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Administrative Agencies: U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, 1968-present
Congress established the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in April 1968 (82 Stat. 109) and granted it authority to transfer to a single district court the pretrial proceedings for civil cases involving common questions of fact. The Panel can transfer any type of civil case filed in the federal district courts, except for antitrust cases in which the federal government is a complainant. It may transfer cases on its own initiative, but generally the Panel acts at the request of a party. Congress authorized the Panel to approve the consolidation and coordination of pretrial proceedings if the transfer of related cases will contribute to the convenience of parties and witnesses. The Panel may assign the pretrial proceedings to a judge or judges of the district to which the cases are transferred or it may assign the proceedings to an experienced judge from a district that does not have any of the consolidated cases. The Panel can also request that a judge from another district or circuit be assigned temporarily by the Chief Justice or the chief judge of the circuit. As interpreted by the Supreme Court in Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26 (1998), the statute requires the Panel to remand all transferred cases to their original district courts for trial at or before the conclusion of the pretrial proceedings.
The Chief Justice of the United States appoints the members of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is composed of seven district or appeals court judges, each of whom must be from a different judicial circuit. The concurrence of four members is required for any Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation action. The Panel's office is located in Washington, D.C., and it convenes in various locations around the country to facilitate the participation of parties and witnesses and to accommodate its members, who continue to serve as judges for the courts to which they were originally appointed.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation was the successor to the Coordinating Committee for Multiple Litigation for the United States District Courts, which was established by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the Judicial Conference in 1962. The Coordinating Committee suggested procedures for the more efficient processing of the large number of antitrust cases involving electrical equipment manufacturers then pending in the federal courts. Expanding on the success of the committee's advisory role, Congress established the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation as a national court with the authority to order transfers, conduct hearings, publish opinions, and establish its own rules of practice.
As of September 30, 2001, the Panel had transferred more than 150,000 lawsuits in more than 800 multidistrict litigations. The subject of these litigations includes airplane crashes, injuries to people from defective products, patent infringements, and investment fraud.