Child: “Can I have ice cream before dinner?”
Child: “What if it’s strawberry ice cream?”
Parent: “Still, no”
Child: “What if my teacher told me I had to eat ice cream for homework?”
Parent: “Still, no”
Child: “What if a monster ran in here right now and said I had to eat ice cream or he’d take me away to his evil lair forever?”
Parent: “Give me a minute, I’m thinking.”
That’s the “What if” game. If you’ve been a parent, you’ve played it in some form. It’s a close cousin of the “Why” game or the “But” game. It’s also possible that you played What If” during a late-night college cram session that led to a serious conversation about a zombie apocalypse. Come to think of it, late-night camping, late-night tequila, or late-night horror movies are all stimuli for the zombie apocalypse “What If” game.
In the recent case of McDonald v. Schriner, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34514 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 5, 2019), the court allowed plaintiff to play the “What If” game on a motion to dismiss. In this context, it’s probably more appropriately titled the “Assuming Arguendo” game. This is how it went.
Plaintiff: “Can I keep my claim?”
Court: “No, you don’t have subject matter jurisdiction.” Plaintiff’s complaint failed to allege the place of incorporation or principal place of business for any defendant, but rather only provided the address of their registered agents. Id. at *7. Because that doesn’t establish the residence of any defendant, the court could not determine if the parties were diverse and could not just assume they were. Id. Case dismissed.
Plaintiff: “Assuming, arguendo, I fixed that and showed you there was diversity, can I keep my claim?”
Court: “Still dismissed because you also don’t have personal jurisdiction.” The court shot down general jurisdiction, but we don’t need to cover that since post Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014) we know “merely doing business” isn’t sufficient for general jurisdiction. McDonald, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34514, *10-12. As to specific jurisdiction – jurisdiction only over claims that arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum – plaintiff couldn’t satisfy the first prong of the test, showing that defendant purposefully availed itself of acting in the forum. Id. at *12. In the Sixth Circuit, courts use a “stream of commerce plus” approach to determine purposeful availment. Id. at *13. The “plus” concerns things like the amount of control a defendant had over the flow of the product into the state or the quantity sold in the state. But all plaintiff’s complaint alleged was the drug was sold in Tennessee. Not enough. Case dismissed.
Plaintiff: “Assuming, arguendo, I added more allegations that satisfied the purposeful availment test, can I keep my claim?”
Court: “Still dismissed because you’ve also failed to state a claim.” In addition to the manufacturers of the drug at issue, plaintiff sued the pharmacy where he filled his prescriptions. But claims against pharmacies in Tennessee are governed by the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”) which requires both that plaintiff provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith – neither of which plaintiff did. Id. at *16-17. Pharmacy case dismissed.
Plaintiff’s claims against the manufacturer are governed by the Tennessee Products Liability Act (“TLPA”). First and foremost, the TLPA provides that FDA-approved products are “presumptively not defective or unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at *17. But plaintiff’s only allegation of defect was a conclusory statement that the drug used to treat his restless leg syndrome induced his gambling. That wasn’t enough to rebut the presumption or to show that the alleged defect existed at the time the drug left the manufacturer’s control. Id. at *18. Plaintiff also failed to state a claim for failure to warn. He didn’t allege any facts about the warnings. In fact the complaint only included a conclusory allegation that his losses were caused by a failure to warn.” Id. at *19. Manufacturer case dismissed.
But, there was one last “What if.” Plaintiff never bothered to respond to defendants’ motions to dismiss. Instead, only after the magistrate issued his report and recommendations and after the time allowed for objections to the magistrate’s findings did plaintiff file an objection. Id. at *20. So,
Plaintiff: “Assuming, arguendo, I had timely raised any of my responses or objections, would I get to keep my case?”
Court: “Still dismissed.” In fact, the only new facts plaintiff’s objections added was that he couldn’t remember any effective warnings. What he still didn’t allege was that he read or attempted to read the warnings when they were provided to him. Id. at *22. So, plaintiff’s claims failed for lack of proximate cause.
Having running out of “assuming, arguendo” propositions, the Court had the last words: “Dismissed with prejudice.”