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In the Matter of Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc

Law Dictionary
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Civil Procedure Keyed to Marcus

Citation. 51 F.3d 1293, 1995 U.S. App.

Brief Fact Summary. A nationwide class action brought on behalf of hemophiliacs (Plaintiffs) infected by the AIDS virus as a consequence of using Defendants’ products. Defendants are the drug companies who manufacture blood solids used by hemophiliacs. (Defendants) Defendants filed with the court of appeals, a Petition for Writ of Mandamus requesting that the court of appeals direct the district judge to rescind his order certifying the case as a class action.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to obtain a Writ of Mandamus to review a judgment, the ruling of the lower court must inflict irreparable harm and exhibit an abuse in judicial discretion.


Facts. This suit arises out of the infection of a substantial fraction of the hemophiliac population of this country by the AIDS virus, because the blood supply was contaminated by the virus. Hemophiliacs depend on blood solids that contain clotting factors, whose absence is the cause of the disease. The blood solids are concentrated from blood obtained from donors. Thus, if one of the donors is infected with the AIDS virus, the probability that the blood solids manufactured from this blood will be infected is high. Plaintiffs presented evidence that over 2,000 hemophiliacs have died of AIDS and that half or more of the remaining hemophiliacs may be HIV-positive. Three hundred lawsuits, involving some 400 plaintiffs, have been filed, 60% of them in state courts, and 40% in federal district courts under diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs base their claim on
two theories of liability. The first theory is that Defendants’ failure to take effective measures was negligent and caused hemophiliacs to be infected with Hepatitis B. The second theory of liability stated that Defendants were negligent in the screening of donors, and in taking measures to prevent contamination of blood solids by HIV. The trial judge based his decision to certify the suit as a class action on the rendition of the jury of a special verdict that would answer a number of questions bearing on whether the Defendants are negligent under either of the Plaintiffs’ theories. The trial judge’s experimentation with an innovative procedure for streamlining the adjudication of the mass torts far exceeded the permissible bounds of discretion in the management of federal litigation. Defendants filed with the court of appeals a Petition for Writ of Mandamus requesting the court to direct the district judge to rescind his order certifying the case as a class action.

Issue. Whether a Petition for Writ of Mandamus to review should be granted?

Held. Yes. Mandamus to review is granted. There are two conditions for the granting of a mandamus. The first condition requires that the challenged ruling of the district court have inflicted irreparable harm, in other words, harm that cannot be rectified by an appeal from the final judgment. The second condition requires that the ruling be described as an abuse of judicial discretion. In the instant case, the ruling of the district court will inflict irreparable harm. If the class had not been certified, the Defendants would be facing 300 suits and more may be filed. However, only a few more suits are likely to be filed, because the statute of limitations is expiring since the blood supply has been safe since 1985. The potential damages in 300 lawsuits are great. Class actions may also put the Defendant under pressure to settle the suit. This pressure to settle, however, must be
balanced against the benefits of the class action. The discussion of the facts proves that the ruling will inflict irreparable harm. In terms of the second condition, the district court exceeded the bounds of allowable judicial discretion by devising an innovative plan for the litigation. Forcing Defendants to stake their companies on the outcome of a single jury trial when it is feasible to allow a final determination of their liability to emerge from multiple trials that involve different juries and different standards of liability is a great concern of the district court’s ruling. Another concern is that the district court exceeded the bounds of permissible judicial discretion in that the court proposed to have the jury determine Defendants’ negligence under a legal theory that does not exist. The final concern, in which the district court exceeded its authority, is that the judge’s plan of action proposes to divide the trial of the issues that he
has certified for class action from the other issues involved in the many potential and actual claims of the members of the class. An inconsistency would result between the juries. Therefore, the Petition for Writ of Mandamus is granted and the district judge is directed to decertify the Plaintiffs’ claims.

Dissent. The dissent argues that they would have denied the Defendants the Petition for Writ of Mandamus. The class action, if it continued, would resolve only the question of whether Defendants were negligent in distributing the blood solids. The law requires that the district court judge’s plan be given the opportunity to succeed.


Discussion. A writ of mandamus is a writ issued by a superior court to compel a lower court to perform duties correctly. There are two conditions for determining whether the granting of a writ of mandamus is appropriate: 1) whether the challenged ruling of the district court has inflicted irreparable harm, in other words, harm that cannot be rectified by an appeal from the final judgment; and 2) whether ruling is as an abuse of judicial discretion.

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