Photo of Rachel B. Weil

Recently, in downsizing our elderly father to a smaller residence and cleaning out his house, we came upon a cassette recording of our too-many-decades-ago Bat Mitzvah. We dug an old boom box out of the basement, listened to our sweet 13-year-old voice, and allowed the waves of nostalgia to wash over us.  We remembered the dress we wore (pink and white) and the upturned faces of our proud relatives (including all four grandparents, the first of whom would depart the very next year).  We recalled the home-cooked food at the “open house” at our home that evening (this was a different era – and tax bracket – than those occupied by cousins who have recently thrown six-figure extravaganzas for their children’s events) and the elusive (for us) sense of religious affiliation. For the thirty minutes of that cassette tape, we were transported.

Our love of nostalgia is neither new nor news. Readers of this blog know how much we love revivals of old Broadway musicals (recent:  South Pacific, Pippin, Finian’s Rainbow, Hello, Dolly; upcoming:  Carousel, My Fair Lady), and we will wax nostalgic in Connecticut this weekend at our 30th law school reunion (Guido’s torts class anecdotes, anyone?).   And we had a wistful flash when we read today’s case.  A decade ago, we were enmeshed in the earliest stages of a mass tort MDL.  Plaintiffs routinely filed in state court and, seeking to evade federal jurisdiction, sued a distributor domiciled in the state of filing (a “forum defendant”) along with our client, the manufacturer.  Trajectory permitting, we would sweep in and remove those cases before the forum defendant was served.  We called these “wrinkle removals,” because a “wrinkle” in the removal statute opened this window for us.

As one of our co-bloggers recently explained, this blog has been posting about “removal before service” since Bexis brought it to the attention of the legal community in 2007.  It’s a procedural tactic that enables defendants to remove cases to federal court despite the “forum defendant rule,” which ordinarily prohibits a defendant from removing to a case that, while it meets the requirements of diversity jurisdiction under 21 U.S.C. § 1332(a), is also pending in the home state of the defendant. Here’s the rule as codified in 21 U.S.C. § 1441(b) (2):  “A civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.” (Emphasis added).

A review of our long chain of posts on this subject reveals dramatic splits among, and even within, district courts (notably, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania) on this issue. Some courts acknowledge the plain language of the statute and deny remand, while others remand in the supposed “spirit” of diversity jurisdiction.  Last week’s Southern District of New York decision in Cheung v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., et al., 2017 WL 4570792 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 12. 2017), one of the best opinions we have read on this issue, falls resoundingly in the former category.  In Cheung, the court explained that, in response to the Eliquis MDL court’s dismissal, on preemption grounds, of the first case subject to a 12(b)(6) motion, plaintiffs’ counsel voluntarily dismissed thirty-three cases and re-filed them in Delaware state court.   The defendants removed them to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, and the judge there denied motions to remand all thirty-three cases, holding that removal was proper despite the presence of a defendant domiciled in Delaware.  The same plaintiffs’ firm filed four more actions in Delaware state court, and the defendants removed those, too, and tagged them for transfer to the MDL in the Southern District of New York.  The plaintiffs waited to move for remand until the cases were transferred to the MDL, then moved to remand all four.

Denying the motions to remand, the court emphasized that “the [removal] statute prohibits removal when there are in-state defendants only when those defendants have been ‘properly joined and served.’ The specific purpose of the ‘joined and served’ requirement has been read to prevent a plaintiff from blocking removal by joining as a defendant against whom it does not intend to proceed and who it does not even serve,” Cheung, 2017 WL 4570792 at * 3 (internal punctuation and citations omitted), precisely the description of the distributor defendant in our long-ago MDL.  Noting that it was “undisputed that the defendants removed the cases before they were properly served,” id., the Court held that “a plain reading of the forum defendant rule” permitted removal. Id.

The plaintiffs “urge[d] the Court to ignore the plain reading of the statute to discourage what they term[ed] ‘gamesmanship’ by the defendants,” id., suggesting that the statute “should only be enforced when a removal occurs after a plaintiff has had a ‘meaningful chance’ to serve the [forum] defendant.” Id. They argued that upholding the removals, “which they contend[ed were] strategically done in order to evade the forum defendant rule, would be to frustrate the purpose of both diversity jurisdiction and the forum defendant rule.” Id.

But the court refused to bite. As the court emphasized, “It is well and long established that courts apply the plain meaning of unambiguous statutory language. . . . The plain language of Section 1441(b) makes clear that its ‘prohibition’ on removal applies only where a defendant who has been ‘properly joined and served’ is a resident of the forum state.” Id. at *4 (citations omitted, emphasis in original).   The court continued, “Ignoring the plain terms of the statute to determine in an individual case when a plaintiff has had meaningful opportunity to serve each defendant and to investigate the parties’ motives . . . would add expense, delay, and uncertainty to the litigation.  In cases like the ones at issue here, the investigation is complicated and points in several directions.  While the defendants no doubt removed the actions swiftly [before the forum defendant rule would prohibit removal], a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on the issue of removal would reward a different type of gamesmanship altogether.  Instead of promptly moving before [the District of Delaware] for remand of [these] four cases, . . . [the plaintiffs] waited until the JPML had ordered the transfer to move for their remand, . . . hop[ing] for a different result.”  Id.  The court concluded, “If the plaintiffs, then, urge an interpretation of the removal statute that takes the litigants’ strategies into account, theirs may not be ignored.” Id. Remand denied, and all four cases dismissed under the same preemption arguments that had previously prevailed.

We just love this stuff. It combines all the elements that, on a good day, make this a fun job – hornbook statutory construction, chutzpah, a confident judge, and questionable opponents.  We will continue to follow the trail of this doctrine and will hope that more judges veer down this fork in the jurisprudential road.

A couple of weeks ago, we reported that, under pressure from the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber, we were headed to New York to see the Broadway production of Orwell’s 1984. Publicity surrounding this spectacle focused on audience members fleeing, fainting, and/or vomiting during the torture scene.  Incautiously well-fed (Vietnamese/Thai food from a singularly memorable Hell’s Kitchen bistro) and more than a bit apprehensive, we made our way into the theatre, where the assault on our senses began with a disconcerting background hum that continued until the curtain rose.  Whereupon ensued two hours of blinding flashes of light, lots of crashing sounds, plenty of blood, and some pretty cool dental torture.  We did not vomit, faint or flee.  And we liked the show more than we expected to, though we typically lean toward “happy” – the lauded and wonderful but lamentably short-lived recent revival of Finian’s Rainbow at Lincoln Center was right up our alley.

We thought about 1984 as we read today’s case. We are old enough to remember when a defendant had to hire a private investigator to play “Big Brother” and tease out deception in a plaintiff’s account of her limitations following an injury.  Nowadays, so-called “social media” have stepped in, in large measure, to fill those shoes, and discovery requests now commonly seek production of and access to those resources.

In In re: Cook Med., Inc., IVC Filters Mktg., Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 15, 2017), the court addressed several discovery motions in a bellwether case approaching trial.  First, as a sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to produce a privilege log, the defendants sought an order holding that the plaintiff had waived all privilege objections.  The court denied the motion, finding that “a blanket waiver is not an appropriate sanction when the party seeking protection makes a good faith showing that the requested material is privileged.”  2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 at *3.

Second, the defendants sought to compel responses to discovery requests to which the plaintiff had objected as overbroad because the defendants had defined “you” to include the plaintiff, her attorneys, and her representatives. The court said that this “fail[ed] to move” it because (we love this) “half of the interrogatories and responses in question do not even contain the word ‘you.’” Id. at *4.  Motion granted.

Third, the court properly held that the plaintiff waived objections she had failed to assert in her discovery responses, although it declined to order the plaintiff to produce all requested materials (which included emails between the plaintiff and her attorneys) irrespective of claims of privilege.

Fourth, the court addressed the defendants’ motion to compel the plaintiff to produce her Facebook profile and various posts in native file format though she had already produced them in PDF. The court declined to order production of all of the requested materials in native format and held that the defendant would be required to make a showing of its need for the metadata in the native file of any particular post.

Finally, the court turned to the scope of the defendants’ social media requests, which, it noted, had occupied much of the space in the parties’ briefs. First, in their brief, the defendants sought to compel the plaintiff’s social media log-in credentials, including her passwords.  Noting that the defendants already possessed the plaintiff’s usernames, the court held that the original interrogatory did not expressly seek passwords; as such, it declined to “compel a response to an interrogatory that does not exist.” Id. at *10.  But it dropped a footnote emphasizing that it would not likely have compelled the plaintiff to disclose her passwords in any event because it “struggle[d] to see how such staggering access [to the plaintiff’s private accounts] would be proportional to the needs of the case.” Id. at *10 n.6. The court elaborated, “The requesting party does not have an unfettered right to rummage through the responding party’s social media,” without a showing of relevance and appropriate limits on content and time period. Id. at *11.

To wit, the defendants next moved to compel the plaintiff’s private social media data related to her travel, social activities, medical conditions, and alleged damages. Noting that, because the plaintiff claimed loss of enjoyment of her life, depression, and continuing medical issues, the defendants would have been entitled to compel a response to interrogatories seeking the same information, the court granted the defendants’ motion.

Finally, the court declined the defendants’ request for screenshots of all of the plaintiff’s social media webpages from the date of her implantation with the defendants’ device to the present date, holding that the request was doomed by the lack of a content limitation. The court explained, “If the motion were granted, Plaintiff would have to turn over a screen shot of every private message she sent to anyone on any topic simply because she sent it after implantation.” Id. at *13.

In the end, an attenuated cautionary tale for anyone planning to sue anyone: while a court may not hand the opponent the figurative keys to your entire online life, postings that can be tied to your claims will find their way into your opponents’ hands, whether you posted them “privately” or not.

By the way, we just got tickets for the upcoming revival of Carousel, starring Jessie Mueller, whom we loved in Beautiful and Waitress. There will be no bloody tooth-pulling, and there will definitely be a show-stopping rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  We can’t wait.

A couple of weeks ago, our co-blogger, Mr. McConnell, published a post on the benefits of brevity.  That post sprang from an argument before the JPML, but we can riff on it today as we examine a short and lovely decision from the Northern District of New York.  We have all suffered through opinions in which judges (or their clerks) painstakingly flog possible outcomes, arguments, and counter-arguments before finally reaching their decisions. And as (once again) McConnell recently pointed out, the result has been some spectacularly bad preemption decisions.  But Olmstead v. Bayer Corp., 2017 WL 3498696 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2017), arising in the relatively clear jurisprudence surrounding so-called “PMA preemption,” was what we fondly call a “slam-dunk,” and the court treated it accordingly.

In Olmstead, the plaintiff was implanted with an Essure device, an implantable birth control device manufactured by the defendant.  She alleged that, after she was implanted with the device, she experienced months of pain, fatigue, and excessive bleeding culminating in a hospital visit for an episode of severe abdominal pain.  Though an initial ultrasound appeared normal, a subsequent ultrasound allegedly revealed that “one of the coils of the Essure was sticking out of the uterus by about one inch.” Olmstead, 2017 WL 3498696 at *2 (internal punctuation and citation omitted).  The plaintiff sued in state court, asserting claims for negligent misrepresentation, strict liability, failure to warn, and breaches of express and implied warranties.   The defendants removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss it, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the Medical Device Act (“MDA”).

As the court explained (and as we have discussed in these pages many times before (like here, also in the context of Essure litigation), Class III medical devices like Essure must undergo FDA’s “rigorous” premarket approval (“PMA”) process before they can be marketed to the public. Id. at *1.  Under the MDA, once a Class III device obtains PMA, the manufacturer may not make changes to the device’s design, specifications, or labeling without FDA permission.

The MDA also includes an express preemption clause. Under this clause, as construed by the Supreme Court in Riegel v. Medtronic, 522 U.S. 312 (2008), state laws that impose obligations that are different from or in addition to the requirements of the MDA are expressly preempted. Id. at *3 (citations omitted).  A common-law claim challenging the safety of an FDA-approved medical device survives only if it alleges a parallel violation of federal law for which state law provides a damages remedy.  Id. (citations omitted).

As such, the Olmstead court explained, the plaintiff’s “onerous task” first required her “to identify a parallel federal law upon which she [had] based her state law claims.” Id. at *4.   In response, the plaintiff cited the Current Good Manufacturing Processes (“CGMPs”) described in 21 CFR § 820.1 et seq..  But she failed to explain how the defendants had violated the CGMPs, which, in any event, were intended “to serve only as an umbrella quality system providing general objectives medical device manufacturers must seek to achieve.” Id. (internal punctuation and citations omitted).  The court emphasized, “Since these regulations are open to a particular manufacturer’s interpretation, . . . allowing a suit to continue on the basis of the CGMPs would necessarily impose standards that are ‘different from, or in addition to’ those imposed by the MDA – precisely the result that the MDA provision seeks to prevent.”  Id. (internal punctuation and citations omitted).

Thus, the court held, because the plaintiff had “failed to identify a single parallel federal statute or regulation related to any of her claims,” the MDA expressly preempted the suit as a matter of law. Id. The court commented that it ordinarily would have allowed the plaintiff to amend her complaint to “attempt to allege a plausible claim that [was] not preempted.” Id. But, in yet another layer of certainty, the court held that New York’s three-year statute of limitations barred the plaintiff’s claims.

Nothing but net. And we are told that this is the twenty-fourth time that an Essure suit has been dismissed or narrowed on preemption grounds.  Short, sweet, and correct – hard to beat that.  We will keep you posted on further developments.

We write this in the first minutes of the eclipse, about 75 minutes from whatever “totality” will be visible here in southeastern Pennsylvania. We have our certified safety glasses at the ready, we have instructed the midday dog-walker to keep the Drug and Device Law Little Shaggy Rescues indoors (lest they unwittingly look skyward), and we have a continuous loop of the Fifth Dimension’s “Age of Aquarius” going around in our head. (Parenthetically, we accidentally typed “Fifth Amendment” just then for the name of the band.) The song has nothing to do with the eclipse, but it talks about the moon. And about Jupiter aligning with Mars. Appropriately thematic, we thought.

And, while “love steering the stars” may be a little strong to describe recent activity in Risperdal litigation, we have been pleased by a recent spate of positive developments. Last week, Bexis reported on two favorable decisions out of federal courts, one a post-BMS personal jurisdiction denial and the second a refusal to consolidate dissimilar cases for trial. Today we round out the triumvirate with a nice summary judgment decision from Pennsylvania’s state court system.

In In re: Risperdal Litigation: P.D. v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2017 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 231 (July 26, 2017), the (male) plaintiff allegedly developed gynecomastia – excessive breast tissue – when he was prescribed Risperdal (beginning when he was eight years old). He sued, including claims for design defect, failure to warn, and fraud. The defendant won summary judgment. The published decision occurs in a peculiar posture that is a creature of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. Under Pa. R.A.P. 1025, when a grant of summary judgment is appealed, the trial judge prepares a written opinion in support of affirmance, arguing that there were adequate grounds for the summary judgment decision.

Design Defect

First, the court addressed the plaintiff’s design defect claims sounding in both strict liability and negligence. Because there were unresolved choice-of-law issues, the court considered these claims under the laws of both North Carolina, where the plaintiff was prescribed Risperdal and developed gynecomastia, and Pennsylvania, the forum state. Both states prohibit strict liability design defect claims against pharmaceutical manufacturers. While Pennsylvania, since Lance v. Wyeth, permits claims for negligent design defect, “a drug manufacturer can shield itself from liability for the design of drugs by including appropriate warnings; however, when it becomes known that a drug should not be used in light of the relative risks, the manufacturer can only avoid liability by removing it from the market.” P.D., 2017 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 231 at *8-9. Here, the plaintiff did not offer “any evidence that Risperdal was so dangerous no warning could mitigate the relative risk of gynecomastia.” To prevail on a negligent design defect claim under North Carolina law, the plaintiff was required to submit evidence of a safer alternative design, and he had not “even address[ed] this requirement . . . , let alone submit evidence of a safer alternative design for Risperdal.” Id., at *9. As such, the court held, the plaintiff’s negligent design defect claims also failed under either body of applicable law.

Failure to Warn

The court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s warnings claims rested on a finding that the plaintiff had not met his burden, under either North Carolina law or Pennsylvania law, of proving “warnings causation;” in other words, he had not proven that any alleged inadequacy of the product’s warnings was causally related to the his injury. We love this doctrine, because a successful argument can turn on the opportunistic exploitation of a plaintiff’s lawyer’s failure to ask a single question when deposing the plaintiff’s prescribing physicians.

The plaintiff’s warnings expert opined that the 2006 Risperdal label, in effect when the drug was prescribed for the plaintiff, should have included: 1) a recommendation for physicians to monitor prolactin levels; and 2) an indication that there was a statistically significant association between Risperdal use and gynecomastia. Id. at *12. But, as the court explained, “[a]lthough the parties deposed Plaintiff’s prescribing physicians, neither party elicited any testimony from [the doctors] concerning whether [the expert’s] proposed warnings . . . would have affected their prescribing decision.” Id. And so, the court concluded, “In light of the dearth of testimony from his prescribing physicians that [the expert’s] proposed warnings would have changed their prescribing decision, Plaintiff failed to establish proximate causation.” Id. (citation omitted).

The plaintiff attempted to save his warnings claim by arguing that the defendant engaged in illegal off-label promotion. The court held that, because the plaintiff was in an indicated population and was prescribed the drug for an indicated use, any discussion of off-label promotion was irrelevant to the case.

Fraud

Finally, the plaintiff argued that the court erred in dismissing his fraud claim. Again the court considered this claim under both North Carolina law and Pennsylvania law. Federal courts have interpreted Pennsylvania law as ‘barring [fraud claims]against pharmaceutical manufacturers.” Id. at *18 (citations omitted). Pennsylvania appellate courts have not addressed this issue. North Carolina law permits such claims, but not “where the purported misrepresentation was made solely to a third party.” Id. (citations omitted). “Because . . . neither Plaintiff nor Plaintiff’s mother relied on any representation” from the defendant in deciding whether to use the drug, “Plaintiff’s fraud claim must fail under North Carolina law.” Id.

The parties agreed that, where a true conflict of law existed, North Carolina law would apply, as that state, where the Plaintiff ingested the drug and developed gynecomastia, had a greater interest in the application of its law than did Pennsylvania, the forum state. “Ultimately,” the court held,

[I]t is immaterial whether Pennsylvania law permits a fraud claim in pharmaceutical cases. Assuming, arguendo, that Pennsylvania permits [such a claim], then Pennsylvania law conflicts with North Carolina law and North Carolina law would apply. Conversely, if Pennsylvania law prohibits such a claim, then Pennsylvania law applies. In either scenario, Plaintiff’s fraud claims would be dismissed.

Id. at *19.

We love a good summary judgment decision.  P.D. is sound and well-supported, and we trust that it will be affirmed on appeal. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, the [very cool] eclipse has come and gone. In the words of the Fifth Dimension, “let the sun shine!”

 

We are beginning to feel like the Drug and Device Law theatre critic. Or perhaps we should say “theatre cheerleader,” as we rarely wax critical (at least about the stuff we include in our blog posts).  Last week, we saw the wonderful new musical Come From Away.   It is a true story, and it begins in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001.  On that infamous day, Gander opened its doors, and its collective heart, to many thousands of U.S.A.-bound airline passengers whose planes were forced to land when U.S. airspace was closed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  Despite the tragedy in the background – and in the foreground for some characters unable to confirm whether relatives were victims of the attacks – the play is an exquisitely energetic and joyful celebration of the openness of the human heart and the resilience of the human spirit.  On the last note of the last song, the cheering audience rose in unison in a manner we have rarely seen.

As in Come From Away, tragic facts are common in our line of work, but they can sometimes provide the framework for a silver lining. In the hands of a rigorous judge committed to correct application of the law despite the pull of sympathy, difficult facts can produce laudable precedent.   Such is not the case in today’s decision out of the Depakote litigation in the Southern District of Illinois.

In E.R.G. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 2017 WL 3055520 (S.D. Ill. July 19, 2017), the plaintiff was a child who was conceived while his mother was taking Depakote and who was born with spina bifida and other birth defects.  At trial, the jury found for the plaintiff on his claim of negligent failure to warn and awarded fifteen million dollars in compensatory damages.  (The jury found that the evidence did not support an award of punitive damages.)  The defendant filed a post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that: 1) the plaintiff did not produce evidence that the defendant failed to provide adequate warnings of the risk of spina bifida; 2) the plaintiff did not produce evidence that the defendant failed to provide adequate warnings of other birth defects; and 3) the plaintiff failed to prove warnings causation because no doctor testified that a stronger warning would have altered his prescribing decision.  In the alternative, the defendant moved for a new trial, citing evidentiary issues and improper comments during closing argument.

  1.  Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

                        Adequacy of Label Warnings

The defendant argued that the label warnings were adequate as a matter of law because the label contained a black-boxed warning of the (correct) 1-2% incidence of spina bifida when the drug was taken during pregnancy. This portion of the decision – like much of the rest – is confusing, but the judge seems to say that, notwithstanding the accurate spina bifida warning, it might have been the case that other portions of the label were inadequate and that the plaintiff’s mother might be saying that other proper warnings would have resulted in a decision to stop taking the drug when she was pregnant.  It’s not clear where the judge is getting any of this, because none of this hypothetical testimony is cited in the decision.  The judge also states that the plaintiff did not “concede” that the spina bifida warning was adequate.  Instead, according to the judge, the jury could adopt the plaintiff’s expert’s theory that the spina bifida labeling was not adequate because it did not state that the drug should be used by pregnant women “only as a last resort.”  In an opinion rife with wrong, we found this “last resort” argument to be the furthest from the mark.  We know of nothing in law or regulation that invites a judge to deem that only specific semantics would have rendered a warning adequate, when the label warned of the precise risk that befell the plaintiff and included an accurate statement of the incidence of that risk.

Finally, the judge held that the jury could reasonably infer that the label was “materially misleading” when it stated that all antiepileptic drugs carried a risk of birth defects, based on evidence that the defendant’s drug carried a higher risk of spina bifida than other drugs in the class. As such, the judge held, the jury could conclude that the defendant “watered down” the spina bifida risk when it lumped the drug in with others that carried a “much lower risk of spina bifida.” E.R.G., 2017 WL 3055520 at *3.  The judge concluded, “Ultimately, there was more than enough evidence presented in Plaintiff’s case in chief to support an argument that the label, including the spina bifida waning was inadequate.” Id. 

            Warnings Causation 

Because the plaintiff’s mother’s physicians testified that they were aware of Depakote’s teratogenic effects when they prescribed the drug, the defendant argued that the plaintiff had not established that any inadequacy of the drug’s warnings was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff countered that the issue was not whether the defendant “failed to warn generally of ‘teratogenic effects’” but whether the defendant “provided full, accurate, and complete information about Depakote’s total teratogenic risks and instructions on the safe use of Depakote in women of childbearing age . . . .” Id. Forgive us, but we fail to see the distinction here.  One of the last two physicians to prescribe the drug before the plaintiff was conceived testified that he would have advised the plaintiff’s mother to stop taking the drug if he had been advised to use it as a “last resort” (the chosen language of the plaintiff’s expert and the judge), but he later testified that he would not have “taken away” the drug if the plaintiff’s mother had insisted on taking it.  The judge concluded, “. . . [A] reasonable jury could find that . . . a stronger warning would have caused [the last prescriber] (who was already on the fence about the efficacy of Depakote for [the plaintiff’s mother], to stop prescribing the drug.” Id. at *4.   We think this is a stretch, given the testimony.

The judge may have thought so, too, because she made a confusing attempt to justify her conclusion.   She postulated, “If the jury believed that [the doctor] would have discontinued [plaintiff’s mother’s] prescription in favor of a different [drug], then the jury could reasonably infer that she would still have been off of Depakote when she went to see [the other doctor] for her final visit” to the doctors’ clinic. Id. “Nothing in the testimony of [the second doctor] indicates that if [the plaintiff’s mother] had shown up for her appointment on [a different drug], he would have independently restarted the Depakote prescription.  [The second doctor] that, while he did make an independent assessment of [the plaintiff’s mother] at her last visit, he repeatedly asserted that he was ‘refilling’ her medication.” Id. (citation omitted).   Have trouble following that?  Can’t figure out what it has to do with warnings causation?  Neither can we.  Bottom line is that the prescribers knew that the drug could cause spina bifida and prescribed it anyway.  And, even if the imaginary “last resort” language had been included, the doctor would not have taken the drug away from the plaintiff’s mother if she wanted to keep taking it.  We fail to see how any of this adds up to warnings causation, except in the mind of a judge who didn’t want to grant the defendant’s motion.

  1.  Motion for New Trial 

Predictably, the judge also denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial. Some highlights of that decision:

Mother’s Testimony

In this case, unlike what we are used to seeing in the prescription drug context, the patient – the plaintiff’s mother – was apparently warned about birth defects while the plaintiff alleged that the prescribers weren’t. This led to an upside-down trial in which plaintiff didn’t call his mother in his case in chief while the prescribers testified live.   When the defendant learned that plaintiff’s mother was not being called, it filed a motion to compel her to sit for a de bene esse deposition.  The judge denied the motion, and this denial was one of the bases of the defendant’s motion for a new trial.  The judge held that her denial of the defendant’s motion was proper because the defendant had not adequately explained why the mother’s fact deposition (which was not videotaped) “did not accurately capture her testimony.” Id. (This in spite of the fact that, in our experience, plaintiffs routinely win motions like these.)

“Top 3” Opinion 

The defendant challenged the admission of one of the plaintiff’s expert’s opinions that Depakote was one of the “top three” teratogenic drugs in the PDR, arguing that the opinion was not the product of a reliable methodology. The court disagreed, holding, “While a different expert may come to a different conclusion or may even use a different methodology to determine what the three worst drugs are in terms of teratology, that is not the test for excluding an opinion under Daubert.” Id. at *6.

Improper Comments in Plaintiff’s Closing Argument 

The defendant argued that prejudicial comments in the plaintiff’s closing argument entitled it to a new trial.   These included the comment that the defendant was “guilty as hell” (the judge had to explain to the jury that this was not a criminal trial), as well as comments suggesting that compensatory damages should be based on the defendant’s alleged “bad behavior” (the judge halted this line of argument after the defendant objected that it was an argument for punitive damages, not compensatories) and that the jury, through its award “had a chance to make a decision about the kind of world [it] wanted to live in.” Id. at *7 (citation omitted).  The judge, predictably, held that none of the comments was “overly prejudicial.” Id.  

And so the verdict was allowed to stand. While we reiterate that we were not always able to follow the judge’s reasoning, our takeaway was that she started with her desired result and worked backwards.   As for us, our next foray onto the Great White Way occurs next week, when we accede to a request from the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber that we accompany her to the production of 1984 currently playing at the Hudson Theatre.  This production is notable for the proliferation of audience members fainting and vomiting during the torture scene, so we suspect that cheerfulness may not permeate our description.  And we will have to find a case that makes us queasy so we can easily tie it in.  Based on today’s decision, we suspect this will not be too difficult.  We’ll keep you posted.

One of the wonders of parenthood is its ability to deliver interludes so sublime in their exquisite simplicity that they provoke smiles long after they end. Such was an evening last week when we journeyed to New York to celebrate the birthday of the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber, now a waxing college senior completing a summer internship at an insanely cool company in Lower Manhattan.  We were treated to a tour of the office and to the comments that colleagues and mentors reserve for interns’ mothers.  We had perfect saltimbocca at a beloved Italian bistro.  We saw Waitress (again – we love this show).  We stayed overnight on the Climber’s couch, joined at some point by a four-pound Chihuahua.  And we relished every moment with this child-now-adult.  We were awash in happiness for the entire train ride home.

We were also happy (yet another suspect segue) with the court’s evidentiary rulings in today’s case, but decidedly not with the case’s very sad facts—an all-too-frequent dichotomy in our line of work. Because we spend vast amounts of our professional time struggling to achieve the exclusion of plaintiffs’ causation experts, we are always pleased to read a Daubert opinion that layers tidy analytical segments to reach a satisfying conclusion that correctly applies the Rules of Evidence and controlling case law.

In Smith v. Terumo Cardiovascular Systems Corp., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108205 (D. Utah July 12, 2017), the plaintiff’s decedent underwent open-heart surgery in which a heart-lung machine was used to circulate oxygenated blood through the patient’s body while his heart was being repaired.  At some point during the surgery, the machine stopped working for approximately ten minutes.  The plaintiff’s decedent never left the hospital after the surgery.  Eleven months later, he suffered a heart attack and died.

The plaintiff sued the hospital and the heart-lung machine’s manufacturer, asserting the usual claims. She hired a cardiologist as her causation expert, and he opined that the malfunction of the heart-lung machine caused the decedent to suffer physical and mental deterioration and ultimately caused his heart attack and his death.  The defendants moved to exclude the expert’s testimony, arguing that: 1) his causation opinions were unhelpful and unreliable; 2) he was not qualified to opine on neurological injuries; and 3) he should not be allowed “to provide a narrative of events that can and should be provided by other witnesses and records.” Smith, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108205 at *5 (citation omitted).

Explaining that , “to be helpful, [the expert’s] opinion . . . that the . . . surgery and related complications had any causal . . . relationship to Mr. Smith’s injuries and ultimate death must be based on a ‘valid scientific connection,’ the court held that that the expert’s own deposition testimony demonstrated that his opinion would not be helpful to a jury. To wit, in his deposition, the expert admitted that he could not testify with certainty that there was a connection “between the surgery, the ten-minute lack of flow, and the heart attack that caused” the decedent’s death. Id. at *10-11 (citations omitted).   Instead, he could only go as far as concluding that “the events that happened at the time of surgery simply made it more likely” that the decedent would die as the result of a heart attack, although the decedent’s own risk factors –hypertension, smoking, diabetes, family history – were generally considered to be “the main contributors” to the development of the plaque that narrowed the decedent’s arteries and caused his myocardial infarction.  As such, the expert concluded, “[While] I think that what happened . . . played a role in his having a heart attack and made it less likely that he would survive a heart attack, but I cannot say that it caused his heart attack.Id. at *11-12 (emphasis in original, citation omitted).

While this is refreshing (and uncommon) candor for a plaintiff’s expert, it is obviously not “helpful” to the establishment of causation. Moreover, the court held, even if the testimony had been helpful, it was not reliable, because the expert did not “provide a basis to conclude that the relationship [was] causal and not merely corollary,” leaving too large a gap between his premise and conclusion, and because he failed to account for obvious alternative explanations for the decedent’s death.   Id. at *15-16.

The expert also concluded, contrary to the results of the decedent’s autopsy, that the decedent had suffered an earlier heart attack, around the time of the surgery, before the one that ultimately killed him eleven months later. The court held that this opinion was also inadmissible because the expert’s diagnostic methods were not generally accepted.  As such, the court concluded, “To allow the jury to hear [the expert’s] opinion on this point would be to allow the jury to hear conclusions based on inferior diagnostic metrics.  This will not be permitted.” Id. at *20.

Next, the court addressed the expert’s opinion that the decedent “suffered an injury to the brain due to prolonged lack of oxygenated blood flow to the brain.” Id. at *20-21.  The court held that the expert lacked the “knowledge, skill, training, or education that would qualify him to diagnose neurologic injuries.” Id. at 21 (internal punctuation and citation omitted).  Moreover, the opinion lacked any scientific basis, as the autopsy revealed no sign of hypoxic encephalopathy.   The court concluded, “[The expert] is not being as careful as he would be in his regular professional work outside his paid litigation consulting.  A jury has no use for [this type of speculation], especially from someone whose expertise lies elsewhere.” Id. at *24.

The court did not exclude the expert’s entire report, permitting him to testify that the decedent’s heart was injured during his surgery and to indicate what he relied upon to form his opinions. It held, however, that the expert would not be permitted “to give a general narrative of Mr. Smith’s health before, during, and after the surgery.” Id.

We like this opinion. It draws the correct lines, and it does so in clear and logical fashion.  It also reinforces the oft-apparent conclusion that plaintiffs’ lawyers disserve their clients when they hire the wrong people, and pay them to say the wrong things, in their quests for big settlement paychecks.   We will continue to keep you posted on judges who properly bar the courtroom doors against such experts, and those who don’t.

We just got tickets to see “Wicked” again (we think this will be the fourth or fifth time). Since we first saw it (on Broadway in 2003, featuring Idina Menzel’s Tony-winning performance), we have loved this quirky and oh-so-creative imagining of the backstory of “the Witches of Oz” – Galinda (later, without the first “a,” the “Good Witch of the North”) and Elphaba, the viridescent lass who, in Baum’s classics, grew up to achieve infamy as the “Wicked Witch of the West” – beginning with their days as schoolgirls and reluctant roommates.  We are eternally charmed by the subtle scarecrow-Toto-Dorothy references woven throughout (we notice at least one new one every time we see the show) and we never tire of the score (“Defying Gravity,” “For Good”).  We also don’t think it puts too fine a point on it to appreciate the resonance of a character whose life is shaped by a childhood in which she never “fit” and to be gratified by her unlikely happy ending.

 

And in this manner (wait ‘til you see this tie-in), the lesson diverges from unhappy ending of the plaintiff’s expert metallurgist in today’s case, whose conclusions were excluded, in part, because they did not “fit” the facts of the case and the issues the expert had considered. In its (regrettably) unpublished and (not regrettably) short decision in Redd v. DePuy Orthopedics, Inc., 2017 WL 2859536 (8th Cir. June 6 2017), which features an appearance by our beloved “sham affidavit doctrine,” the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the Eastern District of Missouri’s decision excluding the plaintiff’s expert’s “defect” and “causation” testimony and granting summary judgment for the defendant.

 

In Redd, the plaintiff – five feet tall, 302 pounds, and taking immunosuppressant drugs – received a total hip replacement using the defendant’s artificial hip.  Four years later, the hip stem fractured.  When it was removed, “doctors learned that it had not properly grown into the bone at the top of [the plaintiff’s] hip,” 2017 WL 2859536 at *1.  Plaintiff’s doctors were aware of this risk, heightened by the plaintiff’s marked obesity and her medications.  The plaintiff was implanted with a second hip stem, which similarly fractured less than two years later.

 

The plaintiff filed suit, asserting the usual negligence, strict liability, and manufacturing defect claims. She retained her metallurgy expert to opine about the cause of the hip stems’ fractures.  The expert “had done research in fatigue fracture initiation in metal objects but not in metal objects implanted in the human body.  His analysis considered metallurgical factors but not any biomechanical factors (such as a hip stem’s failure to grow into the hip bone . . .).” Id. He also “did not review any records related to the manufacturing process . . . .” Id. He opined that the fracture of the plaintiff’s hip stem was caused by the improper “phase” of the metal along with the “grain size” of the metal alloy (metallurgical terms of art, we assume).  He “acknowledged that environmental factors could have also contributed to the failure of the hip implant, but said that any small variation in the biomechanical forces would have been secondary in nature to the hip stem’s . . . state” in causing the failure. Id. (internal punctuation omitted).

 

The defendant moved for exclusion of the expert’s testimony and for summary judgment. In response, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit in which the expert testified, for the first time, that the “phase” of the metal in the hip stem violated the defendant’s own specifications, and that “environmental factors would be secondary in the cause of the fracture when the material is inherently defective to begin with.” Id. (internal punctuation omitted).  The defendant moved to strike the affidavit on the grounds that it impermissibly supplemented or changed the expert’s opinion after the close of discovery.

 

Throw a little Daubert on this expert, and his opinions melt away.

 

The district court held that the expert, while qualified to testify about metallurgy, lacked a scientific or factual basis for his “manufacturing defect” or “causation” testimony. The court further found that the expert had failed to consider the issue of the forces that were exerted on the implant inside the plaintiff’s body.  Finally, the court granted the defendant’s motion to strike the expert’s affidavit, noting that statements in the affidavit contradicted the expert’s earlier testimony and “a party cannot change testimony,” by submitting an affidavit, “just to avoid summary judgment or a Daubert motion.” Id. at *2.  (This is the “sham affidavit doctrine,” which we have used with glee and success in our own appeals.)  With the expert’s “defect” and “causation” testimony excluded, the plaintiff could not meet her burden of proving those claims, and the court granted summary judgment for the defendant.

 

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed all of the district court’s holdings. First, it held that the expert’s affidavit, invoking, inter alia, manufacturing specifications he earlier testified that he had not been provided, “arguably crossed the line between clarifying prior testimony and changing prior testimony,” id. (citation omitted); thus, the district court had not abused its discretion in excluding the affidavit from consideration.  The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the district court had erred when it required the expert to exclude biomechanical causes of the plaintiff’s fracture.  The court emphasized that, while “an expert need not rule out all possible causes of an injury, [he] nonetheless should adequately account for obvious alternative explanations.” Id. at *3 (internal punctuation and citation omitted).  In this case, the expert failed to consider the obvious alternative cause of the plaintiff’s fracture; namely “the failure of the hip stem to grow into [the plaintiff’s] hip bone and properly distribute her weight,” id, and gave no consideration to the biomechanical forces applied to the hip stem.  As such, the court concluded, the district court had acted within its discretion in excluding the expert’s testimony on causation and defect.

 

Short, tidy, and correct on all counts. Keep ‘em coming.  As for us, we are off to see the Wizard (again).

Last week, like most weeks during the past year, we spent a lot of our time on airplanes. One of those trips fell on a day with “lots of weather.”  All of our flights were delayed, although we were luckier than many.  When we landed at Dulles for our connecting flight home, the queue at the customer service booth comprised hundreds of stranded passengers looping around and around like the approach to Space Mountain, hoping, with varying degrees of impatience and panic, to reschedule canceled flights.  But our connecting flight was only late – very late.  We sat at our gate for almost three hours, then were finally allowed to board.  We buckled in, we watched a taciturn flight attendant demonstrate the seat belts we were already wearing, and then we sat.  For forty more minutes.  (By now, it was 12:30 a.m.)  Finally, the “flight deck” made an announcement:  we were sitting still because the trash can in the galley lacked a lid, and this was a “safety hazard” that had to be rectified before we could take off.  And so we were waiting for the “caterer,” a contractor, to bring a new trash can.  Eventually, a truck pulled up, but it was carrying the wrong type of trash can.  Ultimately, someone went next door to a plane that was done flying for the night — as all sane people were, by that point – and stole a trash can.  And we were on our way.

So who was at fault?   Was it the contractor, which (twice) provided the wrong trash can? Or was it the airline, which shall remain nameless because (trust me) it doesn’t need any more bad publicity and which specified and installed the trash can?  Depends on the nature of the claim, under a (very very) loose interpretation of today’s decision from the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

In Janusz v. Symmetry Medical, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88895 (E.D. Wis. June 9, 2017), the plaintiffs alleged that the femoral neck of their artificial hips systems broke, requiring additional surgeries to replace the hip system.  The femoral neck was a component, manufactured by the defendant according to specifications and instructions provided by the hip system’s fabricator (which was bankrupt by the time of suit).  The plaintiffs asserted claims sounding in negligence and strict liability against both companies, and the component manufacturer moved for summary judgment, asserting the so-called “contract specification defense” to the plaintiffs’ claims.  This is a component part manufacturer’s defense, and not one we have ever discussed here.  Hence, our interest in Janusz.

Under this defense, a manufacturer that “makes a product strictly in accordance with the design specifications of another is not liable in negligence unless the specifications are so obviously defective and dangerous that a contractor of reasonable prudence would have been put on notice that the product was dangerous and likely to cause injury.” Januscz, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88895, at *11 (citation omitted).  And, while this defense is not among the five defenses listed in Wisconsin’s product liability statute, the court held that the statute supplemented but did not supersede common-law doctrines that weren’t inconsistent with it.  While Wisconsin common law had not adopted the contract specification defense, either, it had adopted the “government contractor defense,” the underlying principles of which — declining to hold a contractor liable when it manufactured a product according  to the specifications of another – overlap those of the contract specification defense.  Under the government contractor defense, a contractor that “makes a product strictly in accordance with the design specifications of another is not liable in negligence unless the specifications are so obviously defective and dangerous that a contractor  of reasonable prudence would have been put on notice that the product was dangerous and likely to cause injury.” Id. at *12 (citation omitted).  This is essentially the same test used in the contract specification defense generally. See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability §5, Reporters’ Note to Comment a (1998) (a “majority of courts” hold “that a manufacturer of a component part . . . cannot be held strictly liable . . . so long as the specifications provided are not so obviously dangerous that it would be unreasonable to follow them”) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

In Januscz, however,  the court drew a distinction between negligence and strict liability that does not exist generally.  It held that, “[i]ntuitively,” it made sense that “an entity that has no role in designing a product should bear no liability if the product is defectively designed.” Id. at *12.  But “that intuitive  reaction follows only when plaintiff’s theory of recovery is negligence.” Id. (citations omitted).  And, “in Wisconsin, product liability was and is a matter of strict liability.” Id. at *13 (citations omitted).  In the strict liability context, unlike in negligence, “the focus is on the dangerousness of the product regardless of the defendant’s conduct.  Thus, a defendant may be blameless but strictly liable.” Id. (internal punctuation and citations omitted).  The court concluded that, given  the  “recent codification of product liability law reaffirming Wisconsin’s commitment to  the principles of  strict liability, if  presented with a question of whether the contract specification defense applies to a question of strict liability under Wisconsin law, the Wisconsin Supreme  Court would hold  that it does not.” Id. at *24. Januscz declared that “strict liability means strict liability.   It exists to shift costs associated with unsafe products to those  who are in the best position to disperse  those costs (be it through insurance, indemnification,  or some other means.” Id. at *25.  And, the court held, the “contract specification defense significantly undermines the policies underlying strict liability.  Therefore, the court concludes that the defense does not exist  under Wisconsin law.” Id. at *26.

This result is simply wrong under Wisconsin law. The Januscz court completely failed to cite the most relevant case, Schreiner v. Wieser Concrete Prod., Inc., 720 N.W.2d 525 (Wis. 2006), in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court expressly adopted Restatement Third §5 as “consistent with Wisconsin law.” Id. at 530.  Thus, Wisconsin law does not distinguish between negligence and strict liability, particularly in the context of product specifications and component parts. See also Spychalla v. Boeing Aerospace Operations Inc., 2015 WL 3504927, at *3 n.2 (E.D. Wis. June 3, 2015) (recognizing Wisconsin’s adoption of §5 after enacting of tort reform statute).  Indeed, after correctly holding that the Wisconsin tort reform statute only “supplements” the common law Januscz failed even to cite Restatement Third §5 – the relevant Wisconsin common law for component parts under Schreiner.  If anything, the statute reinforces use of the Third Restatement in Wisconsin, since the statute generally adopted that Restatement alternative design defect test and its “not reasonably safe” defect terminology. See Wis. Stat. §895.047(1)(a) (“A product is defective in design if the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design by the manufacturer and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.”).

Rather than actually follow Wisconsin law, the court simply repeated the truism that “strict liability does not mean absolute liability.”  2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88895, at *26 (emphasis in original).  To wit, a component manufacturer could escape liability if its component part underwent substantial change when it was included in the assembled device.  But, the court held, the defendant’s femoral neck component did not undergo such change.  And so the court denied summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ strict liability claims, though it granted summary judgment for the component manufacturer on the plaintiffs’ negligence claims.

While this interesting decision appears thorough at first glance, in fact it completely omits essential Wisconsin law, Schreiner and Restatement Third §5, and thus its discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of strict liability, based on Restatement Second §402A, which Wisconsin no longer follows, is (to be polite) open to question.  We hope that the defendant eventually convinces the court of the error of its ways.

 

When last we wrote, we were about to embark on a journey to Budapest and Vienna to visit the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber. We mentioned that we were thrilled to hold tickets to see the Lipizzaner stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, as we had wished for this since we were very small. And in the phrase “hold tickets” lies the rub.  Though our companion warned us, as we locked the door and departed for the airport, to be sure we had the tickets, we somehow arrived in Europe without them and descended into panic.  For, unlike virtually every other admission credential we had used in the past five years, these were not e-tickets or pdfs but were actual, cardboard tickets, mailed to us in a postal envelope.  And they were missing.  Luckily, in this age of e-mailed confirmations and of people everywhere speaking perfect English, we were able to secure duplicate tickets and to see the stunning white horses of our dreams.  But we were warned, so we would have had no one to blame if the outcome had been different.

As was the case in today’s decision. Ford v. Riina, et al., 2017 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1649 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 2, 2017), is an unpublished opinion out of the Supreme Court of New York County. The facts are quite tragic.  The plaintiff was being treated for a brain aneurysm by the physician defendant when “a coil escaped” and migrated further into the plaintiff’s brain. Ford, 2017 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1649 at *1.  The doctor attempted to retrieve the coil using the manufacturing defendant’s device after another method failed.  “Retrieval of foreign bodies misplaced during interventional radiologic procedures in the neuro . . . vasculature” was one of the indications in the device’s Instructions for Use (“IFU”), which contained warnings about, inter alia, using the proper size of the device (available in a range of sizes) and not performing more than six retrieval attempts in the same vessel using the device.   The IFU also reported that one fracture of the retriever had occurred during clinical trials and provided instructions for reducing the risk of fracture.

The doctor first tried one size of the retriever in the plaintiff. He captured the errant coil, but the retriever fractured when he attempted to retract it.  He tried a larger retriever, which also fractured.  Ultimately, the doctor was able to capture one of the fractured retrievers with a snare but was unable to capture the second retriever or the coil.  The plaintiff was taken for an emergency craniotomy and suffered a major stroke that left him severely brain-damaged.  He sued the doctor and the device manufacturer, and stipulated that claims against the manufacturer would be limited to design defect and failure to warn, and the manufacturer moved for summary judgment on both claims.

In support of its motion, the manufacturer submitted four affidavits.   The first was the affidavit of an engineer employed by the manufacturer’s successor.  The engineer stated that he was able to determine the lot number of each device opened by the doctor and that he was able to determine that there were no reported fractures of any devices in the relevant lots except the fractures to the devices used in the plaintiff.  The second affiant was a bioengineer, who stated that the retriever was the state-of-the-art medical device for foreign body removal from the time of the plaintiff’s procedure up to the present time.  He also stated that fracture was exceptionally rare in the device in question and that the benefits of the device outweighed the risk of fracture, which is inherent in all retrieval devices. The third affiant, a neurologist, opined that the retriever’s IFU expressly warned of the risk of fracture and of vessel damage, that the warnings – including the warning of the precise event that occurred in the plaintiff – were clear an adequate, and that the risks of fracture and vessel damage were “generally known and accepted in the relevant medical community.” Id. at *13-14.  Finally, a registered professional engineer opined that “no other commercial engineering or biomedical alloy can come close” to the elasticity and shape memory of the alloy used in the defendant’s device, id. at * 15-16, that there is no other material commercially available to manufacture the device for its intended use. Id. at *17.

In opposition, the plaintiff submitted the affidavits of two witnesses. The first, a materials scientist, claimed that he tested the retrieval device under a variety of conditions, that the testing confirmed that cracks and fractures could occur with much greater ease and frequency than the IFU suggested and under conditions of which the IFU did not warn, and that, as such, the IFU did not contain adequate warnings related to the potential for fracture. The second witness, a biomedical engineer, opined, inter alia, that the IFU did not adequately warn of the potential for the device to become entangled or stuck in a vessel and of the difficulty of disengaging it once it was stuck.  He also claimed that there were feasible alternative design features that would have prevented the plaintiff’s injury.

The court held that the manufacturer had “establishe[d] prima facie that the IFU conveyed to physician-users the most current knowledge concerning the potential risk of fracture associated with the [device], which is all the law requires.” Id. at *33 (citation omitted).  In addition, the IFU “set forth various steps which the physician-user could take to reduce that risk.” Id. Finally, the manufacturer “establishe[d] its prima facie entitlement to summary dismissal of plaintiff’s design defect claim by establishing that the [device] was state of the art for removing . . . foreign bodies from the neurovasculature, that the device was properly designed and manufactured . . . and . . . incorporated changes made to the [device’s predecessor] as well as other modifications that minimized the risk of fracture.” Id. at *34 (citations omitted).

Once the manufacturer made its prima facie showing, the burden was on the plaintiff to identify a triable issue of fact. And the court held that the plaintiff did not satisfy this burden.  The court stated, “An expert’s affidavit – offered as the only evidence to defeat summary judgment – must contain sufficient allegation to demonstrate that the conclusions it contains are more than mere speculation and would, if offered alone at trial, support a verdict in the proponent’s favor.” Id. at *35 (citations omitted).  In this case, the plaintiff’s experts made “repeated reference to various tests and experiments they performed which they contend[ed] replicated the foreseeable event of the [device] being ‘fully stuck’ within a patient’s cerebral vasculature.  However, noticeably absent . . . is any description . . . of the actual tests and experiments they performed or the conditions under which they performed them . . . [including whether] the tests and experiments . . . were based on accepted industry standards. Id. at *36 (citations omitted).  The court concluded, “Simply stated, there is nothing in the experts’ affidavits from which the validity of their ultimate conclusions about the design of the [device] and the adequacy of the IFU can be inferred. . . .In the absence of any reference to a foundational scientific basis for their conclusions, [the plaintiff’s experts’] opinions lack sufficient probative value to raise a triable issue of fact” as to design defect or the adequacy of the warnings.”  Claims dismissed, summary judgment for the manufacturer.

Ford is a well-reasoned and correct decision that fits nicely into our self-styled crusade against the opinions of experts who should never darken the courthouse steps.  We will keep our eyes open for similar holdings in published, precedential opinions, and we will keep you posted.

Next week, we are traveling to Budapest, with a side trip to Vienna. We are visiting the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber, who is spending this semester abroad studying computer science (in Budapest) and climbing rocks (in Majorca, etc.).  Aside from the beloved visage of our only child, we are most excited about seeing the Lipizzaner stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  When we were eleven years old, we read “My Dancing White Horses” by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, director of the School.  This wonderful autobiography recounts Podhajsky’s extraordinary efforts to save the Lipizzaners during World War II.  It was (and is) a compelling read, and it led us to “My Horses, My Teachers,” Podhajsky’s homage to his stunning equine mentors.  Since that time, the Lipizzaners have occupied a permanent spot atop our bucket list, and we are beyond thrilled to hold tickets to one of their performances.  Beyond that, we had to start from scratch to plan this trip.  We Googled and researched, and our takeaway was how much we didn’t know about Budapest’s history and culture.

Perhaps the plaintiff’s would-be experts in today’s case should have engaged in similar assessments of their knowledge bases. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with our ongoing rant against “experts” who aren’t, and with the cases that nonetheless ride on the “experts’’ unqualified shoulders.  In this case, the Court agreed with us.

In Hale v. Bayer Corporation, 2017 WL 1425944 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 20, 2017), the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s product, an over-the-counter (“OTC”) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (“NSAID”) caused him to develop a permanent kidney injury known as “Minimal Change Disease” (“MCD”). He asserted the usual product liability claims sounding in strict liability and negligence, and identified three experts.  The defendant moved to exclude all three – the plaintiff’s primary care physician, the plaintiff’s treating nephrologist, and a pharmacist — under Daubert, arguing that none had rendered an opinion that was “properly founded in or based upon sufficiently reliable medical, scientific, or other specialized knowledge.” Hale, 2017 WL 1425944 at *1 (citation omitted).

Plaintiff’s Primary Care Physician

The plaintiff’s primary care physician testified that he referred all kidney patients to a nephrologist and that he had never studied whether NSAIDs may cause particular kidney injuries. Naturally, the defendants moved to exclude him because he was unqualified to offer causation opinions and because he relied on the plaintiff’s treating nephrologist’s opinions and diagnosis as the basis of his opinions.  In their response, the plaintiffs stated that they would not offer the expert to testify about causation,  but only to discuss his care and treatment of the plaintiff.  The Court agreed that the doctor would be permitted to testify about his treatment of the plaintiff but would not be permitted to offer causation opinions.

Plaintiff’s Treating Nephrologist

Next, the plaintiff offered his treating nephrologist, who diagnosed the plaintiff with NSAID-induced MCD.  The defendants argued that the nephrologist’s opinions were “insufficiently supported by medical science” and that he was “not able to definitively establish by any medical or laboratory test that the plaintiff’s consumption [of the NSAID] was the cause of his MCD.” Id. at *3.  They also argued that the nephrologist’s purported “differential diagnosis” was based on insufficient scientific data.  The plaintiffs argued that the doctor had 30 years of experience as a nephrologist, that he managed the plaintiff’s case, and that he relied on scientific literature in reaching his causation conclusion.

The court cited case law confirming that, while a properly-performed differential diagnosis can constitute a reliable methodology, such diagnosis must go “beyond the mere existence of a temporal relationship” between the plaintiff’s ingestion of the defendant’s product and the onset of his symptoms. Id. at *4.  Analyzing the doctor’s methodology, the court observed that the doctor had ruled out certain diseases that can cause MCD.  He also ruled our food poisoning and some infections.  But most MCD is idiopathic.  (Idiopathic means nobody knows what causes it.)  To rule out idiopathic MCD in the plaintiff’s case, the doctor testified that he relied on the temporal relationship and on scientific literature that had acknowledged “for the last 25 years that NSAIDs can cause renal injury or renal malfunctions.” But the data the doctor cited involved prescription-strength NSAIDs, and he testified that he did not know of studies involving lower-strength OTC NSAIDs and had never read an article linking the defendant’s specific NSAID to renal injury.  The court concluded that the doctor could not “provide any scientific and/or medical data with regard to the relationship of over-the-counter NSAIDs and kidney disease,” let alone any specific data related to the defendant’s product.  As such, the doctor’s opinions were “unreliable based on the lack of supporting medical science as required by” Fed. R. Evid. 702.  Moreover, though the doctor had general knowledge about the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease, he lacked “expert knowledge with the specific subset of over-the-counter NSAIDs” and MCD.  And so, like the PCP, the nephrologist was permitted to testify about his care of the plaintiff but was precluded from offering causation testimony.

The Pharmacist

Finally, the plaintiff offered a pharmacist to testify, as an element of Illinois’s “consumer expectation test,” that the plaintiff’s particular kidney injury was foreseeable to the defendant and that the danger of this injury went beyond that which would be contemplated by the “ordinary patient with ordinary knowledge common to the community.” The pharmacist was qualified to offer this opinion, they argued, “based on many years of educating and working with healthcare providers and providing healthcare services to patients.” Id. at *6.  He said that he “regularly interacted with [patients] and understood their level of awareness regarding OTC . . . NSAIDs and kidney injury.” Id. at *7.

The court pointed out that the pharmacist was not a physician, had never participated in clinical trials involving any NSAID, and was not aware of any cases of MCD associated with OTC use of the defendant’s product. Though he had reviewed 203 case reports, none involved MCD, and, in any event, the court had previously rejected expert opinions based on case reports.  As the court emphasized, “Because of their limitations, case reports have been repeatedly rejected as a scientific basis for a conclusion regarding causation. Such case reports are not reliable scientific evidence of causation, because they simply describe reported phenomena without comparison to the rate at which the phenomena occur in the general population or in a defined control group. . . [T]hey do not isolate and exclude potentially alternative causes . . . and do not investigate or explain the mechanism of causation.”  Id. at *8 (citation omitted).

Finally, the court held that the pharmacist “clearly [did] not have the necessary background to offer an opinion of whether the risk and danger of [the product] outweighed its benefits.”  His entire opinion was “based on the fact that there are alternative [products] that may achieve the same relief benefit.  That is like saying that an individual could safely ride the train to work and thus have avoided a car accident, [but] . . . there is no indication of a complete risk/benefit analysis being conducted by [the pharmacist] or that [he] relied on any studies” conducting such an analysis.  Id. at *7.  (We have posted on this issue before.  You can see some of the posts here.)  The court concluded that the pharmacist had “provided no support – other than his general experience – of the opinions” he had offered. As such, the court held that the pharmacist’s opinions were “unreliable based on the lack of supporting data as required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702.” Id. at *8.

And then there were none. And with no experts, the plaintiffs could not meet their burden of proof of causation.  Moreover, while the court acknowledged that Illinois had not decided whether the consumer expectation test required expert testimony, the plaintiff had not demonstrated that the defendant’s product was unsafe, because “every expert deposed stated that they believed [the product] to be safe when used as directed.” Id. at *11.  Check and mate – summary judgment granted for defendants.

Sometimes, when we write this stuff, we have trouble keeping a straight face because the plaintiffs’ arguments so lack merit as to verge on silliness. It continues to puzzle us that these experts – and these cases – even see the light of day.  But we are grateful for the sensible judges who extinguish them.

We’ll be back in a week or so, with pictures of beautiful white stallions (and one beautiful daughter) in hand. E-mail us – we’ll send you copies.