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Given a string of decisions restricting the use and availability of the class action device, the world of mass litigation may well be moving into a post-class action era. In this era, newer devices of aggregation—perhaps principally among them multi-district litigation (“MDL”)—increasingly will be called upon to meet the age-old mass litigation goal of achieving global peace of numerous claims arising out of a related, widespread harm. Indeed, coordination of pretrial proceedings in the MDL frequently facilitates the achievement of this peace, given the reality that cases, once consolidated in the MDL, often settle en masse.

However, one clear obstacle to the achievement of aggregate peace in the MDL, one that also plagues the achievement of that peace in the class action world, is our federal system of substantive and procedural law. In the MDL context, the problem arises because litigation involving state-law claims and non-diverse parties, which are not removable from state court, cannot be transferred to the MDL court. Despite their prevalence, little scholarly attention has been devoted to non-removable state-court actions in MDL. The few responses to this issue have largely focused upon the efficiencies that could be gained through increased, and perhaps total, consolidation of all related cases or, short of consolidation, through heightened coordination of pre-trial proceedings between state and federal judges.

This article questions whether these responses have led reform proposals in the wrong direction, and instead takes a different view. Rather than argue for increased consolidation, I offer for further consideration the possible ways in which the happenstantial existence of parallel tracks of related state and federal cases actually hold promise, if properly harnessed, as mechanisms for achieving the goals of aggregate litigation and for disciplining the contours of global settlements of mass disputes. In particular, I explore the possibility that the existence of parallel state and federal cases—frequently viewed as an obstacle to global resolution of claims unable to be consolidated in a single forum—may well fortuitously provide an opportunity to achieve the sorts of mass litigation resolution envisioned but unsuccessfully attempted in the class action context. In so doing, this article adds new thoughts and theories to the specific debate regarding parallel state and federal claims in MDL, as well as to the larger debate about mass litigation governance in a post-class action world.

Publication Citation

5 J. Tort L. 1-44 (2014)