As part of the landmark 2003 civil justice reforms, the Legislature established the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation with authority “to transfer civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact pending in the same or different” courts for “consolidated or coordinated pretrial proceedings, including summary judgment and other dispositive motions, but not for trial on the merits.” §74.162, Government Code. The panel may transfer an action if it determines that “the transfer will (1) be for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and (2) promote the just and efficient conduct of the actions.” Id.
MDL courts have been used in a number of high-profile cases, including windstorm claims from Hurricanes Ike, Dolly, Rita, Humberto, and Harvey, chemical release claims, heavy equipment appraisal and other property tax cases, opioid litigation, and, of course, asbestos and silica claims. In 2021, thirteen cases were transferred to an MDL pretrial court, some with more notoriety than others. These include:
- In re July 27 Chemical Release Litigation (No. 21-1096). This case arose from the July 27 chemical release during a maintenance activity in the Acetic Acid Unit of LyondellBasell’s La Porte complex. Two contractors were killed and some 30 workers were injured. Thirteen lawsuits were filed in Harris County district courts. The panel has not yet assigned this case.
- In re Astroworld Litigation (No. 21-1033). This case involves the tragedy during a live music performance by Travis Scott during the Astrowold Festival outside of NRG Park in Houston. There have been at least 275 lawsuits representing 1,250 plaintiffs filed in all 27 Harris County district courts. The numerous defendants include Scott personally (Jacques Bermon Webster), BWG, Inc., Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, and SMG/ASN Global. The panel has not yet assigned this case.
- In re Houston Wood Preserving Works Litigation (No. 21-0879). More than 1,700 plaintiffs filed claims against Union Pacific Railroad and its environmental consultants alleging personal injury and property damage caused by creosote leaking from a RCRA site in Houston formerly owned and operated by Southern Pacific. There are 22 cases in 15 district courts. The panel assigned this case to the 281st District Court in Harris County, Judge Sylvia Matthews presiding.
- In re CPS Energy Litigation (No. 21-0828). This case arose out of Winter Storm Uri and involves 17 cases in Bexar County filed by CPS, San Antonio’s municipally-owned electric utility, in an attempt to get out of paying its numerous gas suppliers. The panel assigned this case to the 407th District Court in Bexar County, Judge John Specia presiding.
- In re February 21, 2021 Incident on IH35W Litigation (No. 21-0821). Arising from the multi-vehicle accident on IH35W near downtown Fort Worth on February 21 of last year, this case involves numerous personal injury and property damage claims filed by plaintiffs in several Tarrant County district courts and at least two district courts in other counties. The defendants, NTE Mobility Partners LLC and NTE Mobility Partners Segments 3 LLC moved to transfer the cases to an MDL, which the panel granted. The panel assigned the cases to the 153rd District Court in Tarrant County, Judge Susan McCoy presiding.
- In re Texas Heartbeat Act Litigation (No. 21-0872). Texas Right to Life and John Seago moved to transfer what is likely to become dozens, if not hundreds of lawsuits arising from SB 8 filed against TRL and state officials. The panel granted the motion and assigned the cases to the 98th District Court in Travis County, Judge David Peeples presiding.
- In re Six Flags Splashdown Litigation (No. 21-0779). Defendant Six Flags Splashdown moved to transfer at least five cases and four interventions arising from alleged exposure to a pool sanitizing chemical at Splashtown in Spring, Texas. The panel granted the motion and assigned the case to the 295th District Court in Harris County, Judge Donna Roth presiding.
- In re Farmers Insurance Company 2020 Hurricane Litigation (No. 21-0530). Farmers sought to transfer about three dozen cases and future claims filed in 18 district courts across five counties. The cases allege contractual and extra-contractual claims arising from four 2020 hurricanes in South Texas. The panel assigned the cases to the 139th District Court in Hidalgo County, Judge Roberto Flores presiding.
- In re ITC Deer Park Fire Litigation (No. 21-0385). Defendants Intercontinental Terminals Company LLC and NSK Corporation (and two affiliates) moved to transfer more at least 10 cases filed in state court (more than 100 have been filed in federal court and assigned to a federal MDL) arising from the March 19, 2019 tank farm fire at ITC’s facility in Deer Park. The panel granted the motion and assigned the cases to the 151st District Court in Harris County, Judge Mike Engelhart presiding.
- In re Winter Storm Uri Litigation (No. 21-0313). ERCOT and other defendants moved to transfer at least 12 cases from Dallas, Harris, and Bexar Counties arising out of last February’s winter storm. The panel assigned the cases to the 281st District Court in Harris County, Judge Sylvia Matthews presiding.
- In re Allstate Insurance Company Hurricane Hanna Litigation (No. 21-0268). Plaintiffs moved to transfer more than 40 cases filed in multiple Hidalgo County district courts against Allstate for claim related to Hurricane Hanna in July 2020. Allstate opposed the motion, but the panel assigned the case to the 261st District Court in Hidalgo County, Judge Rose Reyna presiding.
- In re January 24 Explosion Litigation (No. 21-0098). In this unopposed motion, the parties sought transfer 126 cases for personal injury and property damage arising from an explosion at a building owned by Watson Grinding & Manufacturing Company in Houston. The panel assigned the case to the 11th District Court in Harris County, Judge Mark Davidson presiding.
- In re Waymon L. Boyd Fire Litigation (No. 21-0022). Defendants Orion Marine Construction, Enterprise Products, and EPIC Midstream Holdings, LP (and several affiliates) moved to transfer at least seven personal injury lawsuits pending in five district courts arising from a fire on a dredging vessel in the Tule Lake Channel. The fire occurred in August 2020. The panel assigned the cases to the 319th District Court of Nueces County, Judge David Stith, presiding.