This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.
You’re likely all familiar with the phrase, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Checking out a gift horse’s teeth is like looking for the price tag of the gift to see how much it’s worth. The expression is meant to convey that upon receiving a gift you should accept it gratefully. But what happens when you don’t accept the gift at all. In many instances, politely declining a gift is completely acceptable. When the gift actually comes in the form of help, passing it up may well be to your own detriment. Sure, it looks good to stand on your own two feet. To accomplish something on your own. But sometimes offers of help are extended because they are needed. A parent offers to help a child tie his shoe. A teacher offers to guide a student through a math lesson. A young man offers to cut the grass for an elderly neighbor. Or perhaps a judge offers plaintiff an opportunity to take discovery to save her case. And that plaintiff says: No thanks. I’ll stand “on the allegations contained in [my] original complaint.” That plaintiff shouldn’t be surprised that what wasn’t good enough the first time around, isn’t good enough the second.
The case is Benyak v. Medtronic, Inc., 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 998 (Ill. App. Jun. 14, 2018) and involves an implanted intrathecal pump that plaintiff alleges became inverted in her body causing her pain. Id. at *2. Plaintiff alleged only negligent design and manufacturing defect and negligent education of medical providers. Id. at *2-3. The medical device underwent pre-market approval by the FDA and so defendant moved to dismiss the claims as preempted. That motion was granted but the court granted plaintiff leave to serve written discovery on the manufacturer and then to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff opted to do neither and so the court dismissed her claims with prejudice. Id. at *2. Plaintiff then appealed that dismissal arguing that her original allegations should have survived defendant’s motion to dismiss.
The Illinois Appellate Court authored a nice accounting of PMA preemption, see id. at *5-15, which we won’t completely recount here because if you are even an infrequent reader of this blog, you’re likely well-versed in PMA preemption. And if not, check out this scorecard to start your PMA preemption education. We will point out the court’s proper conclusion that because of the MDA’s express preemption provision, there is no presumption against preemption. Id. at *10. Also that the court landed where most court’s do, finding that there is only “a small window in which a state-law claim may escape express or implied preemption.” Id. at *13. Finally, before turning to the case-specific details, the court notes that “the manner in which allegations are pled guides the analysis of whether a state-law claim involves requirements different from, or in addition to, the federal requirements.” Id. at *15.
Since it was undisputed that the device at issue was a PMA device, there was also no dispute that the FDA had established requirements applicable to it. Id. So the court moved on to the next part of the PMA-preemption analysis – did plaintiff’s state law claims involve requirements related to safety and effectiveness different from or in addition to federal requirements. Because safety was at the heart of plaintiff’s claims, the only real issue was the “different or in addition to” standard. In other words, did plaintiff’s claim parallel the federal requirements established by the FDA for this device.
As for design and manufacturing defect – plaintiff’s complaint was completely silent as to whether the device was designed or manufactured differently or out of compliance with the FDA’s approval and protocols. Id. at *16-17.
Absent such factual allegations, plaintiff, in essence, posits that the [device] should have been designed and manufactured differently than what the FDA approved during the premarket approval process, which necessarily would impose a requirement for the [device] that is different from, or in addition to, the requirements already imposed by the FDA.
Id. at *17.
On appeal, plaintiff argued that “the ability of the [device] to remain upright” was a premarket requirement that defendant failed to meet. However, the complaint “never specifically identified any specific requirement resulting from the premarket approval process.” Id. at *19. And this brings us back to that gift horse:
Understandably, at the time plaintiff filed her complaint, she might not have had enough facts to support her allegations, which is why the circuit court allowed her leave to serve written discovery on defendants and file an amended complaint. Had she taken the opportunity to conduct the discovery, she could have bolstered the allegations of her complaint and perhaps, her state-law claim would not have been expressly preempted by the MDA. But she chose not to conduct the discovery nor file an amended complaint, resulting in her design and manufacturing defect claim, as pled in her complaint, being expressly preempted.
Id. at *19-20. It jumped right up and bit her.
As for plaintiff’s other claim, negligent instruction, it is not a recognized claim under Illinois law. Id. Even if it were, plaintiff didn’t allege that the instructions defendant provided deviated from those approved by the FDA during the PMA process. Id. at *21. So, that’s two grounds to affirm the dismissal. Plaintiff attempted to turn the claim into a learned intermediary claim arguing it was really a failure to warn the doctor claim. But, that’s not what plaintiff alleged in the complaint. The complaint never mentions learned intermediary and the court was unwilling to construe it as such.
Finally, plaintiff asked for the case to be remanded with leave to amend her complaint. Wow. Once you refuse a gift it’s much less likely you’ll get offered it again. The appellate court found that because plaintiff had “intentionally” chose not to take discovery and amend her complaint when that opportunity was afforded to her, “she has waived any right to a remand with leave to amend.” Id. at *22.
We often talk about giving plaintiffs second bites at trying to plead their claims. But if you’re going to toss the apple away without so much as a nibble, don’t be surprised when the gift horse you decided to ignore gobbles it up and spits it out with nothing left for you to chomp on.