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What to Know Before Attending an MDL Hearing

Several times a year, the United States Judicial Panel on multi-district Litigation meets to determine whether cases spanning several jurisdictions should be consolidated to one federal district for pretrial proceedings. But there are a lot of unknowns for people who have never attended an MDL hearing. For example, did you know that attorneys making oral arguments at the hearing are limited to just two minutes – a very hard time frame to make a valuable point in.

Once the person making the argument has reached the 90-second mark, they are flashed a yellow light alerting them that they have just 30 seconds remaining to make their final remarks. Once their 30 seconds of fame is up, they get the red light which means they must stop talking unless the judges continue with questioning.

Non-MDL goers might be surprised to learn that the Judicial Panel has a sense of humor and at times can be down-right hilarious, making the long hearing more bearable for those in attendance. 

Understanding MDLs and Why They Are Important

Multi-district litigation (MDL) is a procedure utilized in the federal court system to transfer all pending civil cases of a similar type filed throughout the United States to one federal judge. The decision whether cases should be transferred is made by a panel of seven federal judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Judicial Panel on multi-district litigation, known informally as the MDL Panel, was created by an Act of Congress in 1968 – 28 U.S.C. §1407.

Over the past 30-plus years, MDL filings have increased. Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act in 2005 (CAFA) and as a result, class action suits with national economic implications and involving numerous plaintiffs and defendants from multiple states became more easily removable to federal court. This has been advantageous for both the plaintiffs’ and the defense bar for different reasons, but one commonality is that Section 1407 centralization creates huge savings and efficiencies of scale for all attorneys in litigating national cases.

The Panel’s work plays an increasingly important role in the distribution and reduction of the judicial workload. Their primary job is:

  • Determine whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.

  • Select the judge or judges and court assigned to conduct such proceedings. The purposes of this transfer or “centralization” process are to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.

Who’s Who of the Panel

The MDL Panel consists of seven sitting federal judges, who are appointed to serve on the Panel by the Chief Justice of the United States. The multi-district litigation statute provides that no two Panel members may be from the same federal judicial circuit. 

MDL Resources

2019 MDL Dates and Locations

Contact Heffler Claims for all settlement administration needs.

Learn More About the Judges
James Prustman
James (Jim) Prutsman has more than 20 years of experience in the administration of some of the highest profile class action settlements in the United States. He is a recognized expert with extensive experience in the planning, development of systems, process and procedures for the successful administration of hundreds of matters.


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