Aren’t we all guilty of having that drawer, that shelf, that cabinet, maybe even a whole closet where things just get dumped. And as new stuff gets dumped, the old stuff gets pushed to the back. Then one day the space simply can’t hold anymore and you reach to the back to see just what’s there. What do you find? Old empty checkbooks. Gift card to a restaurant that closed two years ago. Any variety of expired items from coupons to salad dressing to cough medicine. And of course that half-eaten bag of cookies that are so stale you can use them as coasters. But, sometimes you also find a hidden gem. Like the cord to charge your radio that you haven’t been able to use for the last 6 months. Or the great family photo from Aunt Susie’s 80th birthday. Or your favorite pair of socks. How did they get there?
Well cases, just like socks and salad dressing, can get pushed to the back of the shelf – where they too get stale. And if courts still used paper dockets, the file in Beswick v. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15012 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2018) would be covered in an inch of dust with discolored pages stuck together from sitting at the bottom of a pile in a basement storeroom. The decision rendered just last week is on a motion that was filed in June 2012 on the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604 (2011). A 5 ½ year old motion based on a 6 ½ year old ruling. Fortunately, the decision is to dismiss the case, but it’s a decision that could have been entered a long time ago. We imagine the delay has not been without some financial consequences to the defendant. Indeed, plaintiff’s counsel withdrew back in 2015, likely recognizing the folly of pursuing what is essentially a failure to warn case against a generic drug manufacturer. But still the case sat.
The complaint, alleging plaintiff suffered from Stevens Johnson Syndrome as a result of using defendant’s generic anticonvulsant drug to treat his epilepsy, was filed in 2010. Id. at *1, *4-5. In early 2011, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss all claims except those alleging breach of express and implied warranty. Id. at *2. The case was then stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Mensing. Id. A year after Mensing, defendant file a motion for judgement on the pleadings on the two remaining claims and the motion was fully briefed by August 2012. Defendant then filed supplemental declarations in support of its motion in November 2012 and again in August 2013. In 2015, defendant formally requested that the stay be lifted and filed yet another supplemental declaration in support of its motion. Id. at *3-4. The supplements we assume necessitated by the development of the law over the years the motion was pending. And finally, three years later the motion was ruled on.
It should come as little surprise that the warranty claims, premised on a failure to warn, were found to be preempted. Plaintiff alleged that defendant breached its express warranty that the drug was safe and effective by failing to disclose known risks of side effects including SJS. Id. at *6-7. Plaintiff similarly alleged that defendant breached the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for the drug’s intended use by failing to warn about the drug’s side effects and risks. Id. at *7-8.
The court then analyzed both claims in light of Mensing and Bartlett (5 years old itself) which we know held that because generic drug manufacturers are prohibited from making any unilateral change to the drug’s label, federal law “preempts any duty the generic drug manufacturer otherwise would have under state law to provide additional warnings.” Id. at *18. Therefore, because plaintiff’s warranty claims are essentially “state law tort claims attacking a drug label warning as insufficient” they are preempted. Regardless of the theory, if the claim is premised on a failure to warn, it is preempted. See id. at *22.
Plaintiff attempted to advance two arguments to avoid preemption. First, plaintiff argued that defendant didn’t have to change its label but rather could have sent out Dear Doctor letters containing additional warnings. The Supreme Court deferred to the FDA that such letters would be misleading because they would imply a “therapeutic difference” between the brand and generic drugs. Id. Second, plaintiff argued that defendant should have pulled the drug off the market. This too has been rejected by the Supreme Court. When faced with a conflict between federal and state law, the manufacturer is not obligated to stop selling. If that were the case, “impossibility preemption would be all but meaningless.” Id. at *23 (citing Mensing).
There is nothing new or novel about the court’s decision other than the amount of time it took to be entered. The case simply hung around for way too long and could have been disposed of five years ago. Like the receipt for the gloves you bought your mom for Christmas 2014.