Lorenz et al v. Mentor Worldwide LLC et al, No. 2:2013cv20013 - Document 22 (S.D.W. Va. 2017)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER The 20 MOTION by Coloplast Corp. to Dismiss With Prejudice is DENIED; counsel for plaintiffs must meet and confer with counsel for defendant on or before 1/2/2018 to engage in good faith discussions about the possibility of settlement; failure to comply with this Order may result in dismissal upon motion by the defendant; and plaintiffs' counsel is directed to send a copy of this Order to the plaintiffs via certified mail, return receipt requested, and file a copy of the receipt. Signed by Judge Joseph R. Goodwin on 12/1/2017. (cc: counsel of record; any unrepresented party) (mek)
Download PDF
Lorenz et al v. Mentor Worldwide LLC et al Doc. 22 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA CHARLESTON DIVISION IN RE: COLOPLAST CORP. PELVIC SUPPORT SYSTEM PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION MDL No. 2387 THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO: Val Lorenz, et al. v. Mentor Worldwide LLC, et al. Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-20013 MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER Pending before the court is Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 20] filed by Coloplast Corp. (“Coloplast”). The plaintiffs have not responded, and the deadline for responding has expired. Thus, this matter is ripe for my review. For the reasons stated below, Coloplast’s Motion is DENIED. I. Background The case resides in one of seven MDLs assigned to me by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation concerning the use of transvaginal surgical mesh to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. In the seven MDLs, there are nearly 30,000 cases currently pending, approximately 140 of which are in the Coloplast MDL, MDL 2387. In an effort to efficiently and effectively manage this MDL, the court decided to conduct pretrial discovery and motions practice on an individualized basis so that once a case is trial-ready (that is, after the court has ruled on all summary judgment motions, among other things), it can then be promptly transferred or remanded to the Dockets.Justia.com appropriate district for trial. To this end, the court placed this and other cases in Coloplast Wave 4. Pretrial Order (“PTO”) # 124, at 9 [ECF No. 10]. Managing multidistrict litigation requires the court to streamline certain litigation procedures in order to improve efficiency for the parties and the court. PTO # 134, for example, required plaintiffs’ counsel to meet and confer with counsel for defendant on or before August 9, 2017 to engage in good faith discussions about the possibility of settlement [ECF No. 18]. Plaintiffs’ counsel, however, did not comply with PTO # 134 in that they wholly failed to meet and confer with counsel for defendant. On this basis, defendant now seeks dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case with prejudice. II. Legal Standard Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2) allows a court to sanction a party for failing to comply with discovery orders. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2) (stating that a court “may issue further just orders” when a party “fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery”). Before levying a harsh sanction under Rule 37, such as dismissal or default, a court must first consider the following four factors identified by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals: (1) Whether the noncomplying party acted in bad faith; (2) the amount of prejudice his noncompliance caused his adversary, which necessarily includes an inquiry into the materiality of the evidence he failed to produce; (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of noncompliance; and (4) the effectiveness of less drastic sanctions. Mut. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Richards & Assocs., Inc., 872 F.2d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 1989) (citing Wilson v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 561 F.2d 494, 503–06 (4th Cir. 1977)). 2 In applying these factors to the case at bar, I must be particularly cognizant of the realities of multidistrict litigation and the unique problems an MDL judge faces. Specifically, when handling seven MDLs, containing thousands of individual cases in the aggregate, case management becomes of utmost importance. See In re Phenylpropanolamine Prods. Liab. Litig., 460 F.3d 1217, 1231 (9th Cir. 2006) (emphasizing the “enormous” task of an MDL court in “figur[ing] out a way to move thousands of cases toward resolution on the merits while at the same time respecting their individuality”). I must define rules for discovery and then strictly adhere to those rules, with the purpose of ensuring that pretrial litigation flows as smoothly and efficiently as possible. See id. at 1232 (“[T]he district judge must establish schedules with firm cutoff dates if the coordinated cases are to move in a diligent fashion toward resolution by motion, settlement, or trial.”); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 (stating that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding”). In turn, counsel must collaborate with the court “in fashioning workable programmatic procedures” and cooperate with these procedures thereafter. In re Phenylpropanolamine, 460 F.3d at 1231–32. Pretrial orders—and the parties’ compliance with those orders and the deadlines set forth therein—“are the engine that drives disposition on the merits.” Id. at 1232. And a “willingness to resort to sanctions” in the event of noncompliance can ensure that the engine remains in tune, resulting in better administration of the vehicle of multidistrict litigation. Id.; see also 3 Freeman v. Wyeth, 764 F.3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2014) (“The MDL judge must be given ‘greater discretion’ to create and enforce deadlines in order to administrate the litigation effectively. This necessarily includes the power to dismiss cases where litigants do not follow the court’s orders.”). III. Discussion Pursuant to PTO # 134, counsel for all plaintiffs identified in the exhibit attached thereto were directed to meet and confer with counsel for defendant on or before August 9, 2017 to engage in good faith discussions about the possibility of settlement. PTO # 134, at 1. This case was identified on Exhibit A to PTO # 134. Id. at 3. According to defendant, plaintiffs’ counsel did not meet and confer with defendant’s counsel because plaintiffs’ counsel was unable to contact their clients. Therefore, no meaningful discussion about the possibility of settlement could take place. Accordingly, pursuant to PTO # 134, defendant now moves for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case with prejudice. Applying the Wilson factors to these facts and bearing in mind the unique context of multidistrict litigation, I conclude that although recourse under Rule 37 is justified, the plaintiffs should be afforded one more chance to comply with PTO # 134 before further sanctions are imposed. The first factor, bad faith, is difficult to ascertain, given that the plaintiffs have not responded. This indicates a failing on the part of the plaintiffs, who have an obligation to provide counsel with any information needed to prosecute their case. See 4 Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 634 n.10 (1962) (“[A] civil plaintiff may be deprived of his claim if he failed to see to it that his lawyer acted with dispatch in the prosecution of his lawsuit.”). Furthermore, as set forth in PTO # 2, “[a]ll attorneys representing parties to this litigation . . . bear the responsibility to represent their individual client or clients.” PTO # 2, at ¶ E [ECF No. 10], In re Coloplast Corp., Pelvic Support Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 2:12-md-02387. This includes awareness of and good faith attempts at compliance with all PTOs and other court orders. The plaintiffs nevertheless failed to comply. Although these failures do not appear to be callous, the fact that they were blatant and in full knowledge of the court’s orders leads me to weigh the first factor against the plaintiffs. See In re Guidant Corp. Implantable Defibrillators Prods. Liab. Litig., 496 F.3d 863, 867 (8th Cir. 2007) (“While not contumacious, perhaps, this is a blatant disregard for the deadlines and procedure imposed by the court, [and t]herefore, we conclude that the [plaintiffs] did not act in good faith.”). The second factor—prejudice caused by noncompliance—also leans toward the order of sanctions. Defendant did not learn of plaintiffs’ counsel’s inability to contact their clients until August 22, 2017—almost two weeks after the meet-and-confer deadline. Thus, defendant likely expended substantial time and resources prior to the deadline attempting to set up the court-ordered meeting. Furthermore, because the defendant has had to divert attention away from responsive plaintiffs and onto this case, the delay has unfairly impacted the progress of the remaining plaintiffs in MDL 2387. 5 The adverse effect on the management of the MDL as a whole segues to the third factor, the need to deter this sort of noncompliance. When parties fail to comply with deadlines provided in pretrial orders, a domino effect develops, resulting in the disruption of other MDL cases. This cumbersome pattern goes against the purpose of MDL procedure, and I must deter any behavior that would allow it to continue. See H.R. Rep. No. 90-1130, at 1 (1967), reprinted in 1968 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1898, 1901 (stating that the purpose of establishing MDLs is to “assure the uniform and expeditious treatment” of the included cases). Application of the first three factors demonstrates that this court is justified in sanctioning the plaintiffs. However, application of the fourth factor—the effectiveness of less drastic sanctions—counsels against the relief sought by defendant. Rather than imposing harsh sanctions at this time, the court opts for a lesser sanction and allows the plaintiffs one more chance to comply, subject to dismissal, upon motion by the defendant, if they fail to do so. This course of action is consistent with PTO # 134, which warned plaintiffs of the possibility of dismissal upon failure to comply with the procedures set forth therein. See PTO # 134 ¶ 6. Alternative lesser sanctions, such as the ones proposed in Rule 37(b)(2)(i)–(iv), are simply impracticable, and therefore ineffective, in the context of an MDL containing approximately 140 cases. The court cannot spare its already limited resources enforcing and monitoring sanctions that are qualified by the individual circumstances of each case, nor would it be fair for the court to place this responsibility on defendant. Therefore, considering the administrative and economic 6 realities of multidistrict litigation, I conclude that affording the plaintiffs a final chance to comply, subject to dismissal if they fail to do so, is a “just order” under Rule 37 and in line with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a whole. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 (stating that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding”). IV. Conclusion It is ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. It is further ORDERED that counsel for plaintiffs must meet and confer with counsel for defendant on or before January 2, 2018 to engage in good faith discussions about the possibility of settlement. Failure to comply with this Order may result in dismissal upon motion by the defendant. Finally, it is ORDERED that plaintiffs’ counsel send a copy of this Order to the plaintiffs via certified mail, return receipt requested, and file a copy of the receipt. The court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record and any unrepresented party. ENTER: 7 December 1, 2017