Being that it was the Sixth Circuit that allowed a failure-to-update claim to proceed against a generic manufacturer, when we got the recent decision in McDaniel v. Upsher-Smith Labs, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 17884 (6th Cir. June 29, 2018), knowing it was about whether a claim for failure to distribute a medication guide was preempted, we flipped straight to the end looking for “affirmed” or “reversed.” We wanted to get into the proper frame of mind for reading the opinion. Were we going to be disheartened like we were by Fulgenzi v. Pliva, 711 F.3d 578 (6th Cir. 2013). Or pleased by the court’s distancing itself from its prior ruling. Fortunately, it’s the latter.
While failure to distribute medication guide claims have been previously ruled on by district courts, it was a matter of first impression on appeal. The Eleventh Circuit had the issue before it just a couple of months ago, but decided the case on learned intermediary rather than preemption grounds. See our post on that case here. And while we’re at it, here is where you can find our discussion of Fulgenzi. The Sixth Circuit took just the opposite approach deciding not to reach the learned intermediary question but instead to focus all of its attentions squarely on preemption.
At issue was plaintiff’s husband’s use of a generic form of amiodarone. Plaintiff alleged that her husband did not receive the Medication Guide for the drug when he filled his prescriptions because the manufacturer failed to make sure they were available. McDaniel, at *3. This failure to provide the Medication Guide was the sole basis for plaintiff’s strict liability and negligence failure to warn claims.
So, to be clear, nowhere in plaintiff’s complaint does she allege that the warning that was provided with the drug (in its accompanying labeling) was insufficient or inadequate. Her only allegation is that the Medication Guide, the substance of which she also does not take issue with, was not provided to her husband as required by the FDCA. Which the Sixth Circuit determined was the pleading of a federal duty without any Tennessee state court parallel duty. “Said differently, the claims would not exist in the absence of the FDCA.” Id. at *4. And, that’s Buckman implied preemption territory.
The court starts by directly citing Buckman for the ruling that there is no private cause of action for enforcing the FDCA. Id. at *5. The court then quotes quite heavily from plaintiff’s complaint to demonstrate that she has not pleaded a traditional state law failure to warn to claim – indeed neither plaintiff’s complaint nor briefing even mentions the Tennessee Products Liability Act. Id. at *8-9. Instead, her allegations talk about the defendant’s failure to provide the guide “as required by the FDA.” Id. at *6-7 (emphasis added). As if that wasn’t enough, in her briefing, plaintiff explicitly disclaimed any inadequate content basis for her failure to warn claims:
The allegation is not one of adequacy or “content” failure to warn, (i.e., the verbiage or even the format fails), but an actual and physical negligent failure of [defendant] to fulfill its federally mandated responsibility to ensure Medication Guides are available for distribution directly to patients with each prescription.
Id. at *8 (quoting plaintiff’s brief). So, we think the basis for the claim is quite clear. Failure to distribute the Medication Guide as required by the FDCA. Nothing more.
The court next moves to the decisions by various district courts finding failure to distribute claims preempted. See id. at *10-11. To which plaintiff responded by relying on Fulgenzi. Like we mentioned above, Fulgenzi was a failure to update case. Plaintiff alleged that the generic manufacturer defendant failed to update its labeling to include new warnings added by the brand manufacturer thereby violating both the federal duty of sameness required of generic labeling and Ohio state law requiring adequate warnings. The Fulgenzi court found that because it was the adequacy of the warning that was at issue – a traditional state law claim – rather than the failure to update, the claim wasn’t preempted. In other words, the allegation of the violation of the federal duty of sameness was not a “critical element” of the claim in Fulgenzi. It was pleaded by plaintiff to demonstrate that her state law failure to warn claim was not preempted because it paralleled a federal requirement. Plaintiff in McDaniel, tried to argue that she too only pleaded the federal-law violation to avoid impossibility preemption. In fact, the only element of her failure to warn claim was failure to comply with a federal duty. Id. at *11-12. The court was not willing to “ignore the language of [plaintiff’s] allegations simply so that [it could] shoehorn her claims into Fulgenzi’s realm.´ Id. at *14.
While we disagree with where Fulgenzi came out, we agree that even if you found Fulgenzi’s reasoning sound, it doesn’t apply to McDaniel. In this case, the court correctly concluded that the FDA requirements regarding distribution of Medication Guides was a “critical element” – actually only element — of plaintiff’s case, and therefore the claim was impliedly preempted.
Note that there is a dissenting opinion that argues the McDaniel case does fit within the Fulgenzi framework by finding that Plaintiff McDaniel also pleaded a failure to warn claim alleging inadequacy of the warning. We certainly think the language cited by the majority demonstrates that’s not the case, but we aren’t going to spend time quibbling over it because we don’t think adequacy should be outcome determinative. As we said back when we posted on Fulgenzi, there is no question that the duty at issue (to update or to distribute) is federal. Only the federal government may enforce it. Whether the updated warning and/or Medication Guide is, or is not, also “adequate” under state law amounts to nothing more than coincidence. At least that’s how we saw it then and still see it now.