January 21, 2015

Supreme Court Decides Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp.

On January 21, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp., No. 13-1174, holding that, because cases consolidated for multidistrict pretrial proceedings ordinarily retain their separate identities, an order disposing of one of the discrete cases in its entirety qualifies under 28 U.S.C. §1291 as an appealable final judgment.

In the Southern District of New York, petitioners Gelboim and Zacher filed a class-action complaint against a number of banks raising a single antitrust claim. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1407, the Jurisdictional Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the Gelboim-Zacher case for pretrial proceedings with some 60 other cases, establishing MDL No. 2262. Transfer is permitted under § 1407 when the separate actions involve “one or more common questions of fact” to “eliminate duplication in discovery, avoid conflicting rulings and schedules, reduce litigation cost, and save the time and effort of the parties, the attorneys, the witnesses and the courts.” In this instance, all of the consolidated actions involved allegations of the banks understating their borrowing costs in order to depress the London InterBank Offered Rate, which is a benchmark interest rate disseminated by the British Bankers’ Association.

Within MDL No. 2262, the defendant banks filed a motion to dismiss the Gelboim-Zacher complaint on the ground that the plaintiffs had suffered no antitrust injury. The District Court granted the motion, denied leave to amend the complaint, and dismissed that complaint in its entirety. However, other cases consolidated into MDL No. 2262 remained pending before the District Court. Gelboim and Zacher appealed the dismissal, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for want of appellate jurisdiction, holding that the “orde[r] appealed from did not dispose of all claims in the consolidated action.”

The Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit and held that the Gelboim-Zacher complaint retained its independent identity, and, consequently, an order disposing of the case in its entirety qualified as an appealable final judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. In its analysis, the Court noted that § 1407 refers to individual “actions” that may be transferred to a single district court, not to any monolithic multidistrict “action” created by transfer. Furthermore, because the District Court terminated the Gelboim-Zacher action in its order of dismissal, those plaintiffs were no longer participants in the ongoing consolidated proceeding. The Court also reasoned that forcing plaintiffs to wait to file an appeal until after a consolidated proceeding ends would leave the plaintiffs in a quandary about the proper timing of their appeal. Thus, the Court adopted the “sensible solution” that the appeal clock is triggered for a transferred case if the transferee court grants a defendant’s dispositive motion on all issues in that individual case.

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Download Opinion of the Court.

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