3M Co has asked a federal judge to require tens of thousands of plaintiffs who have claimed that the company’s military-issue earplugs damaged their hearing as part of a mammoth multidistrict litigation to back their cases up with filing fees.
In a Florida federal court, Minnesota-based 3M said that allowing plaintiffs to bring “unvetted” claims in an administrative docket by submitting short forms without the typical filing fee of $402 per case has caused the MDL to “explode” into the largest in history.
The filing comes after plaintiffs won verdicts totaling about $200 million over eight bellwether trials, while juries have sided with 3M in five trials.
“These desperate motions by 3M cannot hide the fact that eight juries have awarded more than $200 million in damages to U.S. servicemembers, and that their defenses … are unconvincing and without merit,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Bryan Aylstock of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz said.
As of Mar. 16, more than 288,000 actions were pending in the MDL before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, more than double the number of actions currently pending in all other MDLs combined.
3M said that the unprecedented number of cases stemmed from Casey’s decision to allow plaintiffs to bring claims on an administrative docket “without any meaningful obligations,” such as fees, discovery disclosures or allegations about where and when the plaintiff used the earplugs.
Rodgers has begun a process to dismantle the administrative docket, ordering plaintiffs’ lawyers to move some cases from it to the normal court docket and pay fees. However, 3M said fewer than 15,000 plaintiffs had paid fees as of the end of 2021, and there is still no deadline for most cases to move off the administrative docket.
“There is no reason to further delay the payment of filing fees, which should have been required from the very beginning,” it said.
3M has argued that the military was responsible for the earplugs’ design and that the plaintiffs’ state law claims were preempted because of 3M’s role as a federal contractor following government mandates.