SeaWorld MDL Denied Class Certification

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The motion to transfer five actions into multidistrict litigation by SeaWorld was denied by the JPML.

Monday, August 31, 2015 - A group of lawsuits against SeaWorld that had been combined in a motion to transfer filed by the defendants for consolidated into multidistrict litigation was denied by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation following a July hearing. There had been contention throughout the process of SeaWorld filing the motion to transfer, as some plaintiffs felt strongly about the lack of merit with which the defendants sook class certifications for what they claimed to be rather simple lawsuits. Multidistrict litigation is traditionally withheld for proceedings that would benefit from the consolidation of considerably complex lawsuits.

The lawsuits the plaintiffs filed against SeaWorld regarded the advertising involved in portraying how orca whales were treated at the defendant‘s water parks. The allegations claim that SeaWorld intentionally misled their customers as to the negative effects holding the large whales in such a small space can have on the animals. Many of these issues were brought into the public consciousness courtesy of a documentary entitled "Blackfish," which followed the story of a orca that had been held in captivity for years by SeaWorld and killed three humans during its life. Plaintiffs claimed that if they would have been made aware of the way in which the animals were being treated by SeaWorld, they would not have paid for admission to the water parks run by the company.

The two plaintiffs that did not agree with the motion to transfer filed in relation to the lawsuits had a handful of reasons for their objection to the filing. They claimed that SeaWorld‘s proposal of the Middle District of Florida federal court as a potential venue for the MDL was misguided as none of the actions pending against them were in the vicinity of that federal court. Of the five lawsuits that were named in the motion to transfer three were based in the Southern District of California, while the two other were based in the Northern District of California.

The two dissenting plaintiffs also claimed that the false advertising and animal abuse claims filed against SeaWorld did not constitute as complex litigation that required the consolidation of the actions into an MDL. The effort they claim that would be needed for the separate lawsuits to coordinate in order to facilitate the efficient progression of the proceedings would not require multidistrict litigation.

In the end, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation filed an order of denial in August that eliminated the motion to transfer from gaining certification. The panel claimed that the three separate suits in the Southern District of California could be considered as one since they all consider common questions of fact and retained the same counsel to represent the plaintiffs in all the cases. With that established, the panel viewed the motion to transfer as only pertaining to two actions both taking place on the other side of the country from where SeaWorld proposed the consolidation and decided that an MDL was not necessary for the cases. The lawsuits will proceed against SeaWorld in their respective federal courts.