Juul presses to have avalanche of lawsuits moved to San Francisco

Edvard Pettersson and Jef Feeley

Juul Labs Inc. asked a federal judicial panel in Los Angeles to send dozens of lawsuits it faces over the almost daily revelations of the health risks of e-cigarettes to a judge in its hometown of San Francisco.

Austin Schwing, a lawyer for Juul, made the pitch Thursday at a hearing before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, which determines whether lawsuits are similar enough that pre-trial proceedings such as collection of evidence and deposition of witnesses should be overseen by one judge.

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Schwing said the company faces 55 lawsuits in more than 20 states. The company has agreed with most of the plaintiffs’ lawyers that class-action lawsuits over false advertising and personal-injury suits on behalf of individuals who allegedly got sick or died from vaping should be combined before one judge.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco is already overseeing a consolidated class-action lawsuit, brought last year by 44 plaintiffs from 22 states. The e-cigarette maker is accused in the suit of copying the now illegal marketing strategies of the tobacco industry to target young people, leading to a youth vaping epidemic. Orrick last month allowed much of that case to move forward.

Some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers asked the panel to consider sending the cases to a federal court other than San Francisco.

Andy Birchfield, an Alabama-based lawyer, compared the fast-growing number of lawsuits over vaping to the opioid litigation in its complexity and breadth.

“This is a massive litigation that is massively complex,” Birchfield told the panel. “We need an experienced hand” to oversee the consolidated cases.

The judges didn’t immediately rule on the request, nor did they indicate which way they might be leaning.

Aside from the federal lawsuits, Juul faces dozens of lawsuits in state courts around the country.

The case is: In re Juul Labs Inc., marketing sales practices and product liability litigation, MDL2913, U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation.