multidistrict litigation is often criticized for enabling plaintiffs to file meritless cases and then hide in large inventories, hoping to be swept up in a settlement (whether global or otherwise) before the case is meaningfully probed through discovery.  Traditional tools such as plaintiff profile sheets and early screening orders represent a partial solution, as they can help identify cases with more obvious flaws such as those that are clearly time-barred or lack proof of product use.  But some issues, such as critical gaps in causation, are beyond the reach of the limited case-specific discovery permitted for most cases in an MDL.  Enter the Lone Pine order, a case management order by which a court requires all plaintiffs to produce evidence establishing specific elements of their claim.

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It’s an MDL World: The JPML issues its first orders of the year, creating two new MDLs

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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.

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Preemption Torpedoes State Law Claims against Generics Makers in Zantac MDL

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A judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida presiding over the In Re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Products Liability Litigation multidistrict litigation, MDL No. 2924, has held that state labeling and design defect claims against the makers, re-packagers, retailers, and distributors of generic forms for the popular heartburn medication Zantac were preempted by federal law.  The court subsequently dismissed these claims against 32 such Zantac generics makers and distributors.

The Zantac MDL was created by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on February 6, 2020.  The plaintiffs allege that ranitidine, the active ingredient in Zantac and its generic forms, breaks down into N-nitrosodimethylamine (“NDMA”), which is part of a group of compounds that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. The plaintiffs allege a variety of product liability and related claims against the makers and distributors of Zantac and its generic forms under federal and state laws.

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Plaintiff’s Firm Pays the Price for Dismissing Bellwether Cases

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On August 25, 2020, Judge Richard L. Young, S.D. Indiana, granted Cook Medical Inc.’s motion for sanctions against the plaintiff’s law firm in Burrage v. Cook Medical Inc. et al.

This case was one of many “no-injury” claims in the Cook IVC Filter MDL, meaning that the plaintiff did not claim any symptomatic injuries related to his IVC filter. It was selected as a bellwether case in August 2019 following a selection process that required substantial time and effort from the parties and the court. In June 2020, plaintiff’s counsel moved to voluntarily dismiss his claims with prejudice on the grounds that they have a “negative value” (meaning that the costs of litigating the case exceed the anticipated recovery), and Burrage never anticipated that the case would go to trial.

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Potential Embarrassment Insufficient to Enable Plaintiffs to Litigate Anonymously in Breast Implant MDL

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A New Jersey federal court has held that potential embarrassment is not enough to permit plaintiffs to litigate anonymously in a fight over breast implants.

In an August 13, 2020 letter order, the Hon. Joseph A. Dickson, U.S.M.J., ruled that the plaintiffs alleging that defendant Allergan Inc. hid health risks associated with its textured breast implants must reveal their identifies in court filings in the MDL litigation captioned In re: Allergan BIOCELL Textured Breast Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 19-MD-2121.

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