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Chinese drywall lawsuits to be heard in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – June 17, 2009 – Florida lost the fight for venue, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana will consolidate cases from around the nation, according to an order issued Monday by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The order applies to pending and future cases.

JPML overrode Florida requests for venue based on the experience of Louisiana judge who would hear the case, Judge Eldon E. Fallon. Florida officials argued that the state had the highest number of Chinese drywall cases; therefore, it made sense to hold the trial in the Sunshine State. But the judge has experience in large-scale litigation, and recently oversaw a case involving the drug Vioxx.

The order immediately moves 10 lawsuits in Florida, Louisiana and Ohio to New Orleans. An additional 67 cases might also be included, and website estimates that as many as 1,000 cases may eventually be part of it.

“I really wish (the litigation) stayed in Florida,” says Kristin Culliton, a Florida homeowner and lead plaintiff in one of the cases now moving to New Orleans. “(This is) where most of us are. It’s where it all began and where it belonged.”

Multidistrict litigation (MDL) puts all cases under a single judge to make the process easier. It seeks to avoid inconsistent rulings, conserve the parties’ resources, and save time for the court and witnesses.

So far, 18 states have reported Chinese drywall problems, in which ingredients used to make the drywall give off a sulfur smell and damage metal, such as air conditioning coils. A study last month by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found a higher level of sulfur in Chinese manufactured drywall, along with two organic compounds usually found in acrylic paint. None of those ingredients is found in American-made drywall.

The EPA did not, however, rule on whether those compounds can harm metal pipes or people.