This one comes from Alabama and it’s pretty straightforward – plaintiff’s claims are preempted and therefore dismissed with a little wiggle room left for an attempted amended complaint. But as we know, for Pre-Market Approved (PMA) devices, there is only a “narrow gap” between express and implied preemption through which a claim must fit to survive. And so far, plaintiff has been ping-ponging off the sides but hasn’t made it through the gap.
The case is Rice v. Allergan USA, Inc., 2018 WL 1618036 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 4, 2018). Plaintiff had LAP-BAND surgery to aid with weight loss. The LAP-BAND is a PMA device. After seven years, plaintiff started to experience difficulty swallowing and frequent vomiting and upon investigation it was discovered that the LAP-BAND had eroded into plaintiff’s stomach and had to be removed. Id. at *2. Plaintiff conceded several of her claims. Those that remained for ruling by the court were negligence, failure to warn, and negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation. Id. at *3. Plaintiff’s primary allegation in support of these claims was that while defendant’s label reported a 1% risk of erosion, studies revealed a higher complication rate. Id. at *2.
Because the LAP-BAND went through the PMA process, plaintiff’s claims are preempted unless they satisfy the “parallel claim doctrine.” That means plaintiff has to show that the state law duties she alleges defendant violated and for which she seeks damages are “genuinely equivalent” to the federal requirements imposed on the device. Id. at *5. Only when the state and federal duties are parallel will plaintiff’s claim not run afoul of the provision of the Medical Device Amendments (“MDA”) that a state not impose requirements that are “different from or in addition to” federal requirements. Id.
Plaintiff’s first negligence claim was for negligent design and manufacture. However, while she made several allegations about the device having significant risks, nowhere did plaintiff allege how the manufacturer’s duty of care under state law “parallels the federal requirement that the [device] be manufactured according to the approved specifications for the medical device.” Id. at *6. If the device was designed and manufactured according to its PMA specifications, then allowing a jury to find it was negligently designed or manufactured would be imposing a different or additional requirement on the manufacturer. Therefore, claim preempted.
Next up was plaintiff’s negligent failure to warn claim. The court actually broke the claim down into 5 theories on which failure to warn was premised: negligent marketing, negligent labeling, negligent failure to update labeling, negligent reporting, and negligent surveillance. Id. It’s worth noting here that the court applies all the same reasoning in concluding that plaintiff’s strict liability failure to warn claim is similarly preempted. Id. at *8.
Here plaintiff did cite federal regulations but still missed the mark. For instance, plaintiff cited 21 C.F.R. §99.101 which provides:
[a] manufacturer may disseminate written information concerning the safety, effectiveness, or benefit of a use not described in the approved labeling…provided that the manufacturer complies with all other relevant requirements under this part.
Plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated this federal regulation by failing to provide additional risk information about the device. But all this section does is provide a guideline should a manufacturer choose to disseminate additional information. Choosing not to do so doesn’t violate the provision. Id. at *6.
Plaintiff also cites to the Changes Being Effected (“CBE”) provisions arguing that the defendant violated those provisions by failing to implement a CBE warning. However, a CBE labeling-change is permission to change a label “while a manufacturer awaits a written FDA order approving the PMA supplement.” Id. at *7. But plaintiff did not allege that the defendant was awaiting an FDA order on a PMA supplement, so it is unknown if the provision even applies.
Plaintiff also tried to base her failure to warn claim on an alleged violation of defendant’s federal duties to report adverse events to the FDA and to conduct post-market surveillance. Id. But the court considered both of those claims impliedly preempted on the grounds that they were unlawful attempts to privately enforce the FDCA. The court said failure to report sounds like it could be failure to warn, but the requirement is to report to the FDA, not to plaintiff. And there simply is no state law cause of action for post-market surveillance. Id.
Finally, the court had to dismiss plaintiff’s misrepresentation claim based on plaintiff’s vague pleadings. If what plaintiff was alleging is that defendant should have disclosed additional information and such a disclosure requirement exceeded FDA’s requirements, the claim would be preempted as not parallel. If, on the other hand, plaintiff was alleging that the defendant “held its product out as meeting a higher standard than that required by the FDA,” such a claim would not be preempted. Id. Since the former is more likely, it appears that a properly pleaded claim is likely preempted.
Yesterday happened to be the deadline for plaintiff to file an amended complaint, which she did. A quick skim of the amended complaint leads us to believe it contains most of the same allegations and therefore deficiencies the court has already addressed. And, plaintiff re-pleaded the claims she conceded as insufficiently pleaded the first time around. We suspect another round of preemption briefing in this case’s future.