On December 12, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued an order transferring State of Louisiana v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance to the Middle District of Florida, making the case the latest addition to the multidistrict litigation entitled In re Auto Body Shop Antitrust Litigation. With the addition of the Louisiana case, the MDL proceeding now includes actions initially filed in Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, Alabama, Michigan, California, Washington, Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon and Missouri.
The Louisiana case, like each of the previously transferred actions, centers upon a claim that more than thirty five auto insurers conspired to suppress reimbursement rates to repair shops for collision repairs. The first case, A&E Auto Body v. 21st Century Centennial Insurance, et. al, was filed in the Middle District of Florida in February of 2014, and it was to that court, and the Judge before whom that case was originally pending (Judge Gregory Presnell), that all of the subsequently-filed cases have been sent by the MDL Panel.
The Louisiana case, however, was somewhat unique – or at least different from – the other previously transferred cases in several respects. First, the Louisiana case was originally filed in state court, and subsequently transferred to federal court – improperly, in the view of the State. However, the Panel was not concerned by this, noting that jurisdictional issues do not present an impediment to transfer, because the plaintiff can present its arguments about why a case might properly be remanded to the transferee judge. See In re Prudential Insurance Sales Practices Litigation, 170 F.Supp.2d 1346 (J.P.M.L. 2001). In addition, Louisiana’s contention that its case, which it characterized as an "enforcement action," was materially different in character than the private party actions currently before the transferee court, and thus the Louisiana case should not be transferred for this reason, was also rejected by the Panel. Calling Louisiana’s contention "unconvincing," the Panel stated that it "often has transferred state enforcement actions to MDLs that involved cases brought by private litigants." See, e.g., In re Countryside Fin. Corp. Mortgage Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, 582 F.Supp. 2d (J.P.M.L. 2008).
With the addition of the newly-transferred actions, In re Auto Body Shop Antitrust Litigation begins the new year with even greater significance. Judge Presnell has granted the newly-added parties until January to appear in the MDL proceeding, and will likely begin issuing rulings in the matter shortly thereafter. Given the issues in the cases and the large number of insurers now involved in the proceeding, the matter is unquestionably "one to watch" for 2015.