CHARLESTON – U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin, striving to gain a grip on national litigation over heart medicine Digitek, fell back on tradition and demanded separate complaints from separate plaintiffs.
Goodwin signed an order Dec. 2 ordering Digitek attorneys with multiple plaintiffs in single suits to sever the claims.
He wrote that he entered the order "to resolve any misjoinder concerns and to facilitate the efficient administration of this action."
Goodwin presides over discovery in Digitek cases from federal courts by appointment of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.
"Some complaints in this MDL action join multiple plaintiffs whose only apparent connection with one another is that they ingested the drug at issue," he wrote.
He cited a decision from Louisiana federal court last year, finding that multi-plaintiff suits created administrative complications and led to inefficiencies.
He also cited a 2004 decision from Pennsylvania federal court, finding that multi-plaintiff suits interfered with completion of discovery in accordance with deadlines.
He quoted that court's ruling that problems "would have been avoided had the court not modified the traditional rule that unrelated claimants must file individual complaints."
Goodwin gave plaintiff lawyers a Dec. 31 deadline to identify all multi-plaintiff actions subject to his order and propose a severance order.
Within 30 days of severance, he wrote, each plaintiff must file an amended complaint.
"The severed and amended complaint must contain the specific claims asserted by the plaintiffs named in it," he wrote.
The clerk will assign each complaint a number and charge a filing fee, he wrote.
Amended complaints can't add claims or defendants, he wrote.
In case a plaintiff doesn't assert a claim against a defendant included in the original suit, he promised to dismiss the defendant without prejudice.
Goodwin won't sever cases with husbands and wives as plaintiffs.
He wrote that when discovery ends and each suit returns to the court where it began, plaintiffs can move to consolidate them.
Plaintiffs seek damages from Mylan Pharmaceuticals of West Virginia and another drug company, Actavis Group, for deaths and illnesses they attribute to Digitek.
More than 100 lawyers represent plaintiffs in Goodwin's court. Goodwin picked Harry Bell of Charleston and Fred Thompson of South Carolina as co-liaison counsel.
Goodwin picked Carl Frankovitch of Weirton as co-lead counsel and Teresa Toriseva of Wheeling as chair of a plaintiff steering committee.