It's Not over 'Til It's Over: Mandating Federal Pretrial Jurisdiction and Oversight in Mass Torts

By Pierce, Tanya | Missouri Law Review, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

It's Not over 'Til It's Over: Mandating Federal Pretrial Jurisdiction and Oversight in Mass Torts


Pierce, Tanya, Missouri Law Review


TABLE OF CONTENTS    I. INTRODUCTION   II. MULTIDISTRICT CONSOLIDATION  III. CLASS TREATMENT UNDER CAFA   IV. RESPONSES TO DUPLICATIVE LITIGATION    V. ANTI-INJUNCTION ACT LIMITS TO COURTS' MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY        A. Exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act            1. "Expressly Authorized" Exception            2. "Necessary-in-Aid-of-Jurisdiction" Exception            3. "Relitigation" Exception        B. "Necessary-in-Aid-of-Jurisdiction " in Multidistrict           Litigation            1. Interpretations of the "Necessary-in-Aid-of-Jurisdiction"               Exception in Multidistrict Litigation            2. The Vioxx Case   VI. CRITICISM AND CONFUSION SURROUNDING THE ANTI-INJUNCTION ACT  VII. SUPREME COURT DECISIONS FAVORING FEDERALISM AND STRICT STATUTORY       CONSTRUCTION OVER EFFICIENCY VIII. EXPANDING FEDERAL PRETRIAL JURISDICTION AND OVERSIGHT       OF RESULTING SETTLEMENTS    IX. CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

Nearly twenty years ago, speaking of the difficulties inherent in managing mass tort cases, Chief Justice William Rehnquist predicted that without coordinated state and federal mechanisms, lawyers would "seek to pursue duplicative and exhaustive litigation." (1) And some courts, "operating under a parochial view of the situation," would allow them to do so. (2) He warned that the result would be "expense, delay, resulting crowding of dockets, divergent decisions on identical factual questions, and sometimes the insolvency of the defendants who are being sued." (3) Despite this and similar warnings, (4) expensive and exhaustive litigation is exactly what has happened in many cases.

Because of concurrent jurisdiction in mass tort litigation, (5) lawyers often file tens of thousands of separate but related lawsuits in federal and state courts all over the country. (6) No existing procedural mechanism requires co ordination of all of these related cases. Therefore, this type of litigation threatens inconsistent awards or even the bankruptcy of defendants (7) such that no resources would be available to pay injured plaintiffs who file suit later but who may be just as entitled to compensation. (8) In addition, even when courts and parties engage in massive, voluntary coordination efforts and are able to negotiate settlements, holdover parallel litigation may threaten those efforts. (9) If those threats are not effectively controlled, courts may become unable to manage future litigation and facilitate other settlements.

The prohibition against anti-suit injunctions contained in the Anti-Injunction Act is central to the problems of overlapping state and federal suits. (10) Enacted in 1793 (11) and last amended in 1948, the Anti-Injunction Act provides, "A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." (12) Unless one of these three enumerated exceptions applies, the Anti-Injunction Act precludes a federal court from enjoining duplicative, parallel state litigation. (13)

According to the Supreme Court of the United States in its 1970 decision Atlantic Coastline Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. (14) --the seminal case interpreting the "necessary-in-aid-of-jurisdiction" exception to the Anti-Injunction Act--the need for the Anti-Injunction Act grew out of a compromise reached by the Framers of the Constitution. (15) The Framers disagreed about the need for separate federal and state court systems. (16) Some argued that separate federal courts were not needed because the state courts could be trusted to protect both state and federal rights. (17) But others cautioned that the Constitution itself should provide for a complete system of federal courts to decide federal legal problems. (18) This disagreement resulted in a compromise: the Constitution itself created the Supreme Court, and rather than the Constitution itself creating the lower federal courts, the Constitution gave Congress that authority. …

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