This should not be controversial. It has been settled since Hahn v. Richter, 673 A.2d 888 (Pa. 1996) that in Pennsylvania prescription drugs are exempt from strict liability. And since Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014) re-worked Pennsylvania’s strict liability law, we’ve only reported one federal court decision that erroneously, in our opinion, concluded that Tincher allowed a strict liability manufacturing defect claim in a prescription medical device case. But that hasn’t stopped plaintiffs from continuing to try to pursue strict liability under Pennsylvania law. The most recent federal court to be confronted with the argument rejected it outright. Some TwIqbal and preemption are in the mix too so this one really hits on some of our favorites.
Plaintiff alleged he developed an acute kidney injury as a result of taking the prescription drug Jardiance. Bell v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24802, *1 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 2018). Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on three grounds: 1) Pennsylvania law bars all non-negligence based claims; 2) the complaint fails to satisfy TwIqbal across the board; and 3) the claims against the non-NDA holding entity are preempted. Id. at *2-3.
Defendants’ first argument sought to dismiss not only strict liability design defect and failure to warn, but also gross negligence, breach of express and implied warranty, and all fraud and misrepresentation claims. Plaintiff’s response on strict liability was that Hahn is “antiquated.” Id. at *7. Hahn may be about to turn 22, but that means it’s only been legally drinking in bars for a year. Hardly over the hill. Not to mention, antiquated isn’t a legal standard that would allow a federal court to simply ignore the controlling law as announced by a state Supreme Court. Further, the court points out that Tincher expressly recognized the Hahn prescription drug exception (as did Lance v Wyeth, 85 A.3d 434 (Pa. 2014) which demonstrates that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not changed its position – Hahn is still good law. See Bell at *7-8.
But Hahn doesn’t just say no strict liability, it says “that negligence is the ‘only’ recognized basis of liability” in prescription drug cases. Id. at *8. So, on that basis, and ample federal precedent, the court dismissed plaintiff’s breach of warranty claims. Id. at *8-9. The case law applying Hahn to fraud and misrepresentation claims appears to be more divided and on this one the court opted to follow the cases that adopted a more narrow interpretation. Id. at *9-10. We think Hahn’s negligence only holding could easily be read as a bar to intentional misrepresentation and fraud which do not sound in negligence. The Bell court, however, concluded that because Hahn requires manufacturers to warn of both risks that should have been known as well as risks that were known, the latter is akin to a claim of intentional concealment of a known risk which would support a fraud or misrepresentation claim. So, those claims were not barred by Hahn.
The last challenge was to plaintiff’s gross negligence claim which the court dismissed as not recognized as an independent cause of action in Pennsylvania. Id. at *11.
But we need to quickly return to plaintiff’s surviving negligence and fraud/misrepresentation claims. They aren’t barred, but neither were they adequately pleaded. Apparently plaintiff’s counsel did not do a good job proofing the complaint because the court pointed out it appeared to be cut and paste from another complaint filed by a woman. Id. at *13 (complaint uses “her” and “she” pronouns). Cookie cutter complaints don’t survive under TwIqbal because they lack any of the necessary factual detail to support plaintiff’s claims. This complaint contained
no factual details about when Bell contracted diabetes, whether he has type I or type II diabetes, whether he has other medical conditions, who his treating physicians were, why he decided to take Jardiance, what alternatives to Jardiance were discussed, whether he read the warnings, how long he took Jardiance or at what dose or why he believes his acute renal failure was caused by Jardiance.
Id. The complaint was equally lacking regarding defendants. There were no specific allegations concerning how the warnings “fell below the standard of care,” how any defendant’s alleged breach of duty caused plaintiff’s injury, how the design was defective, or what safer alternatives existed. Id. at *13-14. The court was unwilling to “infer defectiveness” based only on “a generic description of how [the class of drugs] work[s]” and “formulaic legal conclusions.” Id. at *15.
All claims were dismissed under TwIqbal, but plaintiff only gets to amend his complaint to try to state a claim for those that survived the first part of the court’s analysis as recognized under state law.
So, that brings us to the final question – are the claims against the non-NDA holder preempted on the grounds that it had no ability to change the drug’s label or design. The plaintiff seemingly concedes that post-approval design defect claims would be preempted, but that he is making a claim that the defendant should have designed a safer product before approval. Id. at *17-18. The court briefly discussed some cases that have dealt with the issue of pre-approval design defect claims. We cover it here, along with our analysis that there is no such valid claim. But, because none of plaintiff’s claims survived TwIqbal, the court didn’t have to decide the preemption issue. Defendant can re-raise it after plaintiff files his amended complaint.