Judicial Panel Grants Defense Request, Opposed by Virtually All Plaintiffs, for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 but Rejects Defense Request to Transfer Class Actions to Alabama
Eighteen (18) putative class action lawsuits were filed in ten federal courts against Tyson Foods, Tyson Chicken and Tyson Farms (collectively “Tyson”) alleging, inter alia, violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act Litigation (FLSA). In re Tyson Foods, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 1358, 2007 WL 2386422, *1 (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. 2007). Defense attorneys filed a motion with the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) requesting centralization of the class actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 in the Northern District of Alabama, where four of the class actions were pending. The Georgia plaintiffs supported centralization but urged the Judicial Panel to coordinate the class actions in either Arkansas or Georgia, but lawyers for plaintiffs in the remaining 17 class action lawsuits opposed centralization. Id. The Judicial Panel granted the motion to centralize the class actions, explaining that the 18 class actions “involve common questions of fact” that “aris[e] out of similar allegations that certain Tyson employees are entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act” such that “[c]entralization under Section 1407 will eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent rulings on pretrial motions, including those with respect to certification of collective actions; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.” Id. In rejecting plaintiff objections that centralization was not necessary because the class action did not involve “significant overlapping issues of fact” because “the actions will likely depend on facts unique to each Tyson plant at which plaintiffs worked,” id., the Panel explained its reasons for disagreement as follows:
Transfer under Section 1407 does not require a complete identity or even a majority of common factual or legal issues as a prerequisite to transfer. Regardless of any differences among the actions, they raise common factual questions regarding Tyson’s employment practices and compliance with the FLSA. Centralization under Section 1407 has the salutary effect of placing all actions in this docket before a single judge who can formulate a pretrial program that: (1) allows discovery with respect to any non-common issues to proceed concurrently with discovery on common issues…; and (2) ensures that pretrial proceedings will be conducted in a streamlined manner leading to the just and expeditious resolution of all actions to the overall benefit of the parties and the judiciary. (Citation omitted.)
The Panel further explained that while certain actions “may be ready for trial in advance of the remaining actions,” this does not preclude pretrial coordination because “nothing in the nature of Section 1407 centralization will impede the transferee court, whenever it deems appropriate, from recommending Section 1407 remand.” In re Tyson Foods, at *2 (citations omitted).
Though it granted the defense motion for centralization, the Judicial Panel did not concur in the defense request to transfer the class actions to Alabama, selecting instead the Middle District of Georgia as the appropriate transferee court because it “has general docket conditions permitting us to effect the Section 1407 assignment to a court with the resources available to manage this litigation.” In re Tyson Foods, at *2.