Today’s post is another guest post from friend of the Blog Kevin Hara, of Reed Smith, who channels our resident movie critic in this wide-ranging discussion of pleading and procedural weirdness. As always with our guest posts, the author deserves 100% of the credit, and any blame, for what follows.
If ever one wanted to feature a case where the plaintiffs and their attorneys fumbled and stumbled around like Keystone cops, it would be Paulsen v. Abbott Laboratories, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50256 (N.D. Ill. March 27, 2018), involving the prescription drug Lupron, used to treat endometriosis. The case really reminded me of the madcap, masterful ensemble movie, “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (hereinafter, “Mad World”) (yes, it’s a bit dated in some ways, but it still merits watching if you haven’t) with a veritable Who’s Who of 1950s-1960s Hollywood comedy royalty, including Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters, Terry Thomas, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, and Buddy Hackett. Not to mention two time Oscar Winner Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Durante, who literally kicks the bucket as his character passes away and starts the mayhem. Even if one does not consider the film a classic, its cultural relevance is beyond debate, as in addition to the headliners, the supporting cast included Peter Falk, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, the 3 Stooges, and the great Arnold Stang. Moreover, it bears mention that the renowned director of Mad World, was Stanley Kramer, more recognized for his social dramas, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Defiant Ones, and Judgment at Nuremberg. With such an accumulation of talent, it comes as no surprise that Mad World received six Academy Award and two Golden Globe nominations, and is categorized by many as an all-time classic in American movie history. The plot is full of twists and turns, but beautifully elevated, with stellar writing and acting to match: 5 strangers witness an accident, and simultaneously learn about a large sum of money hidden in a park, buried beneath a large “W,” with Durante’s last gasp. At first, they agreed to equal shares of the $350,000, but soon each plots to recover the loot on his own, and everyone begins a mad dash with assorted partners in crime (spouses, friends, relatives, etc.) to be the first to reach the cash. In so doing, each of five groups tries to undermine the others, and they all encounter setbacks from being locked in the basement of a hardware store, stranded on a highway with a child’s bicycle, sinking in a river, a drunken airplane pilot, and more. (For those of you from younger generations who are Googling the names or the movie above, you might be more familiar with a newer iteration of a similar story in the movie Rat Race, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dean Cain, John Cleese, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Cathy and Kathy Bates, among others.)
If you have not seen the movie, you certainly should, but one iconic scene essentially captures the film, a sequence in which Winters demolishes an entire gas station, mostly by hand, in several hilarious, frenetic minutes. The movie ends with all of the misguided, money hungry adventurers in the hospital with multiple injuries, but none of the treasure. In a last, desperate (and shameless) grab for the bounty, the hapless male contingent is catapulted, one by one, from the ladder of a fire engine attempting to rescue them, as the terrified crowd below watches and the entire haul slowly floats to the now delighted onlookers. In short, grasping for money, at the expense of ethics, morality, and intelligent planning gets you nowhere.
Much like the film, Paulsen has misdeeds galore, with seeming chaos at every turn, thanks to its beginning as a multi-plaintiff, misjoined complaint with a California resident, and a Georgia resident (Ms. Paulsen) bringing an action in the Eastern District of New York in April 2010. See Cardenas v. Abbott Labs., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116879 (N.D. Ill. March 7, 2011). Plaintiffs alleged injuries as a result of injections of the drug, and asserted negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, breach of warranty and fraud causes of action against various defendants. In homage to the movie, it is fitting to provide aliases for the defendants using the names of the actors in the movie – because it is the plaintiff’s shenanigans that are the focus here – not the defendants’ titles and actions. Therefore, in that regard, the defendants are now dubbed Abbott Laboratories (hereinafter “Sid”), Takeda Pharmaceuticals of North America, Inc., (“Ethel”),Takeda Chemical Industries, Inc., (“Milton”) and TAP Pharmaceutical Products, Inc. (“Jonathan”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Id. at *3. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, objecting to venue, so plaintiffs amended their complaint, adding New York and New Jersey plaintiffs. Didn’t matter. The case was transferred to the Southern District of New York. Id. Defendants again filed a motion to dismiss, and the Southern District of New York transferred the action to the Northern District of Illinois in 2011, addressing issues of venue and personal jurisdiction, and dismissing defendant “Milton” because it was not served with the complaint. Id. (but more on that later). Id. Finally, the Illinois federal court considered a substantive (Rule 12 (b)(6)) motion to dismiss, and found that plaintiffs provided “nothing but the fact that [they] received Lupron injections ‘on several occasions.’” Id. at *12-13. For example, the complaint failed to indicate “whether Plaintiffs [were] women, nor [did] it establish whether Lupron was prescribed to Plaintiffs” for on- or for off-label use. All these omitted facts were, obviously, “particularly within Plaintiffs’ control.” Id. Therefore, the court dismissed the complaint, with leave to amend to allow plaintiffs to put “some minimal amount of flesh” on their bare-bones allegations. Id. at *13-14.
Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in October 2011, and discovery commenced, but with Paulsen the only remaining plaintiff, in August 2013 her counsel moved to withdraw. See Paulsen, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50256, at *8. The judge granted the motion, allowing plaintiff 30 days to file an appearance. That didn’t happen either. The action was dismissed for lack of prosecution in October 2013 after plaintiff failed to appear. Id.
Plaintiff’s Second Action
Undeterred, plaintiff filed a new complaint on May 11, 2015, alleging claims for negligence, strict product liability, failure to warn, breach of warranty, and fraud against “Sid”, “Ethel”, “Milton” and “Jonathan”. Id. at *9. Plaintiff alleged that she had been injected with Lupron twice for on-label treatments, and had suffered various injuries, all of which occurred in Georgia. Id. at * 3-4. Defendants moved to dismiss, claiming that the lawsuit was untimely and seeking application of the six-month limitation in Georgia’s savings statute [Ga. Code Ann. § 9-2-61(a)], while plaintiff maintained that Illinois’s one-year period governed the issue, 735 ILCS 5/13-217.6. Id. at *10. After determining that the only Illinois citizen, Sid, was a real party in interest (a dispositive issue, because if not, Georgia’s statute controlled time-barring the case), the judge denied the motions to dismiss without prejudice. Id. at *10-11.
Dismissal of Milton and Jonathan
Defendants resubmitted their motions to dismiss in April 2017, arguing that Milton and Jonathan were not properly served, an interesting issue that itself could be the subject of its own post. Id. at *17-18. Suffice it to say that the court ruled that service on Jonathan’s surviving corporation (because Jonathan no longer existed at the time the case was originally filed in 2010) was improper because in essence, “[p]laintiff cannot effectively serve one corporation by serving a completely different corporation.” Id. at *19, 25.
As to Milton, the court did not reach the service issue because plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Milton on July 9, 2011, − but refiled the action, again, on May 11, 2015, well outside the one-year limitation of Illinois’s savings statute. Id. at *26-27. Thus, the court dismissed the claims against Milton with prejudice. Id. at *27.
Rule 12(b)(6) Motion
At long last, the court turned to the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state any cognizable claims, pursuant to TwIqbal. By now, it should hardly surprise anyone (even plaintiff herself, one would think) that the claims were almost all poorly pled, and most were dismissed. For example there was “nothing in the complaint that connect[ed] Ethel to Jonathan and its alleged responsibility for Lupron-related activities beyond their shared parent company.” Id. at *30. The familiar catchall of “Defendants” failed to state a plausible claim against Ethel and was “therefore insufficient to satisfy Rule 8’s pleading the claims,” resulting in the court’s dismissal of all claims without prejudice. Id.
Merits of Plaintiff’s Causes of Action
Turning to the merits, court next conducted a choice of law analysis, using Illinois’s “most significant relationship test” to determine whether Illinois or Georgia law applied. The court ultimately decided that Georgia law would apply, largely because plaintiff resided in, and suffered her alleged injuries in that state, which had the strongest interest in the litigation. Id. at *35-37.
After determining that plaintiff sufficiently alleged that Sid played a role in manufacturing Lupron beyond its ownership of Jonathan, the court declined to dismiss strict products liability and failure to warn claims against Sid. Id. at *40. However, it ruled that plaintiff’s allegations that Sid failed to adequately test the product before approval, did not advise “Plaintiffs and their physicians,” and misrepresented “the dangers associated with the use of Lupron,” failed to allege either that Sid owed or breached a duty to plaintiff. Id. at *45. The allegations could not support plaintiff’s negligence claims against that defendant. Id. Nor could plaintiff state a claim for express warranty through statements that Defendants “expressly represented” that Lupron was “safe and efficacious,” “safe and fit for its intended use,” or “of merchantable quality.” Id. at *46-47. In dismissing plaintiff’s claim, the court observed that “Plaintiff [did] not identify any specific warranty that Sid made to her … “nor [did] she identify the content of any statement by Abbot.” Id. at *47. Similarly, plaintiff’s breach of implied warranty claim failed because she could not establish privity – as the complaint stated only that she used Lupron, and was devoid of allegations “that she purchased it.” Id. at * 49.
Further – and utterly unsurprisingly by this point − plaintiff’s fraudulent misrepresentation claim was not pled with the heightened particularity required by Rule 9(b), “[t]he who, what, when, where, and how: the first paragraph of any newspaper story.” Id. at *50 (citation omitted). Rather, the complaint merely claimed that Defendants generally misrepresented the product’s safety in its labeling, marketing, and advertising over several decades. Id. However, plaintiff failed to articulate “who made these statements (other than Defendants, without specifying which Defendant made which statement), where and when these statements were made (other than to say sometime in the 1990s-2000 in Georgia and elsewhere), or how exactly Lupron’s safety was misrepresented.” Id. at *51. Finally, her negligent misrepresentation claim was also doomed absent “allegations pointing to [defendant’s] statements on which Plaintiff relied” prior to her Lupron injection. Id. Therefore, the court concluded that plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation claim could not proceed “under Rule 8’s pleading standard,” and it too, was dismissed. Id. at *52-53.
In a nutshell, plaintiff ran afoul of every tenet of basic pleading 101 by repeatedly offering only threadbare allegations without specific facts; generalized and conclusory allegations leveled only at “Defendants;” and rote recitations of the elements of a claim without the facts to support it. However, to our chagrin, and much more to that of the Defendants, the court dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims, except for strict product liability and failure to warn, with leave to amend, despite seven years of failed pleadings. Id. at *54. At least, the court issued plaintiff a none too subtle warning, stating it was “cognizant of the long procedural history,” and conditioning its leave for plaintiff to file an “amended complaint consistent with this opinion, if Plaintiff believes that she can overcome the deficiencies identified above for the dismissed claims.” Id. at *55 (emphasis added).
Given Plaintiff’s history of inartful pleading, repeated procedural errors, and other tactical blunders, one can expect, and hope, that like the buffoons in “Mad World,” when this case finally does end, plaintiff and her attorneys will wind up empty-handed.