Indiana federal district court refuses to issue writ of mandamus to judicial panel on MDL

MDL Case No. 1700 concerns more than 70 class action cases against FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (FedEx) consolidated in the Northern District of Indiana, alleging that FedEx improperly classified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.  In August 2010, Judge Robert J. Miller granted summary judgment for FedEx on all of the state-law claims in the Kansas case.  In re FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. Employment Practices Litig., 734 F. Supp. 2d 557 (N.D. Ind. 2010).  A few months later, Judge Miller granted summary judgment to FedEx on similar claims in most of the remaining cases, while at the same time granting summary judgment for plaintiffs on other claims in a few cases.  In re FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. Employment Practices Litig., 758 F. Supp. 2d 638 (N.D. Ind. 2010).
The result of these decisions was that all of the claims were resolved in 22 of the 34 still-pending MDL cases, while some claims remained pending in the other 12 MDL cases.  This presented the court with what it called "an interesting intersection between [Civil] Rule 54(b) and Section 1407."  Under one option, the district court could issue partial final judgments under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), allowing the plaintiffs to appeal immediately to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the 22 concluded cases.  The advantage to this avenue is uniformity because the issues in the closely-related appeals would be resolved by the same circuit court.  The downside to this option is that the remaining cases would be chopped into piecemeal appeals.  Under the second option, the cases would be transferred back to the original transferor courts for further proceedings, including possible appeal to the appropriate circuit court after a final judgment.  The advantage to this approach is that all issues in the same case would be appealed at the same time to the same court; the downside that similar issues in different cases would be decided by different circuit courts.
Judge Miller recommended to the JPML that the cases be remanded to the transferor courts.  The JPML, which has final authority over the question, agreed.  FedEx then sought a writ of mandamus from the Seventh Circuit to compel the JPML to require the cases to go forward in the Seventh Circuit.  The Seventh Circuit acknowledged that there were strong arguments for both courses of action, and thus there was no "clear and indisputable" right to a writ.  The court held that the choice should be left to the transferee court and JPML, who are in the best positions to make the judgment and need flexibility to exercise that judgment based on the circumstances in any particular case.
The FedEx court distinguished the contrary holding in In re Food Lion, Inc. Labor Standard Act "Efficient Scheduling" Litig., 73 F.3d 528 (4th Cir. 1996), where a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus to the JPML to undo its order transferring cases back to their transferor courts.  In contrast to the abundance of state-law claims in FedEx, Food Lion involved primarily federal claims, so that one uniform law would apply to claims in all cases. 
FedEx shows that the JPML has broad discretion to administer MDL, including to determine when MDL cases are remanded to their transferor courts and when and to what courts appeals from MDL cases proceed. 

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