Use of Lone Pine Orders in Methane Migration and Other Groundwater Contamination Litigation

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Introduction -

In two recent groundwater contamination cases pending in federal district court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the court refused to enter Lone Pine orders which would have shifted the burden to the plaintiffs to establish a prima facie case before the parties continued with lengthy and expensive discovery. Although the court refused to enter the Lone Pine orders, the decisions appear to indicate that Pennsylvania’s federal courts may be receptive to issuing Lone Pine orders in methane migration and other groundwater contamination cases that more closely mimic traditional complex mass tort cases – cases with a large number of litigants and individualized personal injury claims.

History of the Lone Pine Order -

A Lone Pine order is a modified case management order first entered in a 1986 New Jersey case. In Lore v. Lone Pine Corp., the court recognized that some cases, particularly complex mass tort cases, pose unique obstacles to traditional case management and discovery. Lone Pine orders place the burden on the plaintiffs to substantiate a cause of action prior to the completion of discovery. Historically, these orders have been used in mass tort and toxic tort litigation “involving multiple parties, where the discovery process would be particularly burdensome, and where the plaintiffs’ ability to sustain their burden of proof was found to be questionable.” Often, this requires plaintiffs to produce things such as expert reports on causation, medical evidence, and environmental studies.

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