Attempt to Revive MARDOC Cases on Jurisdiction Fails as to all but Four Appellants

OHIO – The plaintiffs in this matter are merchant mariners who originally filed their cases in the Northern District of Ohio. Subsequent to filing, their cases were transferred to multidistrict litigation (MDL). Prior to trial in Pennsylvania, the court dismissed the cases after a finding that the Ohio court lacked personal jurisdiction, and appeal ensued.

By way of background, the merchant mariner cases were in the thousands. Filings began in the 1980s against several ship owners, manufacturers, and suppliers of asbestos products. Their claims were placed onto a special docket called MARDOC. Quickly thereafter, several ship owner defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court ordered the MARDOC plaintiffs to choose their forum and that those cases with sufficient contacts be transferred. After additional court administration, motions, and transfers, over 26,000 cases were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and were then transferred to the MDL in Pennsylvania. This transfer included some of the plaintiffs from the original transfer to Detroit. Relying on the court’s decision in Bartel and Kalama, the MDL ultimately dismissed thousands of cases, including those of the appellants.

Appellants argued that the MDL improperly concluded that the appellees had not waived the personal jurisdiction defense. Specifically, appellants argued that the Kalama decision was wrong because the issue on whether the ship owners consented to personal jurisdiction to avoid scattered venues remained unclear. The court was not convinced as this argument had previously been considered in 2017. Moreover, the Kalama decision was binding. Therefore, the argument that the appellees waived jurisdiction was already determined. However, the court agreed with appellants that this matter was different from Kalama to the extent that it involved the Detroit appellants.

The analysis then turned to whether the appellees had waived personal jurisdiction during the transfer of the Detroit cases. The court was troubled by two actions from the appellees in the Detroit cases. First, they had opposed the transfer and argued they had waived personal jurisdiction in Ohio but not in Michigan. Second, the appellees sought a writ of mandamus seeking the Ohio court vacate its transfer, thereby circumventing jurisdiction by the Michigan courts. Accordingly, the court remanded those four Detroit appellants to the Ohio courts where appellees had consented to jurisdiction.

As for the remaining appellants, the court noted that the real argument made by appellants was one asking to sit the MDL process aside and remand to Ohio to restore the dismissed defendants. The court declined to do so and affirmed judgment as to the remaining appellants.

Read the case decision here.