Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied December 14, 1984.
BOYCE F. MARTIN, Jr., Circuit Judge.
Petitioners seek a writ of mandamus ordering the district court to vacate its order certifying a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1). 102 F.R.D. 239 (S.D.Ohio 1984). For the reasons stated below, the petition shall be granted, and the writ shall be issued.
This case is just one stage in a massive products liability lawsuit against Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the manufacturer of the drug Bendectin. Bendectin is a prescription drug developed to relieve
The present controversy has its roots in a transfer order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in early 1982. 533 F.Supp. 489. Pursuant to that order, all Bendectin actions pending in federal courts were transferred to the Southern District of Ohio for consolidated pretrial proceedings. Shortly after the transfer, a five-person Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee was formed to coordinate discovery efforts for all plaintiffs in federal court.
Over the next year, many other cases were transferred to the Southern District of Ohio, and many more cases were filed in that court as original actions.
The consolidated trial began June 11, 1984, and a jury was impaneled. Because of serious settlement negotiations between the Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee and Merrell Dow, the district court recessed the trial on June 18 and certified a class for settlement purposes under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b). Merrell Dow has apparently made a settlement offer of $120 million, and a majority of the Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee tentatively favor the settlement offer.
In the order certifying the class, the district judge found that all four requirements of Rule 23(a) were easily met. The court also found that the requirements of Rule 23(b)(1)(A) and (B) were met.
The district judge also subdivided the class into Subclasses A and B. Subclass A
Shortly after the certification order, several of the individual plaintiffs filed a petition with this Court for a writ of mandamus to vacate the district court's certification order. After the filing of the petition, a substantial number of plaintiffs has joined in the petition for the writ. Merrell Dow and a majority of the Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee are opposing the petition for mandamus.
This Court clearly has the power to issue a writ of mandamus pursuant to the All Writs Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. EEOC v. K-Mart Corp., 694 F.2d 1055, 1061 (6th Cir.1982); United States v. Harper, 729 F.2d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir.1984). The petitioners, however, bear a heavy burden in showing that mandamus is the proper remedy. Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, Kerr v. United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 426 U.S. 394, 402, 96 S.Ct. 2119, 2123, 48 L.Ed.2d 725 (1976), and it will only be granted when the petitioner shows that "its right to issuance of the writ is `clear and indisputable.'" In re Post-Newsweek Stations, Michigan, Inc., 722 F.2d 325, 329 (6th Cir.1983) (quoting Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Holland, 346 U.S. 379, 384, 74 S.Ct. 145, 148, 98 L.Ed. 106 (1953)). "[O]nly exceptional circumstances amounting to a judicial `usurpation of power' will justify the invocation of this extraordinary remedy." Will v. United States, 389 U.S. 90, 95, 88 S.Ct. 269, 273, 19 L.Ed.2d 305 (1967).
While recognizing that the Supreme Court has admonished the circuit courts to issue writs of mandamus only in the most extraordinary circumstances, we believe that this admonition is only "a starting point in the effort to develop a specific framework which can assist when practical applications of the generalities is required." Bauman v. United States District Court, 557 F.2d 650, 654 (9th Cir.1977). Unfortunately, this Court has not defined such a framework because we have not been faced with a case that has called for a detailed examination of the writ. The Ninth Circuit, however, in an illuminating opinion, has identified the appropriate guidelines for the issuance of the writ in the class certification context. Bauman, 557 F.2d 650.
In Bauman the plaintiff in a class action proceeding sought a writ of mandamus to modify the district judge's order certifying a class under Rule 23(b)(2). In considering the petition, the Ninth Circuit outlined five guidelines, which it had distilled from the case law,
Bauman, 557 F.2d at 654-55 (citations omitted).
As the Bauman court recognized, however, "the guidelines are cumulative and may not all point to the same conclusion." In re Cement Antitrust Litigation (MDL No. 296), 688 F.2d 1297, 1301 (9th Cir.1982), aff'd sub nom. Arizona v. United States District Court for the District of Arizona, 459 U.S. 1191, 103 S.Ct. 1173, 75 L.Ed.2d 425 (1983). "Rarely if ever will a case arise where all the guidelines point in the same direction or even where each guideline is relevant or applicable." Bauman, 557 F.2d at 655. In many cases, "a proper disposition will often require a balancing of conflicting factors." Id.
With regard to the first guideline, the petitioners clearly cannot challenge the certification by direct appeal. This Court has already rejected a direct appeal of the certifying order in this case. Schreier v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical, Inc., 745 F.2d 58 (6th Cir.1984). The opposition to the petition argues, however, that the plaintiffs can challenge the certification order by appealing the settlement, if it is approved by the district court. As we shall discuss next, the petitioners would be prejudiced by having to wait for such an appeal, and therefore such an appeal is an inadequate remedy.
The petitioners in this case clearly would be prejudiced by having to wait for an appeal from a settlement order. If this class certification is allowed, these plaintiffs would have to expend time and resources contesting a settlement offer that is being forced on them by Merrell Dow and the majority of the Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee. Many of these plaintiffs have spent a considerable amount of their resources preparing for trial, and now that their trials are at hand, they would be forced to direct their attention to a settlement offer which they feel is totally inadequate.
Moreover, the subdivision of the class will greatly prejudice a number of the plaintiffs. Many of the current plaintiffs and prospective plaintiffs have retained counsel who are familiar with the Bendectin litigation, and thus several counsel are representing more than one plaintiff. Counsel whose clients fall in both Subclass A and Subclass B cannot possibly represent both classes as the classes are inherently in conflict with each other for their share of the settlement.
Finally, several of the plaintiffs may be prejudiced by the stay of state discovery proceedings that accompanied the certification order. This stay, in conjunction with the uncertainty caused by the certification, has delayed state proceedings, and at least one plaintiff may lose his claim as a result.
Rule 23(b)(1)(A) provides that class actions are maintainable if a separate action would create a risk of "inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class." The fact that some plaintiffs may be successful in their suits against a defendant while others may not is clearly not a ground for invoking Rule 23(b)(1)(A). McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. United States District Court for the Central District of California, 523 F.2d 1083, 1086 (9th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 911, 96 S.Ct. 1506, 47 L.Ed.2d 761 (1976); In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 100 F.R.D. 718, 724-25 (E.D.N.Y.1983), petition for mandamus denied sub nom. In re Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., 725 F.2d 858 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 104 S.Ct. 1417, 79 L.Ed.2d 743 (1984). The class certification in this case therefore cannot stand on this ground.
The district judge, however, apparently did not rely solely on the possibility of varying adjudications because he also cited Hernandez v. Motor Vessel Skyward, 61 F.R.D. 558 (S.D.Fla.1973), aff'd mem., 507 F.2d 1278 (5th Cir.1975), to support his conclusion as to Rule 23(b)(1)(A). In Hernandez, the district judge certified a class under Rule 23(b)(1)(A) on the ground that the doctrine of collateral estoppel might bind the defendant on issues of liability if any plaintiff were to win a suit against it. Irrespective of the merits of this argument as a ground for Rule 23(b)(1)(A) certification, this concern has been eliminated by the Supreme Court's curtailment of the use of offensive collateral estoppel in Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 99 S.Ct. 645, 58 L.Ed.2d 552 (1979).
With respect to Rule 23(b)(1)(B), the district judge stated that there was a limited fund from which the plaintiffs could be compensated for their claims and therefore adjudications by earlier plaintiffs could "as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members [of the class] not parties to the adjudications." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(1)(B). This limited fund theory has been endorsed by several courts. In re Northern District of California, Dalkon Shield IUD Product Liability Litigation, 693 F.2d 847, 851 (9th Cir.1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1171, 103 S.Ct. 817, 74
The district court, however, was clearly erroneous as a matter of law in the method it used to determine that there was a limited fund. The certification order states without support "that there is a risk that a limited fund may exist from which judgments can be satisfied." No findings were made on the record as to this conclusion, and the petitioners in this case were given no opportunity to dispute whether there was a limited fund.
In deciding whether a limited fund would subvert the rights of some plaintiffs, the courts have differed over whether the proponent of the class certification must show that a limited fund will "necessarily" affect the plaintiffs' claims, Dalkon Shield IUD Product Liability Litigation, 693 F.2d at 852, or whether a "substantial probability" will suffice. In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 100 F.R.D. at 726. Irrespective of the proper test, the district court, as a matter of law, must have a fact-finding inquiry on this question and allow the opponents of class certification to present evidence that a limited fund does not exist.
The fourth consideration of Bauman is whether the district court's order is an oft-repeated error or manifests a persistent disregard of the federal rules. Of the five guidelines, this is the least applicable to this case. This is clearly not a case where the district judge is persistently disregarding the federal rules. This error is also not an oft-repeated one because, fortunately, mass tort litigation does not frequently occur. For two reasons, however, the absence of this factor does not mean that a writ of mandamus is inappropriate.
First, as was discussed above, the Bauman court recognized that all the guidelines do not have to point in the same direction for the issuance of the writ to be proper.
Second, we feel that this guideline is not as crucial to the resolution of the case as are the other guidelines. The Supreme Court has approved the use of the writ to review unusual and important procedural
The final guideline is whether the district court's order raises issues of first impression and creates new and important problems. Several of the issues raised by the class certification are of first impression in this Circuit. This Court has never been faced with a non-opt out class certification for settlement purposes only. Moreover, the sheer magnitude of the case makes the disposition of these issues crucial as several hundred litigants are waiting for a decision before proceeding with their cases.
Based on these guidelines, we find that the issuance of a writ of mandamus is appropriate in this case. Although we shall issue the writ, we realize that the district judge has been faced with some very difficult problems in this case, and we certainly do not fault him for attempting to use this unique and innovative certification method. On pure policy grounds, the district judge's decision may be commendable, and several commentators have argued that Rule 23 should be used in this manner. See, e.g., Note, Class Certification of Mass Accident Cases under Rule 23(b)(1), 96 Harv.L.Rev. 1143 (1983). Because of the situation presented by this case, however, we conclude that a writ of mandamus vacating the certification order of the district court should be issued.