Much like Judge Robreno, currently in charge of the Federal MDL asbestos docket in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Ableman of the Delaware Superior Court has made increasing the efficiency of the Delaware asbestos docket a goal since being put in charge of asbestos litigation in Delaware in May of 2010. One of the areas most targeted by Judge Ableman is summary judgment motion practice, which has undergone significant changes over the past year. In particular, in March of this year, Judge Ableman amended the Standing Order that sets forth a number of procedural rules that govern the asbestos docket. The amendments were directed, in part, to reducing the number of motions for summary judgment filed with the Court. Judge Ableman made clear that, going forward, she expected to receive only good-faith motions and oppositions from counsel.
The most notable change since the Standing Order was revised in March is the drop in the number of motions submitted to the Court. For the four monthly hearing dates prior to the March Standing Order amendments, some 45 motions on average were submitted to the Court for consideration. Since the amendments, the average number of motions submitted has been cut by two-thirds, dropping to approximately 15 per trial group.
However, the changes to the summary judgment motion practice in Delaware have also brought greater efficiency to the asbestos docket and allowed for quicker and cheaper resolutions of cases. This increased efficiency that Judge Ableman has brought to the process is no more visible than in the most recent round of motions, which were filed in cases scheduled for trial in September of 2011.
For the September trial group, 22 motions were submitted to the Court on July 1. Of the 22 motions submitted:
- 9 motions were decided on the papers;
- 7 motions were mooted by the resolution of the case as to the filing party;
- 2 motions were withdrawn by defense counsel;
- 2 oppositions were withdrawn by plaintiff’s counsel; and
- 2 motions were deferred by the Court pending expert depositions.
In sum, all of the motions filed (with the exception of the two deferred motions) were resolved, in one way or the other, without the need for oral argument. By contrast, the three previous monthly hearings have all gone forward with at least one motion, but usually much more than that, being argued in front of the Court.
With any luck, this trend will continue. Increasing the pace at which matters can be resolved and addressed by the Court allows for reduced transactional costs; something that both plaintiffs and defendants alike should embrace.