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Why the JPML Chose California for the VW MDL

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All federally filed Volkswagen emissions lawsuits have been consolidated into one court in the Northern District of California. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer has been appointed to oversee the pretrial proceedings.

Three plaintiffs filed motions to establish a VW MDL, but disagreed on the best location. The Central District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Eastern District of Virginia were all suggested as appropriate venues. VW responded in support of centralization, and stated that the Eastern District of Michigan would be best.

According to the New York Times, there are currently about 460 VW lawsuits pending against the German automaker, with plaintiffs claiming that VW committed fraud by falsely advertising its diesel vehicles as being environmentally friendly, when in truth, they were emitting some toxins (including nitrogen oxide) at levels above those allowed by U.S. law.

JPML Agrees that VW Lawsuits Should be Consolidated

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) heard arguments on consolidation on December 3, 2015, in New Orleans. VW argued for Michigan, while plaintiffs made their cases for other courts.

In a December 8, 2015 order, the JPML noted the parties advocated for 28 transferee districts across the nation. In addition to those listed above, the Central, Eastern, Northern, and Southern Districts of California; Northern and Southern Districts of Illinois; Eastern and Southern Districts of New York; Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio; Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of Tennessee; Northern District of Alabama; the District of Arizona; District of Columbia; District of Kansas; Western District of Kentucky; Eastern District of Louisiana; District of Massachusetts; District of Minnesota; District of New Jersey; Northern District of Texas; and Western District of Washington were all put forward as good options.

The JPML agreed that consolidation was a good idea, since the actions involve common questions of fact, and centralization “will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.” Among those common questions of fact include the main one: VW equipped certain diesel engines with software allegedly designed to engage emissions controls only when the vehicles undergo official emissions testing, while at other times these controls were allegedly released, allowing the vehicle to emit toxins in excess of legal limits.

The panel also agreed that centralization would help eliminate duplicative discovery, avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.

JPML Decides on Northern District of California

In deciding where to hold the new VW MDL, the panel considered the following:

• The controversy touches multiple districts across the U.S. For example, VW Group of America is based in the Eastern District of Virginia, “where corporate executives and certain relevant documents and witnesses may be found.” New Jersey is the domestic VW affiliates’ State of Incorporation and where some of its U.S. regional operations are based. There are several other examples. Tennessee, for instance, is home to a large VW manufacturing plant that produced some of the vehicles.
• Because so many districts may yield discovery, the court decided that no single district had a “paramount fatal connection to these cases.”
• California is the state with the most affected vehicles and dealers.
• California is also where the vehicles were tested, and the fraudulent software originally discovered.
• California is the home of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which played a key role in investigating and revealing VW’s use of the defeat devices.
• None of the cases filed so far has advanced far enough to give any particular insight or knowledge to any one district.

The panel ultimately chose the Northern District of California because there are already 30 actions pending there, including the first one to be filed in the country, and plaintiffs have filed a total of 101 cases there. In addition, witnesses may be found there, because of the CARB.