We typically steer clear of discussing any opioid cases for client reasons. But today we have a case that did not involve our client in any way and that involves a discrete and important issue. Accordingly, we hereby render a bare-bones report.
The case, Floyd v. Feygin, et al., No. 507458/17 (Kings County, N.Y. Supreme Court Nov. 28, 2018) (available here: https://www.druganddevicelawblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/2018/12/Dabiri.pdf) is a civil case, but it pretty much was a follow-on to a criminal investigation involving, among others, the DEA, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and the Department of Health and Human Services. That criminal investigation culminated in indictments of doctors, nurse practitioners, and even a member of the New York Assembly, all charged with running pill mills that issued medically unnecessary painkiller prescriptions and bilked funds from the Medicaid program.
The plaintiff filed a complaint that mostly tracked the criminal case, while also adding some entities that were not part of the criminal case, including the pharma company and a drug store. Here is the theory of the plaintiff’s negligence claim against the pharma company:
“Plaintiff alleges that Actavis had a duty to ensure that its Oxycodone product was not being prescribed, dispensed, and used in a fraudulent and harmful manner. Plaintiff further alleges that Actavis breached its duty by failing to take appropriate action to stop and prevent Oxycodone from being prescribed for fraudulent and illegal purposes, and by failing to maintain effective controls against having prescriptions for Oxycodone being written where such prescriptions were not for legitimate medical purposes. Plaintiff also claims that Actavis breached its duty by failing to design, implement, and operate a system to disclose suspicious orders of Oxycodone, and by failing to establish, implement, and follow an abuse and diversion detection program consisting of internal procedures designed to identify potential suspicious prescriptions of Oxycodone. Plaintiff claims that he suffered injuries by improperly receiving Oxycodone and becoming addicted to it.”
The plaintiff also alleged that the pharma company “keeps a close eye on how many pills a doctor or practice is prescribing” and that it is required to report any suspicious prescribing, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act (both federal and the New York equivalent). And there’s the rub. Actavis filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s negligence cause of action was an attempt at private enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. Neither the federal nor New York statute provide for private enforcement. The plaintiff was forced to concede that there was no private right of action, and then tried to escape preemption by arguing that the statutes “created a responsibility that Actavis failed to meet.” But the plaintiff encountered additional problems. First, the statutes imposed reporting requirements, but did not compel manufacturers to stop or restrict distribution. Second, the distributions of painkillers at issue were all made pursuant to purportedly valid prescriptions by licensed physicians. Third, the creation of pill mills by other defendants “was an intervening act which was of an extraordinary and criminal nature so as to break any causal nexus between any reporting requirement on the part of Actavis and plaintiff’s addiction to Oxycodone.”
Seeing that his negligence cause of action against the pharma company was going down the drain, the plaintiff argued that he needed more discovery. The court denied this request, reasoning that the pharma company simply had not breached any duty owed to the plaintiff. Discovery was not going to change that.