In keeping with the football theme of the ongoing Portland Panel Preview, imPaneled shines the spotlight today on MDL 2468, In re Pilot Flying J Fuel Rebate Contract Litigation. imPaneled’s many readers in Cleveland and Tennessee are likely aware of the underlying claims, as Pilot Flying J is the family business of Cleveland Browns owner (and PFJ CEO) Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam. In those parts of the country, press coverage of the allegations has been so intense that controversy surrounding Thursday’s Panel hearing in the case was actually covered in a mainstream newspaper.
But laypeople, try as they may, can’t convey the Panel-centric nuances of the proceeding like imPaneled can. It began like so many before it, with the public disclosure of a federal investigation, followed by a flood of class actions and a Panel motion. That in turn was followed by a slew of responses, with most plaintiffs favoring centralization in the S.D. Miss. and PFJ touting its home turf in the E.D. Tenn.
The proceeding became interesting less than a week ago when some (but not all) of the plaintiffs filed in the E.D. Ark.–a district to which no one seeks transfer–a motion seeking the preliminary approval of a class-wide settlement they had reached with PFJ the previous day. Judge James M. Moody preliminarily approved the settlement the day the motion was filed. Two days later, the settling parties (including PFJ) asked to stay the Panel proceeding. The non-settling plaintiffs predictably resisted (and predictably questioned the terms of the settlement) the following day. And after no doubt spending the weekend engrossed in internal debate, the Panel today entered the minute order imPaneled was hoping to see: “Oral Argument will proceed in this docket as planned.” Oral Argument indeed. Settling plaintiffs’ counsel include Lieff Cabraser, the Becnel Law Firm and Zimmerman Reed. Non-settling plaintiffs’ counsel include Heins Mills and Goldman Scarlato Karon & Penny.
Meanwhile, imPaneled was disappointed to be reminded that when the N.D. Cal. publicly solicited lead counsel applications in the Wells Fargo force-placed insurance cases pending there (see imPaneled’s previous coverage here), it required that they be filed by hand under seal–which means that we will learn nothing about them for the time being. But there will be wide-ranging lead counsel drama forthcoming in that and vaguely related proceedings nevertheless, which will come to a head before the Panel on Thursday.
The N.D. Cal. Wells Fargo cases are but some of several that comprise MDL 2466, In re Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation. The plaintiffs’ counsel who forced the public solicitation in the N.D. Cal.–Berger & Montague and Nichols Kaster–have joined forces with Kessler Topaz and Lowey Dannenberg before the Panel, seeking centralization in either the N.D. Cal. or the S.D. Ill. The Arkansas plaintiffs who were effectively deposed in the N.D. Cal. are resisting centralization anywhere, and aligned with Kozyak Tropin and Podhurst Orseck.
And that is worthy of imPaneled’s attention because . . . .? Because substantially the same groups of counsel are bickering over venue in three other force-placed insurance proceedings that will be before the Panel on Thursday: MDLs 2464 (v. HSBC), 2465 (v. JPMorgan Chase) and 2467 (v. Bank of America). The possibilities that would spell victory for one group and defeat for the other are limitless. The arguments will proceed seriatim immediately after everyone enjoys a lobster lunch. The plaintiffs’ counsel involved may get eight (rather than the usual two) minutes to speak to the Panel as a result–which is well worth a July trip to beautiful Maine from any district in the nation.