JPML Hears Arguments on Consolidating Baby Formula NEC Litigation

Will baby food formula lawsuits be centralized into one court for pre-trial proceedings? The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear arguments on both sides of the issue later this month.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs involved in the litigation claim that baby formula makers like Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson failed to warn parents about the health risks associated with their products.

Abbott Laboratories First Filed for Consolidation of Baby Formula Lawsuits

The first motion to consolidate these lawsuits came from Abbott Laboratories, makers of Similac baby formula. The company filed the motion with the JPML on January 18, 2022, stating that the transfer of the cases to one court “is necessary and appropriate.” The cases involve common questions of fact and law, and centralization, according to Abbott, “would significantly reduce discovery burdens and duplicative litigation and avoid inconsistent rulings.”

Abbott seeks centralization in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. The company recommended U. S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to oversee the proceedings, noting that he is well versed in the nuances of complex and multidistrict litigation and that he has already issued key rulings that may guide the progress of this litigation.

Mead Johnson Agrees that Consolidation Would Reduce Discovery Burdens

Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil, filed a response to Abbott’s motion on February 9, 2022. The company stated that it supported Abbott’s motion to consolidate all baby formula lawsuits into one court, and also supported the request to consolidate before Judge Underhill in the District of Connecticut.

All of the cases filed involve premature infants who allegedly developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a gastrointestinal condition that can damage the intestines and even lead to death. Mead Johnson denied the allegations that its formulas increased the risk or caused NEC, but agreed that centralization would significantly reduce discovery burdens and duplicative litigation.

Will Baby Formula Lawsuits Be Consolidated in One Court?

On February 14, 2022, the U.S. JPML released a notice of hearing session. The hearing will take place on March 31, 2022, at the Hale Boggs Federal Building U.S. Courthouse in New Orleans, Louisiana. Among the items on the agenda is the question of consolidation of the preterm infant nutrition products liability litigation.

If the JPML agrees with the defendants that consolidation would be prudent, cases filed in federal courts nationwide would be transferred to one court for management.  The parties would work toward selecting a small number of cases to be prepared for early “bellwether” trials, which are designed to help determine how juries may respond to the evidence.

These early trials sometimes lead to settlement negotiations. If the parties cannot agree on a resolution, however, each individual lawsuit may be returned to the court in which it was originally filed for trial.