Throughout 2004–2007 a housing boom along with a series of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico combined to create a shortage of drywall in the United States. Needing drywall to build the homes that were much in demand, suppliers turned abroad. Chinese manufacturers stepped in, providing cheap and readily available material. This influx of Chinese drywall was concentrated in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi; the states most affected by Hurricanes Wilma, Katrina, and Rita. Since 2006, it has been estimated by some sources that more than 550 million pounds of drywall have been imported from China. There are reports that some 100,000 homes could possibly be affected nationwide.
Reports of the damage caused by Chinese drywall to air conditioning units and appliances as well as health problems associated with it started to surface in 2006. It has been reported that organic and chemical compounds in certain samples of drywall causes a corrosive reaction when combined with humid climates which deteriorated the electrical wiring and appliances in people’s homes.
Since that time, a number of lawsuits related to Chinese drywall have been filed in various State and Federal Courts.
In an effort to organize the numerous lawsuits that have been filed in Federal Courts, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently issued a Transfer Order that class action suits filed around the country against Chinese drywall manufacturers would be docketed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is an entity of the United States Federal Court System. It was created by Congress in 1968 under 28 U.S.C. §1407. The Panel has the responsibility of determining whether civil actions pending in two or more federal judicial districts should be transferred to a single federal district court for pretrial proceedings. When asked to consider a transfer, the Panel will:
1. determine whether civil actions pending in different Federal district courts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings; and
2. Select the judge or judges and court assigned to conduct such proceedings.
The rationale behind combining the lawsuits in this way for pretrial proceedings is to avoid discovery duplication, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings; and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary. Generally, the court will set standing orders or pretrial orders informing the lawyers involved of the ground rules, deadlines and procedures the court expects the litigants to follow. After discovery and completion of pretrial matters, the case will be remanded back to the transferor court for trial.
While the Transfer Order for the Chinese drywall cases listed only ten cases, it is likely that the many other cases filed will be considered tag – along cases. A case may only be characterized as a "tag-along action" if it involves "common questions of fact with actions previously transferred" under 28 U.S.C. § 1407. See, Rule 1.1 of the General Rules for Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation for the definition. Upon learning of the pendency of a potential “tag-along action,” as defined in Rule 1.1, an order may be entered by the Clerk of the Panel transferring that action on the basis of the prior hearings and for the previously expressed reasons of the Panel. The Panel then issues a Conditional Transfer Order transferring to the court tag-along actions that the Panel determined has “questions of fact common to the actions previously transferred”. The order does not become effective until it is filed with the transferee district court. The transmittal of the order to the transferee district court shall be stayed fifteen days from the entry thereof and if any party files a notice of opposition with the clerk of the Panel with in this fifteen day period, a stay will be continued until further order of the Panel. [See Rule 7.4 of the General Rules for Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation]