The warranty is “express.”
Before you say, “Well, duh,” this sometimes actually does matter. Here’s how.
Most complaints in product liability actions involving prescription medical products that include express warranty counts do so as one of a bunch of different causes of action, all pleaded seriatim (“one after another,” in non-lawyer speak). Believe it or not, lawyers get tired of repeating themselves – especially those (like our adversaries) who don’t bill by the hour. Thus, in complaints, we usually see each cause of action in multi-count complaints begin with a paragraph “incorporating by reference” facts that were pleaded earlier in the document.
That can be fatal to express warranty claims – because the warranty must be “express” – whereas other claims, such as failure to warn, can be maintained on the basis of allegedly omitted facts. Thus, incorporation by reference (or pleaded facts) that only incorporates allegations of omitted facts isn’t enough to plead express warranty. This is one more way to make express warranty claims go bye-bye (see our TwIqbal cheat sheet for others), and it appears that, increasingly, plaintiffs have been called out for this failing.
The only appellate prescription medical product case that we’ve seen on this point is Rite Aid Corp. v. Levy-Gray, 876 A.2d 115 (Md. App. 2005), aff’d on other grounds, 894 A.2d 563 (Md. 2006). In Levy-Gray, an omission by the defendant pharmacist of a statement in the manufacturer’s labeling didn’t cut it as a basis for express warranty:
[I]n order to have an express warranty there must be an affirmative statement of fact by the seller about the goods. A claim that there is a warranty by omission is at odds with the UCC definition of an express warranty. Here, the manufacturer’s package insert . . . contained, inter alia, the following statement: [statement omitted] The omission of this statement, which was relevant to the negligence claim asserted by Plaintiff, and is of some relevance to the medical causation issues, is not relevant to the creation of an express warranty.
Id. at 126 (citation omitted) (emphasis added).
Several federal district courts have made the same point. The issue arose in the Testosterone MDL, where the “plaintiffs have pointed to no statement that constitutes an express warranty.” In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Products Liability Litigation, 2014 WL 7365872, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 23, 2014). “[P]laintiffs must plead more than misstatements and omissions to state a claim for breach of express warranty.” Rather, plaintiff “must point to a specific affirmation or promise.” Id. In Young v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2017 WL 706320 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 22, 2017), the court raised the issue sua sponte (meaning “on its own”), pointing out:
[T]he Court notes that, while not raised by the defendants, [plaintiff’s] breach of express warranty claim must fail to the extent it is based on alleged omissions in [the drug’s] prescribing information. An omission is neither an affirmation of fact nor a promise.
Id. at *15 n.10 (citation omitted).
Non-express “express” warranty claims also failed in House v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2017 WL 55876 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 4, 2017), because allegations of omissions were insufficient:
[Plaintiff] cannot base her express warranty claim on allegations that the Prescribing Information fails to include the “true risks” of the drugs and does not contain “adequate information[.]” An express warranty is created by an “affirmation of fact or promise,” not an omission.
Id. at *6 (citations omitted). In Vakil v. Merck & Co., 2016 WL 7175638 (D.N.J. Dec. 7, 2016), the court disposed of a warranty claim under Virginia law (significant because Virginia doesn’t have strict liability) observing that “during oral argument” plaintiff “indicated that his theory was more akin to an omission. Therefore, summary judgment is granted to Defendants as to the breach of express warranty claim.” Id. at *5.
We also looked outside the drug/device sphere, and were surprised by the relative paucity of precedent. Either plaintiffs aren’t pleading omissions in express warranty claims or defendants are letting them get away with it. There’s one citable appellate decision, and it’s almost 30 years old. Sidco Products Marketing, Inc. v. Gulf Oil Corp., 858 F.2d 1095, 1099 (5th Cir. 1988) (“Omissions, however, are not affirmative representations of any sort and thus cannot support a warranty claim, because express warranties must be explicit.”) (applying Texas law). Young cited Sidco. So did the next two cases – coincidentally, both from Missouri:
Plaintiffs repeatedly allege that the press releases and advertisements all failed to disclose the defect, so, to the extent their express warranty claims are based on advertisements and promotional materials, these claims are based on omissions. A breach of express warranty claim, however, cannot be premised on an omission.
In re General Motors Corp. Anti-Lock Brake Products Liability Litigation, 966 F. Supp. 1525, 1531 (E.D. Mo. 1997), aff’d on other grounds, 172 F.3d 623 (8th Cir. 1999)
Plaintiff, therefore, bases liability not on what the documents provide, but on what they do not provide. The law is clear that [plaintiff] may not recover under this theory because omissions are not affirmative representations of any sort and thus cannot support a warranty claim, because express warranties must be explicit.
Cambridge Engineering, Inc. v. Robertshaw Controls Co., 966 F. Supp. 1509, 1524 (E.D. Mo. 1997) (quoting Sidco).
Likewise, defendants in tobacco product liability cases have not allowed plaintiffs to pass off “warranty by omission” as an “express warranty.” Witherspoon v. Philip Morris, Inc., 964 F. Supp. 455, 465 (D.D.C. 1997). Omissions of this and that are “at odds with the definition of express warranty. Plaintiff has not pleaded an express promise on the part of Defendant.” Id. Accord Hughes v. Tobacco Institute, 2000 WL 34004261, at *10 (E.D. Tex. May 5, 2000) (“nondisclosure . . . does not create an express warranty”), aff’d on other grounds, 278 F.3d 417 (5th Cir. 2001).
Another appellate decision actually exists, but it’s non-citable:
Essentially, [plaintiff] bases his claim not upon an express affirmation of fact or description of the goods, but instead, upon the omission of language such as simulated or imitation. [Plaintiff] has presented no authority that an omission of fact can create an express warranty.
Pocino v. Jostens, Inc., 2006 WL 1163785, at *5 (Cal. App. May 3, 2006).
Finally, we found one other case, on point, not citing anything beyond the relevant UCC section, but reaching the same result: “[A] failure to include information in the specification sheet is the exact opposite of an express warranty.” “[O]missions . . . are simply insufficient to support a breach of warranty.” Cannon Technologies, Inc. v. Sensus Metering Systems, Inc., 734 F. Supp.2d 753, 769-70 (D. Minn. 2010).
Express warranty claims deserve attention in prescription medical product liability litigation. Some courts allow such claims to escape preemption. Others give express warranty claims a longer (or at least different) statute of limitations. Such claims should not be allowed to persist when there is no basis for them, so any express warranty claim based on omissions should be challenged at the first opportunity.