134 F.3d 133 (3rd Cir. 1998), 96-2039, In re General Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litigation

Docket Nº:in No. 96-2039,
Citation:134 F.3d 133
Party Name:In re: GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION PICK-UP TRUCK FUEL TANK PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION Jack French, Robert M. West, Charles E. Merrit and Gary Blades (The French objectors/movants), Appellants
Case Date:January 14, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Page 133

134 F.3d 133 (3rd Cir. 1998)



Jack French, Robert M. West, Charles E. Merrit and Gary

Blades (The French objectors/movants), Appellants

in No. 96-2039,

Jesus Garibay, Jerome Hope, Jr., Robert and Lucille White,

and Carlos Zabala, pending intervenors, objectors

and class members, Appellants in No. 96-2054,

Dan Tureck and Joseph Geller, Appellants in No. 96-2061.

Nos. 96-2039, 96-2054 and 96-2061.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

January 14, 1998

Argued July 25, 1997.

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Paul Benton Weeks, III (argued), Wichita, KS, Michael W. Hanna, Raytown, MO, Randall E. Fisher, (argued), Wichita, KS, for Jack French, Robert West, Charles E. Merritt and Gary Blades.

Robert B. Gerard, (argued) Gerard & Associates, San Diego, CA, Jeffrey A. Miller, Dummit, Faber & Briegleb, San Diego, CA, Clyde C. Greco, Jr., Scott A. Johnson, Greco & Traficante, San Diego, CA, E. David Chanin, Tannebaum & Chanin, Philadelphia, PA, for Jesus Garibay, Jerome Hope, Jr., Robert and Lucille White and Carlos Zabala.

Lynde Selden, II (argued), Lynde Selden Chartered, PLC, San Diego, CA, Jack Stolier, Sullivan, Stolier and Daigle, New Orleans, LA, Joe R. McCray, (argued) Law Office of Joe R. McCray, San Francisco, CA, Richard H. Rosenthal, Law Office of Richard H. Rosenthal, Carmel Valley, CA, for Dan Tureck, and Joseph Geller, Appellants.

Robert J. LaRocca (argued), Dianne M. Nast, Roda and Nast, P.C., Lancaster, PA, Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, L.L.P., San Francisco, CA, for Appellees John Martin, et al.

Karen N. Walker, Jeffrey A. Rosen (argued), John Gibson Mullan, Antony B. Klapper, Kirkland & Ellis, Washington, DC, Lee A. Schutzman, Edward C. Wolfe, General Motors Corporation, Detroit, MI, Francis P. Burns, III, Lavin, Coleman, Finarelli & Gray, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee General Motors Corporation.

Alan M. Mansfield, Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach, San Diego, CA, for Appellee Stone Ridge Agri, Inc.

Michael G. Crow, Karen L. Wilkins, Adams & Reese, New Orleans, LA, for Appellee Edsel Fisher.

Before: BECKER, MANSMANN, Circuit Judges, and HOEVELER, District Judge. [*]


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This is a sequel to our opinion in In re General Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Prod. Liab. Litig., 55 F.3d 768 (3d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. General Motors Corp. v. French, 516 U.S. 824, 116 S.Ct. 88, 133 L.Ed.2d 45 (1995) [hereinafter GM I ], in

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which we held that the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had erred in certifying a nationwide settlement class of General Motors ("GM") truck owners who sought damages and injunctive relief as the result of the allegedly defective design of the fuel system in certain GM Trucks, which is said to have created a high risk of fire following side collisions. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania litigation was made up of a large number of cases transferred to that court by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ("JPML") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 for consolidated pretrial proceedings (the "MDL cases"). In GM I, we vacated the class certification order and set aside the settlement but left open the possibility that the defect in the certification procedure might be cured, the class certified, and a revised settlement approved on remand. However, instead of proceeding further in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the parties to the settlement repaired to the 18th Judicial District for the Parish of Iberville, Louisiana, where a similar suit had been pending, restructured their deal, and submitted it to the Louisiana court, which ultimately approved it.

The action before us is an appeal from an order of the district court denying emergency applications by a number of GM truck owners who were members of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania class for an injunction against further class action proceedings in the Louisiana case, White v. General Motors Corp., No. 42,865 Division "D" (18th Judicial District, Louisiana). At the time of the district court's order, the Louisiana state court was considering whether to approve a settlement between GM and a certified settlement class of GM pickup truck owners, though it stayed entry of its final order until the district court could rule on the request for injunction.

The Louisiana settlement class is composed of persons who purchased over a fifteen-year period certain mid- and full-size GM pickup trucks with model C, K, R, or V chassis with fuel tanks located outside the frame rails. Like the federal plaintiffs, the Louisiana plaintiffs allege that the fuel system design leads to an increased risk of fire following side collisions. Appellants are members of that settlement class, and none of them has chosen to opt out of that class.

Following the conditional certification of the settlement class by the Louisiana court, the present appellants, truck owners who were never parties but were successful objectors to the proposed Eastern District of Pennsylvania settlement, moved to intervene in the on-going proceedings in the MDL cases and requested the court to enjoin the Louisiana state court from considering the settlement agreement before it. The district court, which at that time had 277 plaintiffs with cases pending before it, denied appellants' motion for intervention as untimely, and also denied the motion for injunctive relief. Appellants then filed Emergency Motions with this Court requesting injunctions against the Louisiana court proceedings. We denied those motions and ordered full briefing. Thereafter, the Louisiana state court entered final judgment approving the settlement. The present appellants also filed notices of appeal from that judgment in the Louisiana appellate system, so that they were proceeding simultaneously with their appeal from the district court's denial of their motion for injunction and their Louisiana appeal.

Appellants' claim centers on their argument that the Louisiana settlement is little changed from the one previously rejected by us in GM I. Accordingly, they view the settlement as an "end run" around, and a flagrant violation of, the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania MDL court to which we had remanded the case for further proceedings. Although the procedure followed by appellees gives us pause, the precedent of this Court and the Supreme Court compels us to disagree with appellants and to affirm the district court's decision on several grounds.

Because the attempt to enjoin the Louisiana court proceedings is functionally an attempt to enjoin the individual plaintiffs and class members from proceeding there, we analyze it in those terms. Viewed from that perspective, neither the district court nor this Court has personal jurisdiction over the almost 5.7 million absentee plaintiffs who are

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(1) not before the district court, (2) have no minimum contacts with Pennsylvania, and (3) have not consented to personal jurisdiction. Second, now that the Louisiana court has entered a final judgment on the settlement, our review is barred by both the Full Faith and Credit Act and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which prevents intermediate federal appellate review of state court decisions. Finally, appellants' requested injunction does not fall under any of the three exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act, which authorize a federal court to stay state court proceedings only when "expressly authorized by an Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." 28 U.S.C. § 2283.


A. The MDL Proceedings

Although the background facts have been set forth in greater detail in our first opinion in this case, see GM I, 55 F.3d at 779-83, we rescribe those facts necessary to our present decision. Between 1973 and 1991, GM sold over 6.3 million pickup trucks with fuel tanks mounted outside of the frame rails. These trucks are allegedly defective because they are subject to an increased risk of fire in the event of a side collision. In late October 1992, counsel filed claims on behalf of plaintiffs in 26 federal courts and 11 state courts, including Louisiana. On February 26, 1993, the JPML transferred all related federal actions to the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for coordinated discovery and pre-trial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407.

On March 5, 1993, pursuant to an order of the transferee judge, plaintiffs filed a Consolidated Amended Class Action Complaint with 277 named plaintiffs seeking equitable relief and damages. Specifically, the complaint alleged violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301 et seq., the Lanham Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C.s 1125(a), as well as a variety of state common law claims including negligence, strict liability, fraud, unfair practices, and breach of written and implied warranty.

Also on March 5, 1993, plaintiffs filed a consolidated motion for nationwide class certification. The district court set July 19, 1993, as the date for the hearing on this motion. Discovery proceeded, focusing on the certification issue, while the parties began exploring the possibility of settlement. By the date of the hearing, the parties had reached a settlement in principle and petitioned the court for approval. Without prejudice to GM's opposition to class certification, the parties agreed to certification of a settlement class of GM pickup truck owners.

While the provisional settlement included many detailed terms, the most...

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