A Lone Pine order is a case management device in which the judge requires the plaintiff to make a prima facie showing of injury, causation, and/or damages. Its purpose is to simplify or eliminate cases to lessen the burdens on the courts and defendants. In a Lone Star order, plaintiffs are required to show an initial level of evidence for the key aspects of the case, often including expert witness(es). Some suggest this is already required by the plaintiff’s duty to conduct a proper pre-suit investigation. However, the practical reality is that a Lone Pine order places an increased burden on plaintiffs and reduces the incidence of plaintiffs using the threat of further litigation costs to extract a settlement value.
Lone Pine rulings get their name from a 1986 New Jersey environmental mass-tort case (Lore v. Lone Pine Corp). In the original Lone Pine case, the Court required plaintiffs to submit evidence shortly after the case was filed regarding both plaintiffs’ exposure to toxic substances, and medical expert evidence showing that the toxins were the cause of their injuries. When the plaintiffs were unable to provide this documentation, the judge dismissed their case.
Although Lone Pine rulings started in toxic tort litigation, judges are using this approach in other types of complex cases in both federal and state courts. But the orders do not have a long appellate record. For this reason, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in re: Donna Avila v. Willits Environmental Remediation Trust, 09-16455 (January 27, 2011) is important. Prior to this Ninth Circuit ruling, only one other federal circuit court directly ruled on the propriety of Lone Pine orders.
The Ninth Circuit summarized the issue and their finding as follows:
“…plaintiffs ask us to disapprove the process because, in their view, this type of order bypasses established rules of procedure for discovery and summary judgment. A prima facie order of the sort entered here is sometimes called a “Lone Pine” order after Lore v. Lone Pine Corp., in which such an order was issued. We have not directly addressed a Lone Pine order before, although we have affirmed dismissals in cases where orders requiring a similar type of prima facie showing were entered. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has considered and approved a Lone Pine order in a similar case that also raised issues of exposure and injury from toxic emissions. We agree with