Nearly 200 lawsuits filed against Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. will be consolidated before U.S. District Judge James Selna of the Central District of California, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation announced on Friday.
The panel appeared to have been swayed by two arguments that Toyota’s lead counsel maintained during a hearing last month in San Diego: Toyota’s U.S. headquarters is in nearby Torrance, Calif., and more lawsuits have been filed against Toyota in that district than in any other.
Selna, who sits in Santa Ana, Calif., was selected at the recommendation of Chief Judge Audrey B. Collins, according to the order.
“He is a well regarded and skilled jurist,” the MDL panel wrote in its order. “Moreover, Judge Selna’s 28 years of private law practice at the very highest levels and in some of the most complex cases leaves him well prepared for a case of this magnitude.”
The MDL panel consolidated the personal injury suits with the class actions, which are based on economic damages, according to the order. All of the suits address sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, more than 8 million of which have been recalled.
Calls to a Toyota spokeswoman and to the company’s lead counsel, Cari Dawson, chairwoman of Alston & Bird’s class action practice, who argued for the district last month, were not returned.
Plaintiffs attorneys praised the panel’s decision.
“My experience with Judge Selna is that he’s one of the best federal judges in the country. He’s fair to all parties,” said Mark Robinson, a partner at Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson in Newport Beach, Calif., who was the only one of 24 attorneys who argued for the Central District of California’s Santa Ana branch last month before the panel. “And I would say that the southern division of the Central District of California has one of the best group of judges in this country. That’s the truth. They’re incredible.”
At the same time, he said, that branch has not heard an MDL case that rivals the size of the Toyota litigation.
Tim Howard, a professor at Northeastern University who leads a consortium of more than two dozen plaintiffs attorneys with cases against Toyota, said that Selna is “an excellent jurist” who has issued “recent rulings that show a fair approach to handling these types of cases.”
W. Daniel “Dee” Miles, head of the consumer fraud section of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala., which has filed five consumer class actions against Toyota, said he wasn’t surprised by the panel’s decision.
“The MDL panel’s decision to send these cases to Judge James V. Selna in the federal court for The Central District of California makes logical sense and is a good choice,” Miles said in a prepared statement. “That court has the most advanced set of cases in the country currently. Judge Selna is a proven jurist with vast experience in complex litigation and is the perfect Judge for this litigation.”
Selna, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003, is a graduate of Stanford Law School who served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve during the Vietnam War.