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In re Refrigerant Compressors Antitrust Litigation

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013

In re: Refrigerant Compressors Antitrust Litigation (13-1608), Movant.
Tecumseh Products Company, et al., Defendants-Appellees. Gateway KGMP Development, Incorporated, et al., Plaintiffs, Air Cooling Energy Corporation (13-1615); Mark A. Barash (13-1617); Nathan Levi Esquerra (13-1624); F.G. Farah and Partners, LLC (13-1625); Strong Electric (13-1628); and Saad Wholesale, Inc. (13-1631), Plaintiffs-Appellants,

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. 2:09-md-02042—Sean F. Cox, District Judge.

Before: BATCHELDER, Chief Judge; SUTTON, Circuit Judge; HOOD, District Judge. [*]


SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

After the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation brought these plaintiffs and their separate lawsuits together, see 28 U.S.C. § 1407, many of the plaintiffs elected to consolidate all of their claims in a single complaint. The district court entered an order dismissing the claims raised by some of the plaintiffs. But the order left intact several claims raised by other plaintiffs in the same complaint. Does this order amount to a "final" decision from which the dismissed plaintiffs may appeal? 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We hold that it does not and dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs normally may decide where to file their lawsuits. But when different plaintiffs file similar cases in different districts, keeping the cases separate forces district court judges to duplicate each other's labors. Congress empowered a federal multidistrict panel to address this problem by transferring overlapping cases to a single district if the cases involve "one or more common questions of fact" and if the transfer "will be for the convenience of parties and witnesses and will promote the just and efficient conduct of [the] actions." 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). The transfer unifies the cases for "pretrial proceedings." Id. Once these proceedings conclude, the multidistrict panel must remand each transferred case that has not "been previously terminated" to the originating district for trial. Id.; see also Lexecon v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26 (1998) (holding that, because the remand requirement is absolute, the transferee court may not invoke the change-of-venue statute to assign transferred cases to itself for trial).

Today's multidistrict controversy arose when manufacturers of compressors-devices that cool the air in refrigerators and the water in water coolers-allegedly violated federal antitrust laws by fixing prices and dividing markets. Several buyers filed lawsuits against the manufacturers in district courts across the country. The plaintiffs included both "direct purchasers" (those who bought their compressors from the manufacturer) and "indirect purchasers" (those who bought their compressors from intermediaries such as retailers).

The multidistrict panel centralized pretrial proceedings in the Eastern District of Michigan. Once in the Eastern District, the indirect purchasers filed a single "consolidated amended complaint" that combined all of their allegations. The direct purchasers did likewise.

The Eastern District dismissed some but not all of the claims in the indirect purchasers' complaint. As a result, six of the indirect purchasers saw all of their claims dismissed. All six of them appealed. They simultaneously asked the district court to enter a final judgment under Civil Rule 54(b) or to certify an interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292, but the district court denied both requests. The compressor manufacturers moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

For the most part, a party may appeal only a district court's "final decisions." 28 U.S.C. § 1291. When a single action presents multiple claims or involves multiple parties, a district court ruling that disposes of only some claims or only some parties is ordinarily not "final." This general rule curbs the inefficiency and delay of multiple appeals from a single action.

But what constitutes a single action for purposes of § 1291? At least three broad-brush scenarios exist. The first is the most frequent and the easiest to resolve. When a plaintiff brings different claims—or for that matter when multiple plaintiffs bring different claims—in the same complaint, they have brought just one action, and a ruling that fails to dispose of the whole complaint is not final. See, e.g., Talamini v. Allstate Ins. Co., 470 U.S. 1067 (1985) (mem.); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 431–32 (1956).

Things get trickier with the second possibility—when separate actions filed by separate plaintiffs in the same district court become consolidated. Some federal appellate courts have concluded that, after the cases are consolidated, they retain their separate identities, others that they always merge, and still others that they sometimes merge and sometimes remain distinct. See 15A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 3914.7 (2d ed. 1992). Our circuit's test focuses on how the consolidation occurred. When a court consolidates two cases on its own, we have concluded, the consolidated cases generally "remain separate actions;" thus, a district court's disposal of one of the cases normally supports an immediate appeal, even if the other consolidated case remains live. Beil v. Lakewood Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 15 F.3d 546, 551 (6th Cir. 1994). But when the plaintiff files an amended complaint that unifies claims initially brought separately, the cases merge into a single action so far as § 1291 is concerned; one claim cannot come up on appeal until the district court disposes of the whole complaint or the district court provides a Rule 54 certification. See Klyce v. Ramirez, 852 F.2d 568, 1988 WL 74155, at *3 (6th Cir. 1988) (unpublished).

This distinction respects the general rule that, "when a plaintiff files a complaint in federal court and then voluntarily amends the complaint, courts look to the amended complaint to determine jurisdiction." Rockwell Int'l Corp. v. United States, 549 U.S. 457, 473–74 (2007). The test also makes sense. An amended complaint supersedes an earlier complaint for all purposes. Pac. Bell Tel. Co. v. Linkline Commc'ns, Inc., 555 U.S. 438, 456 n.4 (2009). If combining claims in the initial complaint unifies them into a single action, combining claims in an amended complaint must unify them into a single action as well. On top of that, the test is easy to administer, and "administrative simplicity is a major virtue in a jurisdictional statute." Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010). An indeterminate finality line would waste judicial resources by routinely spurring protective appeals from non-final orders. Thus, if this were a run-of-the-mine single-district lawsuit—if all of the plaintiffs had filed their initial complaints in the Eastern District of Michigan—it would be easy to resolve. By replacing the separate original complaints with a consolidated amended complaint, the plaintiffs would have combined their lawsuits into one action. Because the district court's order did not dispose of all the parties and all the claims in the amended complaint, its order would be non-final and non-appealable.

That leaves the third possibility, the one presented here: the plaintiffs filed separate actions in separate district courts, the multidistrict panel consolidated the cases in one district, and the plaintiffs filed a new complaint with respect to the consolidated cases. What then? We have never addressed this question before, and to our knowledge neither has any other circuit court. But we see no reason to treat scenario three differently from scenario two. That is to say, if plaintiffs file a consolidated complaint after a multidistrict transfer, an order disposing of some of the claims or parties in the consolidated complaint is non-final (barring a Rule 54(b) judgment) and non-appealable (barring a § 1292 certification).

The six buyers resist this interpretation. They first claim that, after the multidistrict transfer, they did not file a consolidated complaint but only an administrative document with no legal force. We do not ...

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