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(Reuters) – A federal judge in Florida on Tuesday rejected a veteran’s attempt to block 3M Co from asking a U.S. bankruptcy court in Indiana to halt mass tort litigation over its military earplugs .
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in Pensacola, who oversees approximately 230,000 lawsuits alleging earplugs cause hearing loss, removes a potential roadblock to the Minnesota company’s plan to resolve the lawsuits through the bankruptcy of its subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC, the original manufacturer of earplugs, rather than in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) before Rodgers.
Veteran Richard Valle had asked Rodgers to block the company’s plan earlier this month. He argued the company was trying to evade jurisdiction simply because it didn’t like the MDL’s results so far, which has seen plaintiffs win 10 out of 16 lawsuits and reap $265 million in combined rewards. for 13 service members.
US Chief Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham in Indianapolis is currently considering an order protecting 3M, which is not bankrupt, from lawsuits.
Rodgers, who was harshly critical of 3M’s strategy, said while she believed she had the authority to prohibit 3M from seeking protection, the bankruptcy court was “well qualified and well suited” to decide the issue.
Rodgers instead issued a more limited order prohibiting 3M from asking the bankruptcy court to revive any issues it had already decided. She noted that Aearo had stated in a deposit last month that the bankruptcy court could resolve the claims based on a “fair and complete evidentiary record,” while attacking Rodgers’ rulings on evidentiary issues.
Rodgers said the company’s seeking more favorable rulings from the bankruptcy court was a threat to its jurisdiction that “cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss and Bryan Aylstock of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, attorneys for plaintiffs in the litigation, said they were satisfied with the ruling.
“We continue to believe that 3M should not benefit from a stay of litigation given that it is far from a bankrupt defendant, and we will pursue all available remedies to hold them accountable,” they said.
3M had no immediate comment.
Aearo filed for bankruptcy on July 26 and said it had committed $1 billion to resolve the earplug litigation. Days before the filing, he reached an agreement to indemnify 3M from any liability related to the Combat Arms Version 2 (CAEv2) earplugs.
3M, which denied liability, argued that the earplug cases should now be resolved in bankruptcy court and called the MDL “broken beyond repair”.
The case is In re 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, US District Court, Northern District of Florida, No. 19-md-2885.
For plaintiffs: Adam Wolfson of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Ashley Keller of Keller Postman; Bryan Aylstock, Daniel Thornburgh and Jennifer Hoekstra of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz; Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson; Chris Seeger of Seeger Weiss; and Joseph Messa of Messa & Associates
For 3M: Kimberly Branscome of Dechert; and Jessica Lauria of White & Case
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