In re Fibreboard Corp.

893 F.2d 706 (1990)

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In re Fibreboard Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
893 F.2d 706 (1990)

Facts

By 1986, there were more than 5,000 asbestos-related cases pending in the Fifth Circuit, and because of the latent manifestation of asbestos-related injuries, similar filings were expected to continue at that rate for about another 15 years. Judge Robert Parker of the Eastern District of Texas, finding that the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) were met, certified a class of some 900 asbestos claimants. After that and some settlements, approximately 3,031 asbestos-related personal-injury cases remained in the Eastern District of Texas. To resolve all the remaining claims without the need for separate trials for each class member, Judge Parker consolidated the claims and ordered a trial to proceed in three phases. Phase I would try common defenses and punitive damages; Phase II, before the same jury, would try certain class representatives’ claims, and with statistical and representative evidence, the jury would assess the total liability to the class; and Phase III would distribute any damages awarded during Phase II. Two defendants, Fibreboard Corporation and Pittsburgh Corning Corporation (Fibreboard), sought a writ of mandamus to vacate Judge Parker’s order. Focusing on Phase II, Fibreboard argued that the proposed process would effectively deny them their Seventh Amendment jury-trial rights, deny them due process, and violate the controlling Texas products-liability law because they each in some manner required one-on-one adversarial engagement. The claimants conceded that the proposed process was extraordinary but argued that the circumstances required it. The claimants also argued that the proposed trial did not rewrite the rules but, rather, it merely changed the mode of proof consistent with the provisions of Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 for summary evidence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Higginbotham, J.)

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