The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has passed a ruling that no additional plaintiffs may be added to the ongoing multidistrict litigation (MDL) against several opioid manufacturers. The order, issued on April 8, would have ruled on two additional cases applying to join the MDL, but now has fundamentally altered the future prospects of many would-be plaintiffs. 

The JPML is the federal body in charge of approving MDL requests from plaintiffs and assigning similar cases to a single federal district. In this MDL, according to the JPML, “the Northern District of Ohio was an appropriate Section 1407 forum for actions sharing factual questions regarding the allegedly improper marketing and distribution of various prescription opiate medications into states, cities, and towns across the country.” 

A section 1407 forum is the U.S. Federal District Court chosen by the JPML in accordance with U.S. Code section 1407 which covers multidistrict litigation.

When discussing whether to enjoin two new cases in the MDL as well as a lawsuit against Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. in an Eastern District of Pennsylvania and a lawsuit filed by the City of Holly Springs that was pending in the Northern District of Mississippi, the panel decided to completely seal off the opioid litigation to new cases. 

“Based on our review of the progress of this litigation, we conclude that inclusion of these two actions and any future actions in MDL No. 2804 is no longer necessary to achieve the just and efficient conduct of the litigation,” stated the order.

In their order to close the door on future plaintiffs joining the opioid MDL, the panel cited the age of the proceedings. According to the JPML, since “common discovery has largely been completed, several bellwether trials have been prepared, . . . And myriad claims have been resolved through substantial settlements,” there is no longer as much benefit in adding new plaintiffs to the MDL.

The opioid MDL “has reached the point where the benefits are outweighed by the effects of transferring new cases to this mature litigation,” the JPML stated. Due to the bureaucratic strain of integrating these “tag-along actions” into the wider MDL, the JPML believes that they are now more of an impediment to proceedings.

This order does not mean that no new opioid lawsuits can be filed. What it means is that the window to join the massive MDL in Northern Ohio has been officially closed by the JPML. Plaintiffs seeking justice for their alleged grievances against opioid manufacturers will now have to seek relief at the state or local level, without the collective bargaining power of a massive MDL.