The Seventh Circuit issued a decision today that has some significance for any of us interested in appeals from decisions of multi-district litigation transferee courts.

After the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transfers a group of related cases to a single district court for handling of pretrial matters, the transferee court often resolves everything that it can by summary judgment and then returns the unresolved cases to the JPML with a recommendation that those cases be returned to the original transferor courts for trial. If that recommendation is followed, the transferee court’s summary judgment rulings are appealed to the court of appeals for the circuit in which the transferee court is located, while the ultimate appeals in the unresolved cases, including review of the legal decisions that impelled the transferee court to deny summary judgment, will go to the courts of appeals for the circuits in which the transferor courts are located. The issue sometimes arises whether the transferee court should, rather, enter Rule 54(b) judgments in the cases in which it has denied summary judgment, so that appeals can be taken from those judgments, along with the judgments granting summary judgment, to a single court of appeals, that in the circuit of the transferee court.

Fifteen years ago, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit in In re Food Lion, Inc., Fair Labor Standards Act “Effective Scheduling” Litig., 73 F.3d 528 (4th Cir. 1996), issued mandamus to the JPML to compel it not to transfer cases back to the transferor courts, to ensure that all appeals in the cases were resolved by the Fourth Circuit. The Seventh Circuit in FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. v. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, slip op., No. 11-2438 (Nov. 17, 2011), denied the defendant’s mandamus petition, holding essentially that the decision of which route to follow was an exercise of discretion by the JPML that should not be disturbed by mandamus.