MDL proceedings spawn a host of procedural issues, and the Sixth Circuit recently tackled a question of appellate jurisdiction arising out of the dismissal of certain claims in an antitrust MDL. In re: Refrigerant Compressors Antitrust Litigation. In this case, after an MDL transfer order was entered, and the cases were transferred to the Eastern District of Michigan, the plaintiffs filed a consolidated amended complaint that combined the allegations for all of the plaintiffs at issue. The district court ultimately dismissed the claims of several of the plaintiffs, who sought to take an immediate appeal. The Sixth Circuit was then forced to evaluate whether it had jurisdiction over these appeals (even though claims remained pending against different plaintiffs), and concluded that it did not.
The Court recognized that it has never addressed the precise question before it, nor to its knowledge had any other circuit court. The Court considered a number of alternatives in terms of how to evaluate finality in this context, but ultimately opted for a bright line test. If plaintiffs have filed a master complaint that supersedes prior versions of the complaints, that will preclude plaintiffs who are dismissed out from noticing immediate appeals absent certification under Rule 54 or Section 1292(b). In so holding, the Court declined to create a different test for finality applicable to MDL proceedings, expressing concern about administering such requirements. At the same time, however, the Court appreciated that, within some limits, the parties hold the key to finality here – if these plaintiffs had not filed a consolidated master complaint that was to serve as the key pleading in the case, the appeals here would have been proper.
As a result, this case provides important guidance on appealability in the MDL context. Following the teaching of this case, plaintiffs can work to ensure that appeals of this nature will be final (conversely, defendants enjoying the fruits of dismissal have a roadmap on how to challenge jurisdiction and when they can do so). Since this case is apparently the first circuit decision to evaluate a number of these issues, it is likely to have a significant impact in MDLs across the country.