Products Liability & Mass Torts

Mass Torts


Thompson Coe Attorneys Prevail in Fifth Circuit Mandamus Proceeding

August 21, 2009

In re Ford Motor Company, et al.; No. 09-50109; in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Thompson Coe appellate attorneys Wade Crosnoe and Mike Eady represented Ford Motor Company in this successful mandamus proceeding in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On August 21, 2009, the Fifth Circuit granted Ford and Firestone's petition for writ of mandamus and ordered a federal district court in Texas to dismiss six cases--all filed by Mexican citizens who were injured in automobile accidents in Mexico--based on forum non conveniens. These six cases were originally filed in Texas state court, removed to federal court, and then transferred to the Ford/Firestone Tire Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL") proceeding in the Southern District of Indiana. The MDL judge denied Ford and Firestone's forum non conveniens motions after concluding that Mexico was not an available alternative forum for the plaintiffs' claims. That conclusion was apparently based upon several ex parte Mexican dismissal orders obtained in unrelated cases filed in Mexico. Ford and Firestone moved for reconsideration. The MDL judge did not rule on the motion for reconsideration before the cases were remanded to the Western District of Texas. Following the remand, Ford and Firestone requested a ruling on the Motion for Reconsideration. But the federal judge in Texas deferred to the MDL judge's ruling and denied the motion.

Left with but one option, Ford and Firestone sought mandamus relief--relief that is rarely granted by the Fifth Circuit. In its opinion, the Fifth Circuit initially concluded that the pretrial rulings of an MDL court are not entitled to absolute deference; rather, district courts should follow the law-of-the-case doctrine in determining whether to revisit the rulings of an MDL court following remand. The Fifth Circuit then held that (1) the MDL court's ruling on the unavailability of the Mexican forum was a clear and serious error (2) and that the Texas district judge's refusal to reconsider that ruling was also a clear abuse of discretion. After determining that Ford and Firestone had no other adequate means to obtain the relief they desired, the Fifth Circuit granted the petition for writ of mandamus and ordered the district court to dismiss these cases in favor of the available Mexican forum.

The Fifth Circuit's decision is the result of several years of coordinated and sustained effort by Ford's attorneys to prevail on Ford's motion to dismiss these cases based on forum non conveniens. The decision should also have an impact beyond these cases because there are a number of other similar cases pending in the MDL, and in other courts across the country, in which plaintiffs are arguing that their claims should by heard by courts in the United States because Mexico is not an available forum for their claims.

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