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In September 1990, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on Asbestos Litigation in response to what was widely perceived as a "'failure of the federal court system to perform one of its vital roles in our society.'" Less than a year later, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred all untried asbestos cases to the eastern district of Pennsylvania for pretrial proceedings. In January 1993, these proceedings produced a global settlement class action of historic proportions, which the district court eventually approved in August 1994. In May 1996, in Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc., the Third Circuit vacated the settlement and remanded the case to the district court with directions to decertify the class. One month later, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a $1.535 billion global settlement between Fibreboard Corp. and a class virtually identical to that decertified by the Third Circuit. In June 1997, the Supreme Court decided Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, in which it affirmed the Georgine decision, and vacated the Fifth Circuit settlement. Decades of asbestos litigation, years of effort by the most sophisticated members of the mass tort bar, and millions of dollars in transaction costs were rendered moot by the same Court that had recognized the crisis and called for an extraordinary response seven years before.


Health Law and Policy | Law | Supreme Court of the United States | Torts