Who Will Manage Complex Civil Litigation?: The Decision to Transfer and Consolidate Multidistrict Litigation

36 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2010 Last revised: 20 Oct 2010

See all articles by Margaret S. Williams

Margaret S. Williams

Federal Judicial Center; Visiting Scholar

Tracey E. George

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: July 1, 2010


The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation may transfer factually related actions filed in different federal districts to a single judge for consolidated pretrial litigation. This transferee judge has significant discretion over the management of the litigation, and nearly all cases are resolved without returning to the original district court. Thus, as a practical matter, the Panel controls where these disputes will be litigated. And, the Panel has substantial discretion in making that decision. In its forty years of existence, the Panel has transferred roughly 325,000 lawsuits including high-profile securities and derivative lawsuits (the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff), consumer claims (Countrywide Mortgage’s lending practices), and mass torts ranging from the Vioxx litigation to the Union Carbine disaster in Bhopal to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. BP already has moved to consolidate and transfer more than 100 Gulf of Mexico oil spill suits filed against it in the various districts along the Gulf coast to the Southern District of Texas for pre-trial litigation, and potentially related suits filed in the future are likely to be transferred as well. The current study provides the first empirical investigation of the Panel’s decision to transfer and consolidate pending federal civil lawsuits, examining the rationale for transfer and for the selection of a specific district court and judge to handle the consolidated litigation. The results provided here represent a draft paper based on a sample from an ongoing data project which ultimately will include all Panel orders.

Keywords: Federal Courts, U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, Multidistrict Litigation, Civil Litigation, Complex Litigation, District Judges, Text Analysis

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Williams, Margaret S. and Williams, Margaret S. and George, Tracey E., Who Will Manage Complex Civil Litigation?: The Decision to Transfer and Consolidate Multidistrict Litigation (July 1, 2010). 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1633703 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1633703

Margaret S. Williams

Federal Judicial Center ( email )

Washington, DC 20002
United States
202-502-4080 (Phone)

Visiting Scholar ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States

Tracey E. George (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics