Washington D.C. – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has expressed his concerns about the binding nature of mass-tort bellwether trials in multidistrict litigation. In a recent dissent from the Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in an appeal by E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Thomas voiced his “serious doubts” about using bellwether trials to prevent defendants from relitigating issues that have already been decided in lawsuits by different plaintiffs.
The issue arose in a class action suit filed by 80,000 residents who sued E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. over the discharge of a potentially carcinogenic chemical into the Ohio River. The multidistrict litigation involved the selection of three nonbinding bellwether trials, which resulted in verdicts for the plaintiffs and subsequently led to settlements in other cases.
However, when more plaintiffs filed lawsuits, a federal judge ruled that E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. could not relitigate issues that had been decided in the bellwether trials. While causation and damages were still to be determined, the judge held that the defendant could not challenge issues of duty, breach, and foreseeability.
Justice Thomas argues that applying the doctrine of nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel to MDL litigation is unfair and goes against the purpose of streamlining pretrial issues for all related cases. He believes that the bellwether trials are meant to gather information and do not have the binding effect intended by the MDL court.
Thomas raises concerns about fairness and due process for defendants in MDL cases after bellwether trials. He suggests that this issue should be resolved promptly, considering the significant proportion of MDL cases in the federal docket.
Overall, Justice Clarence Thomas has expressed his doubts about the use of bellwether trials to prevent defendants from relitigating issues in multidistrict litigation. He argues that extending the doctrine of nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel to MDL cases raises concerns about fairness and due process for defendants. This issue has garnered attention from legal publications such as SCOTUSblog, Reuters, Law.com, and Courthouse News Service.