NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Topics

Civil Procedure

Results

The False Promise of MDL Bellwether Reform: How Mandatory Bellwether Trial Consent Would Further Mire Multidistrict Litigation

Jonathan Steinberg

Over one third of all pending cases in the federal court system are part of a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) proceeding. Previous and ongoing MDLs include claims stemming from the opioid epidemic, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Football League concussion cases, and a myriad of pharmaceutical and medical products liability suits. Both the percentage and sheer number of cases utilizing this form of aggregate litigation have dramatically increased in recent years. Bellwether trials, designed to test the facts and legal theories underpinning many of the consolidated cases, are a key feature of MDLs in facilitating resolution. This Note examines the role of MDL bellwether trials and the potential impact of proposed reforms. Part I surveys the functions of bellwether trials as well as current judicial limitations imposed on the practice. Part II examines proposals that would further restrict the use of MDL bellwether trials: first, a bill from the 115th Congress and second, proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These proposals would require the consent of all parties for an MDL bellwether to ensue. Finally, Part III explores the potential effects of these proposed reforms as well as the discrepancies between their purported aims and the likely impact of their enactment. These proposals would exacerbate the MDL “black hole,” result in less informed settlements, and create more opacity in the MDL process. Principally, they are an attempt to wrest power over procedure to cement defendants’ structural advantage over the MDL.

MDL Revolution

Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Abbe R. Gluck

Over the past 50 years, multidistrict litigation (MDL) has quietly revolutionized civil procedure. MDLs include the largest tort cases in U.S. history, but without the authority of the class-action rule, MDL judges—who formally have only pretrial jurisdiction over individual cases—have resorted to extraordinary procedural exceptionalism to settle cases on a national scale. Substantive state laws, personal jurisdiction, transparency, impartiality, reviewability, federalism, and adequate representation must all yield if doing so fulfills that one goal.

Somehow, until now, this has remained below the surface to everyone but MDL insiders. Thanks to the sprawling MDL over the opioid crisis—and unprecedented opposition to it—MDL is finally in public view. State attorneys general have resisted the opioid MDL’s intense nationalism, its relentless drive to global settlement, its wild procedural innovation, its blurring of differences across state law, and its dramatic assertions of jurisdictional authority. Opiates is the most extraordinary MDL yet, but most big MDLs share many of its features, and Opiates is already the roadmap for the next mega-cases. Moreover, even as resistance to Opiates has dispersed some of the MDL’s early power, that resistance itself has come in the form of unusual procedural mechanisms.

MDL is designed for individual cases—giving similar suits filed in different districts an efficient pretrial process before sending them home for trial. In reality, that is pure fiction. Few cases ever return. And the MDL’s mode of coordination—from its anti-federalism stance to its insistence that each proceeding is too unique to be confined by the Federal Rules—chafes at almost every aspect of procedure’s traditional rules and values. MDL is not-so-secretly changing the face of civil procedure.

This Article weaves together for the first time these exceptional features of MDL and their disruption of procedure’s core assumptions. Is MDL a revolution? Or simply a symptom of a larger set of modern procedural tensions manifesting in many forms? Either way, it begs the question: What do we expect of litigation on this scale?

We recognize that MDL fills important gaps by providing access to courts but argue for some return to regular order to safeguard due process, federalism, and sovereignty. We suggest specific shifts—from more pretrial motions to new paths for appellate review, attorney selection, and jurisdictional redundancy—where the normative balance seems particularly out of whack; shifts we believe are in line with the spirit of Federal Rule 1’s own inherent paradox—the ideal of “just, speedy and inexpensive procedure.”

We also offer the first comprehensive analysis of the historic suits over the opioid crisis. Opiates is the first MDL that pits localities against their own state attorneys general in a struggle for litigation control. Its judge has publicly stated that solving a national health crisis that Congress dumped in his lap is different from ordinary litigation. Opiates has even invented a new form of class action. It is hyper-dialectical, jurisdictionally competitive, outcome-oriented, repeat-player-rich, fiercely creative procedure.

Litigation as Parenting

Lisa V. Martin

Children have legal rights. Yet, children typically lack the legal capacity to represent their interests in courts. When federal courts are presented with children’s claims, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require courts to ensure that children’s legal interests are adequately protected. To do so, courts decide who can speak and make decisions for the child within the litigation. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) maps out a loose process for addressing these concerns but fails to fully account for a critical factor in protecting child litigants: the decisionmaking rights of parents. 

Because parents have constitutionally protected authority to make important decisions for their children, litigation brought on a child’s behalf presents a collision of rights and obligations between parents, children, and “the state,” here, the federal courts. Court doctrine interpreting Rule 17(c) is tangled and inconsistent and fails to offer clear guidance regarding what preference, if any, parents should have to represent their children’s interests in litigation. This Article proposes for the first time that constitutional doctrine establishing parents’ protected decisionmaking authority should make parents the default representatives for their children in federal civil litigation. The Article presents an account of court practices and an analytical framework to guide courts’ application of Rule 17(c), which implements the general constitutional rule of parent priority while upholding the courts’ responsibility to protect children’s interests. 

Jurisdiction, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies, and Constitutional Claims

Peter A. Devlin

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies says that a person challenging an agency decision must first pursue the agency’s available remedies before seeking judicial review. It was created by courts in order to promote an efficient justice system and autonomous administrative state. Congress has since written exhaustion requirements into many statutes to ensure and guide its application. Consequently, a court interpreting one of these statutory versions must first decide whether it is a jurisdictional rule or not. The fallout from this decision is the topic of this Note. By definition, jurisdictional rules are rigid: Courts may not create exceptions to them, parties may not waive or forfeit them, and they will loom over the proceedings from start to finish. Faced with a jurisdictional exhaustion requirement, courts have had to choose between diluting the concept of jurisdiction and allowing injustice. In this Note, I look for a way out of this tradeoff. I argue that statutory exhaustion requirements are neither jurisdictional nor non-jurisdictional rules, but rather mandatory rules with a particular set of effects on courts and parties. Courts, for example, may not apply equitable exceptions to statutory exhaustion requirements, but agencies may waive or forfeit them. I define this “mandatory” exhaustion by looking to case law, jurisdiction theory, constitutional structure, and the purposes of exhaustion. I also develop an exception for constitutional claims that arise outside of an agency’s proceedings. This exception helps avoid the threat to separation of powers that requiring exhaustion for such claims would create. As a result, if courts used mandatory exhaustion then they would be empowered to avoid injustice without creating a conceptual mess. Commentators have suggested that exhaustion requirements might be mandatory in nature, and the Second Circuit has treated them as such. But neither has provided much guidance on what that means. I try to fill in that gap by developing a descriptive and normative case for categorizing them as mandatory rules.

In Defense of Nationwide Injunctions

Amanda Frost

With increasing frequency, courts are issuing nationwide injunctions barring the executive from enforcing federal laws and policies against anyone, not just the plaintiffs in the case before them. Nationwide injunctions halted President Obama’s initiative granting deferred action to undocumented immigrants and his Department of Education’s interpretive guidance on the treatment of transgender students in public schools. More recently, district courts enjoined President Trump’s travel ban, as well as his administration’s policy of withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities.” Legal scholars have criticized the practice, Congress is considering legislation to prohibit it, and commentators are calling for the Supreme Court to address it. A consensus is forming that courts should never issue nationwide injunctions, period. Indeed, some scholars contend that federal courts lack the constitutional authority to do so under any circumstances.

This Article provides the first sustained academic defense of nationwide injunctions. In some cases, nationwide injunctions are the only means to provide plaintiffs with complete relief, or to prevent harm to thousands of individuals who cannot quickly bring their own cases before the courts. And sometimes anything short of a nationwide injunction would be impossible to administer. When a district court is asked to pass on the validity of certain types of federal policies with nationwide effects—such as policies affecting the air or water, or the nation’s immigration system—it would be extremely difficult to enjoin application of the policy to some plaintiffs but not others. Furthermore, nothing in the Constitution’s text or structure bars federal courts from issuing a remedy that extends beyond the parties. To the contrary, such injunctions enable federal courts to play their essential role as a check on the political branches.

Statutory Interpretation in a Choice of Law Context

Lindsay Traylor Braunig

A court’s method of decisionmaking regarding interstate choice of law affects forum shopping and class action strategy. Rather than read vaguely worded state statutes with the expectation of discovering a legislative intent with respect to extraterritorial application, as the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws suggests, courts should employ a rebuttable presumption that the legislature has not considered the choice of law issue. When a court is faced with an interstate choice of law question in which one potentially applicable law is a statute of the forum state, in the absence of explicit statutory language regarding how a choice of law analysis should be conducted for the forum statute in question, the court should decide which law to apply not by attempting to divine some nonexistent legislative intent but by resorting to the general choice of law principles utilized in the forum state.

Beyond Tanner: An Alternative Framework for Postverdict Juror Testimony

Benjamin T. Huebner

Almost twenty years ago, the Supreme Court’s decision in Tanner v. United States established that under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) juror intoxication was an “internal” influence to which jurors were incompetent to testify. Since that decision, many states have discarded their diverse approaches regarding the admissibility of juror testimony on juror misconduct in favor of Tanner’s external/internal framework.

This Note demonstrates why the policy considerations justifying restrictions on juror testimony are not well served by Tanner’s external/internal framework. The Note offers states an alternative approach to the issue of juror misconduct which would better protect both jurors and litigants.

Finishing a Friendly Argument: The Jury and the Historical Origins of Diversity Jurisdiction

Robert L. Jones

This Article argues that diversity jurisdiction was intended to funnel politically significant litigation into the federal courts principally because federal officials would have the power to dictate the composition of federal juries. All existing accounts for the origins of diversity jurisdiction ultimately rely upon putative differences between the state and federal benches for their explanations of the jurisdiction’s origin. This emphasis on the bench is anachronistic, however, because the jury possessed far more power than the bench to decide cases in eighteenth-century American courts. American juries during this period customarily had the right to decide issues of law as well as fact and were largely beyond the control of the bench. The Framers saw state court juries—independent bodies of citizens with almost unfettered power to resolve legal disputes—as one of the greatest dangers in allowing ordinary citizens too much control over the governance of the nation. By wresting adjudicative power out of the hands of state court juries and bestowing it upon federal juries whose compositions could be tightly controlled by federal officials, diversity jurisdiction accomplished the Constitution’s overarching purpose of checking the operation of “unrestrained” democracy in the states.

Once the federal courts were established, federal officials controlled the composition of federal juries in several ways. In most districts, federal marshals dictated the composition of federal juries by hand-selecting jurors of their choice. In addition, Congress ensured that the political, economic, and social characteristics of federal juries would differ dramatically from their state counterparts by providing that the federal courts would draw their juries overwhelmingly from the urban, commercial centers of the nation. The state courts, by contrast, drew their juries predominantly from the agrarian populations living outside those centers. It is highly unlikely that this pervasive control over the composition of federal juries was an unintended consequence of the Constitution. Instead, as this Article argues, the evidence strongly suggests that the federal officials’ control over the composition of federal juries constituted the single most important impetus behind the creation of diversity jurisdiction and a significant rationale for the establishment of the lower federal courts.

Finality in Class Action Litigation: Lessons from Habeas

William B. Rubenstein

A class action can only bind class members who are “adequately represented,” and thus a class action court necessarily determines representational adequacy. But should class members who were not an active part of that proceeding be able to relitigate adequacy in a collateral forum at a later date so as to evade the binding effect of the class judgment? Courts and scholars have generated a bipolar response to that question, with one side arguing that full relitigation is required by the constitutional nature of the question and the other insisting that no relitigation is permitted because of the issue-preclusive effect of the class court’s holding. Despite the richness of this debate, myriad specific questions about the availability, substance, and procedural details of the relitigation opportunity remain unexamined. In this Article, Professor Rubenstein expands the conversation outward by comparing class action law’s approach to relitigation of adequacy of representation with habeas corpus’s approach to relitigation of ineffective assistance of counsel claims in criminal cases. Using two recent, seemingly unconnected Supreme Court cases—one from each field—as case studies, Professor Rubenstein explains how these cases in fact raise remarkably similar questions. Specifically, the comparison reveals that habeas provides a relatively clear, rule-based system that specifies when—and according to what procedural rules—relitigation is available. Professor Rubenstein concludes by arguing that there are lessons for class action law in habeas’s approach: a method for considering when relitigation is appropriate that avoids the extremes of either “always” or “never”; a rule system that helps identify issues (such as substantive standards, degrees of deference, burdens of proof, and defaults) that have yet to be carefully examined in class action law; and a template for balancing the competing policy concerns at issue. Without defending current habeas doctrine, and without pretending that habeas and class actions are overtly similar, the Article nonetheless demonstrates that class action law’s relitigation problem can learn something through a close look at criminal law’s relitigation solutions.

Valuing the Federal Right: Reevaluating the Outer Limits of Supplemental Jurisdiction

Neel K. Chopra

The federal circuit courts are divided on the question of whether the federal courts’ supplemental jurisdiction power encompasses permissive state law counterclaims that lack an independent basis of federal jurisdiction. By analyzing the arguments set forth in various circuit court decisions, this Note develops a new approach for assessing the availability of supplemental jurisdiction over permissive state law counterclaims. It argues that the federal courts may assert jurisdiction over state law counterclaims only when the federal interest supports hearing those state law claims.

1 2 3 7