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Bankruptcy as MDL escape hatch? Not so fast, judge tells 3M in ‘surprise’ decision

The 3M logo is seen at its global headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. on March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi/File Photo

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(Reuters) – A federal bankruptcy judge in Indianapolis jolted 3M Co on Friday, ruling that scores of thousands of military veterans who claim hearing loss from 3M earplugs can continue to litigate their claims against 3M, despite the July 26 bankruptcy of several 3M subsidiaries. The company’s shares, as my colleague Dietrich Knauth reported, dropped 12% Friday and continued falling on Monday morning.

But the decision’s implications extend beyond 3M and the earplug multidistrict litigation. The ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham of Indianapolis should also be a warning to other MDL defendants: A subsidiary’s bankruptcy may not be the escape hatch you’re hoping for.

Graham’s ruling took even seasoned bankruptcy observers such as law professor Lindsey Simon of the University of Georgia School of Law by surprise, since courts frequently agree to extend litigation stays to the parents of bankruptcy subsidiaries. Reuters, for instance, has reported extensively on the so-called Texas two-step, in which solvent companies dump mass tort liability into a newly created

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Sandy Hook parents seek to stop InfoWars bankruptcy payments to Alex Jones

By Dietrich Knauth

(Reuters) – Parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre urged a U.S. bankruptcy judge on Wednesday not to allow the parent company of far-right website InfoWars to send any money to its founder, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, or his companies until they have an opportunity to get to the bottom of InfoWars’ finances.

As a jury deliberates in Austin, Texas, over how much Jones must pay two parents for his false claims that the deadly shooting was a hoax, families of Sandy Hook victims who have sued Jones for defamation in that trial and others who have sued in Connecticut warned a bankruptcy judge in Houston that Jones might continue to pull assets from InfoWars parent company Free Speech Systems LLC while using its bankruptcy case to avoid paying court judgments in the defamation cases.

Marty Brimmage, an attorney for the Sandy Hook parents, told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez in Houston on Wednesday that Jones had told his audience that the bankruptcy would “tie up” any defamation judgment for years.

Judges in the Texas and Connecticut cases have already found Jones liable for defamation. The parents in the Texas trial are seeking

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3M earplug bankruptcy creates “corrosive” tension with other courts, attorney says

The 3M logo is seen at its global headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

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(Reuters) – A 3M Co subsidiary on Wednesday criticized the way federal courts have handled 290,000 consolidated lawsuits over allegedly defective earplugs it made for the U.S. military, saying that the “broken” legal system allowed claims to balloon and threatened the company’s ability to settle them.

3M subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC pressed for, but did not get, a court order that would protect its parent company from the lawsuits at its first hearing in U.S. bankruptcy court in Indianapolis. Instead, it reached a more limited agreement with plaintiffs to pause work for three weeks, interrupting witness depositions and expert reports scheduled in the lawsuits, which have been consolidated in the largest-ever multidistrict litigation (MDL) in U.S. court.

Plaintiffs sued Aearo and 3M over the company’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2), claiming they are defective and damaged their hearing. The cases ballooned to a peak of more than 290,000 last year and now account for nearly one-third of all cases pending in all federal courts, according to a court filing.

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