In the wake of the recent Toyota recalls covering over 8 million vehicles and counting as well as numerous fatalities and injury accidents, litigation has been filed in various states against the giant automaker and more is expected in the near future. In cases like these, where the Defendant is a corporation, the Plaintiff often has a choice as to whether they want to file the case in State or Federal court. In order to file a lawsuit such as this in federal court, the case must either address a violation of federal law OR be considered a diversity case. A diversity case is one in which the parties are located in different states AND the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The requirement that the parties be located in different states can get complicated in the case of a corporation, but where the corporation is registered, where their main office is located and where they have done business can all be considered when deciding where they are located for purposes of the diversity test. Not surprisingly, a number of lawsuits have been filed against Toyota in federal court and more are anticipated. With the number of lawsuits expected to climb, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has stepped in and ordered that the cases be centralized in California. Why was this done? Who is the JPML and what effect will this decision have on the litigation?
First, the JPML was created by an act of Congress back in 1968 and has two main functions. First, the Panel looks at cases filed in U.S. Federal Courts to determine if they involve a common question of fact that would serve judicial economy by bringing all the cases into one court. Second, the Panel decides where the cases will be heard if they are centralized and who the Judge will be that hears them. This is NOT the same as joining the cases for the purposes of a class action. Under a centralization order from the JPML, the cases are only brought under the jurisdiction of a single court through the pre-trial discovery stage of the proceedings. If a case is not terminated at the end of the pre-trial discovery stage, then it is remanded back to its original court of jurisdiction. The idea behind the centralization order is to prevent duplication of discovery efforts and allow the parties to work together to conserve resources for the parties as well as the judiciary.
In the Toyota cases, the JMPL has ordered that the cases be centralized in California, due in large part to the fact that the majority of the cases filed to date have been filed in California. Additionally, Toyota’s U.S. Division’s headquarters are in Torrence, California which is where the JMPL has ordered that the pre-trial process take place. U.S District Judge James V. Selna has been appointed as the Judge that will oversee the pre-trial phase of the lawsuits.
While Judge Selna will not hear cases that ultimately go to trial (unless they were originally filed in his court), the decision to centralize these cases can have a huge effect on the outcomes for the Plaintiffs. As the Judge that oversees the pre-trial discovery process, Judge Selna will make important decisions about admissibility of evidence, testimony of witnesses and many other crucial issues. If the cases are not settled or dismissed by the time that discovery process is done, then they will be returned to their original court and another Judge will have chance to impact the outcome. For now, however, the future of many Toyota recall lawsuits rests in the hands of Judge Selna.
If you have additional questions, or have been personally injured by one of the Toyota recalled vehicles, please feel free to contact California Toyota recall attorney Emery Ledger of Ledger & Associates at 1-800-300-0001 or visit him online at www.ledgerlaw.com