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NFL Concussion Lawsuits are Headed to Philadelphia

2012 January 31
by admin

Corrected at 4:29 pm

As expected, the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation granted the NFL’s motion to transfer and consolidate four (Easterling, Maxwell, Pear & Barnes) pending lawsuits to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuits will be assigned to Judge Anita B. Brody. The Panel’s decision was based upon judicial economy and the lawsuits share common questions of fact (i.e. whether concussions while playing in the NFL caused long-term brain damage). The other (17) pending lawsuits may potentially become “tag-along actions,” and if so, they will join the four lawsuits.

In addition, the Panel ruled that the Riddell defendant’s objection to the transfer is overruled since it has also been named as a defendant in at least three of the pending lawsuits. The Panel stated, it is unclear “how closely related the claims against the Riddell defendants are to the claims against the NFL.” Therefore, it will be up to Judge Brody to determine if the Riddell defendant’s claims should be severed and remanded to the transferor court or remain in front of the transferee court.

As an aside, the term “transferee court” is used to describe the court where the lawsuits will be transferred. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania will be called the transferee court, and Jude Brody will be referred to as the transferee judge. Judy Brody will have complete jurisdiction over the lawsuits.

Jude Brody’s first goal–after the other tag-along actions are transferred to her–will be to schedule a conference and have the lawyers appoint lead counsel and a steering committee. The reasoning for this is to ensure that all common questions of law and fact are fairly represented. Since there are over thirty lawyers with varying skills and styles, designating a leader to orchestrate the lawsuits is supposed to be efficient and preserve judicial resources.

Next, the plaintiffs may file a master complaint, which is simply used as an administrative tool. The only wrinkle will be that not all of the lawsuits named Riddell Helmets as a defendant. The plaintiffs may agree to add Riddell as a defendant, dismiss Riddell, or create two separate master complaints naming each defendant.

Finally, motion practice will begin. The defendants will file its motion to dismiss, and argue, among other things, that these lawsuits do not belong in court because this is a labor dispute covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Then the plaintiffs will respond, and once the issues are fully briefed, Judge Brody will decide if the claims are barred by the respective CBAs, or if the court is the proper forum to resolve the plaintiffs’ claims.

The litigation battle is underway, and I would expect things to start heating up very quickly.

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