Proposed New Rule 16.1 Encourages Early Assessment of Discovery Issues in MDLs

On March 28, 2023, the federal judiciary’s Advisory Committee on Civil Rules voted in favor of publishing draft Rule 16.1 regarding initial case management in multidistrict litigation (MDL) for public comment.

Although the proposed rule does not require a transferee court to hold an initial management conference, it encourages the transferee court to do so in order to “develop a management plan for orderly pretrial activity in the MDL proceedings.”  While most courts already hold one or more management conferences at an early stage of MDL proceedings, the Draft Committee Note to the proposed rule emphasizes the need to formalize “a framework for the initial management of MDL proceedings” given that MDLs account for a large percentage of the federal civil docket.  

The proposed rule encourages the court to provide litigants with a set of issues that they must address at the initial conference and outlines a non-exhaustive list of twelve topics for courts to consider. Four of these topics have the potential to impact the parties’ discovery strategy:

Identification of the principal factual and legal issues likely to be presented in the MDL proceedings. Whether by agreement or by order of the court, early identification of the key factual and legal issues in the MDL has the potential to limit needless and costly discovery by establishing what is, and perhaps more importantly what is not, within the scope of discovery.  Further, to the extent limited discovery can help resolve certain identified legal issues early in the proceedings, a party may propose a sequenced discovery plan.

How and when the parties will exchange information about the factual bases for their claims and defenses. In cases with a large group of plaintiffs, this topic presents defendants with an opportunity to request certain basic information — such as evidence that a plaintiff actually purchased a product or service at issue within the relevant time period — early in the MDL proceedings to ensure that the plaintiff has a sufficient basis to pursue his or her claim.

A proposed plan for discovery, including methods to handle discovery efficiently in the MDL proceedings. By including “methods to handle discovery efficiently,” the rule presents an opportunity for parties, at an early stage of the proceedings, to propose plans to streamline the discovery process, such as through the use of technology assisted review (TAR) or sequenced discovery that is tied to dispositive issues. 

Whether matters should be referred to a magistrate judge or a master. With the increasing use of special masters to handle discovery disputes in MDL proceedings, the inclusion of this topic emphasizes the need for counsel to begin vetting potential candidates as early as possible to ensure that proposed candidates have the necessary subject matter and/or technical expertise to effectively resolve discovery disputes.

While proposed Rule 16.1 is far from final, codifying these topics would emphasize the need for parties to address, and potentially have the court resolve, key discovery issues at an early stage of MDL proceedings.  If approved by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, Rule 16.1 will be published in the Federal Register for public comment.

We will continue to track this proposed rule here at the Duane Morris Discovery Strategy and Data Analytics Blog.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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