Asbestos MDL judge clears half million cases off docket

Steve Korris May 7, 2009, 4:29am


PHILADELPHIA – U. S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno has cleared away more than half a million asbestos suits this year and he plans to keep up the pace.

On April 30, Robreno denied a motion from the Motley Rice law firm in Mount Pleasant, S.C., to rearrange his structure for resolving claims.

"The request by certain plaintiffs to alter it wholesale will neither improve efficiency nor promote the interests of justice," he wrote.

He wrote that in 2009 his court has resolved 510,000 claims by settlement, voluntary dismissal or dismissals.

That equals 30,000 a week, or 6,000 every business day.

Robreno presides over pretrial proceedings for about 50,000 plaintiffs around the nation by appointment of the U. S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.

He revolutionized asbestos litigation last year by requiring each plaintiff to assert a specific claim against each defendant.

The average plaintiff seeks recovery from about 60 companies.
Robreno fragmented his docket into 3.3 million pieces and put the burden on plaintiff lawyers to deliver 3.3 million sets of facts.

He picked a platoon of magistrates to hold settlement conferences, and in his own court he began weekly hearings on motions to dismiss hundreds of plaintiffs.

The results have pleased Robreno but they haven't pleased plaintiff lawyers.

Motley Rice tried to turn the tide, asking Robreno to amend his administrative orders and remand bundles of cases to district courts.
Robreno flatly denied the motion to amend his orders.

On the motion to remand, he called Motley Rice's bluff by pointing out that multi district judges must remand cases when they are ready for trial.

He'll consider a motion to remand, he wrote, if counsel specifies that a plaintiff is prepared for trial without delay on the district court's normal docket.

Robreno will also expect a diagnostic report, the identity of defendants still viable, and certification that all parties have been served with the motion.

He will want to know, "Whether the injured plaintiff is alive."

A plaintiff must specify whether discovery is completed, report the status of settlement negotiations and certify that no outstanding motions remain.

A plaintiff must assess congestion in the district court docket.
Defendants will have 15 days to answer.

He offered an odd option of remand on the spot.

If a case is prepared for trial and all parties consent, he wrote, judges are available to hold trials in federal court at Philadelphia.

Robreno delivered more bad news to Motley Rice, denying a motion for relief from its duties as database liaison for the plaintiff steering committee.

"Motley Rice has not provided the court with the name of another member of the steering committee that is ready, willing and able to fill their role," he wrote.

If Motley Rice reaches agreement with another firm to take over the duties, Robreno wrote, he would entertain a motion to relieve Motley Rice.

A batch of claims slipped out of Robreno's jurisdiction on May 1, when Chrysler posted on his docket a master notice of suggestion of bankruptcy.

No judgment against Chrysler can be enforced outside the bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York, Alice Johnston of Pittsburgh wrote.

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