(Reuters) – Plaintiffs seeking to consolidate a large number of lawsuits against baby food manufacturers for allegedly covering up toxic metal contamination in a single multi-district litigation have faced widespread opposition from the defendants and of the other plaintiffs at a judicial panel hearing on the multidistrict litigation on Friday.
Rosemary Rivas of the Gibbs Law Group, representing a group of plaintiffs seeking to consolidate cases filed in at least 14 different courts in the Eastern District of New York – where defendant Hain Celestial Group is based – said the plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently similar to consolidate them. would promote efficiency.
Two other groups of plaintiffs argued for consolidation, albeit in different venues. Cody Frank of the Frank Law Group represented a group seeking to regroup in the Southern District of Florida, which he said would be a neutral and convenient place where some of the plaintiffs resided.
Ruth Anne French-Hodson of Sharp Law, representing plaintiffs bringing claims under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupted Organizations Act, said all the claims belonged together because the defendants’ actions “did not take place in isolation. Although she said the case should go to the Northern California District.
Others, however, said the cases should be kept separate.
“The majority of parties, including all defendants and 11 distinct groups of plaintiffs, oppose the creation of an industry-wide MDL,” said Dean Panos of Jenner & Block, an attorney for Hain who argued at the hearing for all defendants, which also include Unit Nestle SA Gerber Products Co and Unit Hero Group Beech-Nut Nutrition Co.
“There is nothing to be gained by consolidating the cases against different manufacturers into one MDL,” he added, saying the facts were different for each defendant.
Another lawyer for the plaintiffs opposing the consolidation was Robert Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Wisner represents plaintiffs filing personal injury claims alleging that the contaminated food caused their children to develop autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Wisner said there were only a “handful” of these cases, making them unsuitable for consolidation.
“This case does not appear to be a traditional mass crime on the bodily injury side,” he said.
Joseph Guglielmo of Scott + Scott and Mark Rosen of Barrack, Rodos & Bacine were also among the plaintiffs’ lawyers who weighed in against consolidation, arguing that it made more sense to consolidate cases against each defendant informally, a process that is already in progress, rather than creating a single MDL.
The panel gave no indication as to how it would rule.
Baby food lawsuits began to pile up after a US House of Representatives oversight subcommittee announced in February that its staff discovered “dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals.” in some baby foods that can cause neurological damage, and called for new federal standards.
Hain, Gerber, and Beech-Nut have all said their products are safe.
The United States Food and Drug Administration announced in April a new plan, called Closer to Zero, to reduce the levels of toxic metals in food. The agency said its tests have shown children are not at immediate health risk due to the amounts of toxic elements in food products.
The case is In re Baby Food Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MDL No. 2997.
For the Complainants: Rosemary Rivas of Gibbs Law Group; Cody Frank of the Frank Law Group; Ruth Anne French-Hodson of Sharp Law; Robert Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman; Joseph Guglielmo from Scott + Scott and Mark Rosen from Barrack, Rodos & Bacine
For Hain: Jenner & Block’s Dean Panos
For Gerber: Bryan Merryman of White & Case
For Beech Nut: Livia Kiser from King & Spalding