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In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Litigation

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 2, 2018

Knauf Gips KG, 2:09-cv-6690 Amorin
Taishan Gypsum, 2:11-cv-1395 Amorin
Taishan Gypsum, 2:11-cv-1673 Wiltz
Beijing New Building Materials Public Limited Co., 10-cv-361

         SECTION L (5)



         Defendants China National Building Materials Co., Ltd. (“CNBM Company”), Beijing New Building Material (Group) Company, Limited (“BNBM Group”), and Beijing New Building Materials Public Limited Company (“BNBM PLC”) (collectively, the “Movants” or “Defendants”) have filed a motion to vacate the Court's default judgments against them. Rec. Doc. 21050. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. The Court held oral argument on this matter on December 14, 2017. Having considered the parties' submissions, the extensive record, and the applicable laws, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From 2004 through 2006, the housing boom in Florida and rebuilding efforts necessitated by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina led to a shortage of construction materials, including drywall. As a result, drywall manufactured in China was brought into the United States and used to construct and refurbish homes in coastal areas of the country, notably the Gulf Coast and East Coast. Sometime after the installation of the Chinese drywall, homeowners began to complain of emissions of smelly gasses, the corrosion and blackening of metal wiring, surfaces, and objects, and the breaking down of appliances and electrical devices in their homes. See In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Litig., 894 F.Supp.2d 819, 829-30 (E.D. La. 2012), aff'd, 742 F.3d 576 (5th Cir. 2014). Many of these homeowners also began to complain of various physical afflictions believed to be caused by the Chinese drywall.

         These homeowners then began to file suit in various state and federal courts against homebuilders, developers, installers, realtors, brokers, suppliers, importers, exporters, distributors, and manufacturers who were involved with the Chinese drywall. Because of the commonality of facts in the various cases, this litigation was designated as a multidistrict litigation. Pursuant to a Transfer Order from the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on June 15, 2009, all federal cases involving Chinese drywall were consolidated for pretrial proceedings in MDL 09-2047 before this Court.

         The Chinese drywall at issue was largely manufactured by two groups of defendants: (1) the Knauf Entities and (2) the Taishan Entities. The litigation has focused upon these two entities and their downstream associates, and has proceeded on strikingly different tracks for the claims against each group.

         A. The Knauf Defendants

         The Knauf Entities are German-based, international manufacturers of building products, including drywall, whose Chinese subsidiary, Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co., Ltd. (“KPT”), advertised and sold its Chinese drywall in the United States. The Knauf Entities are named defendants in numerous cases consolidated with the MDL litigation and litigation in state courts.

         The Knauf Entities first entered their appearance in the MDL litigation on July 2, 2009. Rec. Doc. 18. Thereafter, the Court presided over a bellwether trial in Hernandez v. Knauf Gips KG, Case No. 09-6050, involving a homeowner's claims against KPT for defective drywall. See Rec. Doc. 2713. The Court found in favor of the plaintiff family in Hernandez, issued a detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and entered a Judgment in the amount of $164, 049.64, including remediation damages in the amount of $136, 940.46-which represented a cost of $81.13 per square foot based on the footprint square footage of the house. See Rec. Doc. 3012.

         Subsequently, the Knauf Entities entered into a pilot remediation program with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (“PSC”) in the MDL. This program was largely based upon the remediation protocol formulated by the Court from the evidence in Hernandez. The Knauf pilot remediation program is ongoing and has, at present, remediated more than 2, 200 homes containing KPT Chinese drywall using the same general protocol. At the Court's urging, the parties began working together to monetize this program and make it available to a broader class of plaintiffs.

         On December 20, 2011, the Knauf Entities and the PSC entered into a global, class Settlement Agreement (“Knauf Settlement Agreement”), which is designed to resolve all Knauf-related, Chinese drywall claims. See Rec. Doc. 12061-5. In addition to the Knauf Settlement Agreement, numerous defendants in the chain-of-commerce with the Knauf Entities have entered into class settlement agreements, the effect of which settles almost all of the Knauf Entities' chain-of-commerce litigation. Although the Court occasionally must deal with settlement administration and enforcement issues, the Knauf portion of this litigation is largely resolved.

         B. The Chinese Defendants

         The litigation against the Chinese entities has taken a different course. The Chinese Defendants in the litigation include the principal Chinese-based Defendant, Taishan, namely, Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd. (“TG”) and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co., Ltd. (“TTP”) (collectively “Taishan” or “Taishan Entities”). Other Chinese-based Defendants include the CNBM and BNBM Entities.

         The Court's initial inquiry regarding Taishan involved four cases in this MDL: (1) Germano v. Taishan Gypsum Co. (Case No. 09-6687); (2) The Mitchell Co. v. Knauf Gips KG (Case No. 09-4115); (3) Gross v. Knauf Gips KG (Case No. 09-6690); and (4) Wiltz v. Beijing New Building Materials Public Ltd. (Case No. 10-361).

         The first issues involving Taishan arose when Taishan failed to timely answer or otherwise enter an appearance in Mitchell and Germano, despite the fact that it had been properly served in each case. See Rec. Docs. 52 & 1-7 (Case No. 09-6687). Thus, after an extended period of time, the Court entered preliminary defaults against Taishan in both of these cases. See Rec. Docs. 277 & 487.

         Thereafter, the Court moved forward with an evidentiary hearing in furtherance of the Preliminary Default in Germano on the Plaintiffs' claimed damages. See Rec. Docs. 502, 1223, 1258 & 2380. At this hearing, the Plaintiffs presented evidence specific to seven individual properties, which served as bellwether cases. Following this hearing on February 19 and 20, 2010, the Court issued detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. See Rec. Doc. 2380. On May 11, 2010, the Court issued a Default Judgment against Taishan in Germano and in favor of the Plaintiffs. Rec. Doc. 3013. On June 10, 2010, the last day to timely appeal, Taishan filed a Notice of Appeal of the Default Judgment in Germano and entered its appearance in Germano and Mitchell. Rec. Docs. 3668 & 3670.

         After Taishan entered its appearance in the MDL, it quickly sought to have the Default Judgment in Germano and the Preliminary Default in Mitchell vacated for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Rec. Docs. 5436 & 5583. In the fall of 2010, the Court directed the parties to commence the personal jurisdiction discovery necessary to resolve Taishan's motions to vacate. Sometime after the initial discovery, the parties agreed to expand the discovery beyond the Germano and Mitchell cases to other cases in which Taishan had been served, including Gross and Wiltz.

         Formal personal jurisdiction discovery of Taishan began in October 2010. See Rec. Docs. 5839 & 5840. Discovery has included the production of both written and electronic documents, as well as depositions of Taishan's corporate representatives, with each type of discovery proceeding in a parallel fashion. This discovery has often been contentious, requiring close supervision by the Court. The Court has presided over regularly-scheduled status conferences to keep the parties on track, and conducted hearings and issued rulings to resolve numerous discovery-related disputes. See Rec. Docs. 7136 & 7511.

         In April 2012, Taishan filed various motions, including its motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. On June 29, 2012, over three years since the creation of this MDL, and after a year-and-a-half of personal jurisdiction discovery on Taishan, the Court presided over a hearing on Taishan's motions. The Court coordinated its hearing with the Honorable Joseph Farina of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, who had a similar motion involving Taishan's challenge to personal jurisdiction.

         On September 4, 2012, this Court issued a 142-page Order regarding Taishan's motions in Germano, Mitchell, Gross, and Wiltz, in which the Court denied the motions to dismiss, and held that it maintained personal jurisdiction over Taishan. In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Litig., 894 F.Supp.2d 819 (E.D. La. 2012). The Court also ruled that Taishan was operating as the alter ego of TG. The Court certified an interlocutory appeal, and the Fifth Circuit granted permission to appeal.

         In January and May of 2014, two different panels of the Fifth Circuit affirmed this Court's ruling and held that this Court maintained personal jurisdiction over Taishan and TTP. In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Litig., 753 F.3d 521 (5th Cir. 2014); In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Litig., 742 F.3d 576 (5th Cir. 2014). The time for writ of certiorari passed, and the issue of personal jurisdiction over Taishan became firmly and finally settled. Nevertheless, Taishan refused to voluntarily participate in this suit.

         On June 20, 2014, the Court ordered Taishan to appear in open court on July 17, 2014 to be examined as a judgment debtor. Rec. Doc. 17774. Taishan failed to appear for the July 17, 2014 Judgment Debtor Examination, and the Court held Taishan in contempt and ordered that Taishan pay $15, 000.00 in attorney's fees to Plaintiffs' counsel; that Taishan pay $40, 000.00 as a penalty for contempt; that Taishan and any of its affiliates or subsidiaries be enjoined from conducting any business in the United States until or unless it participates in this judicial process; and that if Taishan violates the injunction, it must pay a further penalty of 25-percent of the profits earned by the Company or its affiliate who violate the Order for the year of the violation. See Rec. Doc. 17869.

         On July 23, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Omnibus Motion for Class Certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3). Rec. Doc. 17883. Taishan did not appear and, on September 26, 2014, this Court certified a class of

[a]ll owners of real properties in the United States, who are named Plaintiffs on the complaints in Amorin, Germano, Gross, and/or Wiltz (i.e., not an absent class member), asserting claims for remediated damages arising from, or otherwise related to Chinese Drywall manufactured, sold, distributed, supplied, marketed, inspected, imported or delivered by the Taishan Defendants.

In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Litig., 2014 WL 4809520, at *16 (E.D. La. Sept. 26, 2014).

         Taishan finally entered an appearance with the Court in February 2015, and, to satisfy the contempt, Taishan paid both the sum of $15, 000.00 in attorney's fees to Plaintiffs' counsel and the contempt penalty of $40, 000.00 in March 2015. Rec. Doc. 18764. On March 17, 2015, the Court ordered Taishan and the BNBM and CNBM Entities to participate in expedited discovery related to “the relationship ...

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