To improve the efficiency of the federal courts (whose dockets are overwhelming) Congress created a procedural device back in the 1960s called Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”). The device allows a large number of related cases filed in multiple federal districts to be consolidated before a single federal judge. (Imagine, for example, a thousand product-liability cases filed by a thousand individuals against a single drug manufacturer in fifty federal courts.) The device permits one judge to coordinate discovery, rule on pretrial matters, and even hold bellwether (or representative) trials. Judges and lawyers appreciate the efficiency and consistency of rulings MDLs promote.
The Supreme Court recently issued an opinion on a matter of consequence to MDLs. An MDL was created to consolidate 60 cases involving allegations that several banks conspired to violate antitrust laws. The MDL judge granted the banks’ motion to dismiss one of the cases on the ground that the plaintiffs had suffered no antitrust injury. The other cases remained before the MDL judge. The question was whether the plaintiffs whose case was dismissed could file an appeal immediately even though the MDL continued apace.
The justices unanimously said yes, holding that the right to appeal arises when an MDL judge dismisses a case, not when the entire MDL proceeding ends.
This was a sensible ruling. Although MDLs promote efficiency, they sometimes last for years. It would be unfair to require a plaintiff whose case is dismissed in the early stages of an MDL to wait years before filing an appeal (which itself may take more than two years to resolve); that would risk a “denial of justice through delay.” The Court’s opinion can be found here.