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A funny thing happened on the way to a defense verdict last year—after the jury decided that the defendant’s product was not defective, the MDL judge told the jurors that perhaps they did not “fully understand” and instructed them to try again. So the jury went back into the jury room, and having been duly admonished by the court, the jury changed its mind and returned a verdict for the plaintiff.  We commented fully on the proceedings here, and while we will not repeat all the gory details, trust us, the proceedings were odd.

The Eleventh Circuit has now affirmed the plaintiff’s verdict, and the defendant has valid reasons to be unhappy. Not only did the Eleventh Circuit place its stamp of approval on the do-over verdict, it applied a hopelessly muddled view of comment k.

The case is Christiansen v. Wright Medical Technology, Inc., No. 16-12162, 2017 WL 1046088 (11th Cir. Mar. 20, 2017).  The plaintiff alleged that a defect in the defendant’s metal-on-metal hip replacement device caused him an injury, and he asserted product liability claims governed by Utah law. Id. at *1.  As luck would have it, the case was selected as a “bellwether” trial case in the Conserve Hip Implant MDL, and after a trial that lasted about a week, the jury returned a verdict finding that the product was not defectively designed. Id. The jury also found that the defendant had made negligent misrepresentations and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Id.

Under Utah law, this is a defense verdict. The Utah Products Liability Statute covers all claims for injuries allegedly caused by defective products, and it requires proof of a product defect.  As a result, once the jury found that the product was not defective, nothing else mattered.  The defendant won.  The court, however, ruled that the verdict was “inconsistent” because the jury found no defect on the one hand, but also found negligent misrepresentation on the other. Id. That is why the court re-instructed the jury, resulting in the second verdict finding a product defect. Id.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed this result, and its opinion relies on the assumption that the first verdict was “inconsistent.” Id. at **5-7.  But what inconsistency?  The jury made two core findings—no defect and negligent misrepresentation.  Maybe the evidence supported those findings and maybe it did not, but it is very possible for a defendant to make a misrepresentation and also sell a product that is free from design defects.  (There were no manufacturing or warning-based defect claims, in case you were wondering.)  The finding of no defect makes the misrepresentation finding meaningless under Utah law.  They are not “inconsistent.”  The former just deprives the latter of any legal consequence.

For whatever reason, the district judge saw an “inconsistency,” and the Eleventh Circuit deferred. The Eleventh Circuit tries to explain the proceedings in the district court, but in the end, it really did not explain why the initial verdict called for further deliberation.  It seems to have taken that for granted.

There is a second problem with the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion—it declined to apply Utah’s adoption of Comment k and gave a reason that simply does not hold up. Comment k to section 402A of the Restatement (Second) or Torts provides protection against strict liability claims involving “unavoidably unsafe products.”  Nearly all states have adopted some version of Comment k—some apply it on a case-by-case basis; some treat it as an affirmative defense; some apply Comment k as a matter of law in all cases involving prescription medical products, recognizing that all drugs and medical devices have both benefits and risks.

Utah has adopted Comment k, but has placed the burden on the defendant to prove certain elements to invoke Comment k as a defense. However, in cases involving prescription medical products, the Utah Supreme Court has “rejected the case-by-case approach and adopted Comment k as a categorical bar against strict liability.” Id. at **7-8 (quoting Grundberg v. Upjohn Co., 813 P.2d 89 (Utah 1991)).  Comment k therefore applies in Utah across the board, and the Defendant justifiably argued to the Eleventh Circuit that Comment k applied and that it should result in a judgment for the defense.

The Eleventh Circuit “predicted” Utah law differently. According to the Eleventh Circuit, the Utah Supreme Court applied Comment k to prescription drugs because they are FDA approved. Id. at *8.  It therefore held that the Utah Supreme Court would not apply comment k categorically to medical devices. Id. at **8-9.  It further held that, even if Comment k applied to “FDA-approved medical devices,” the defendant had not carried its burden of proving that the product was FDA approved. Id. at **8-9.

There is so much wrong with this holding. To start, with the Utah Supreme Court having decided that Comment k applies to prescription drugs, there is no basis on which to predict that Utah law would be different for prescription medical devices.  The rationale for applying Comment k is the same—no matter how you design a drug or medical device, there will always be risks. (See here for our research post on comment k, including a 50-state survey.)  In addition, the Eleventh Circuit’s fixation on FDA approval to distinguish prescription drugs from prescription medical devices ignores that the FDA regulates medical devices, too.  It also ignores that drugs are approved for marketing in different ways—some through full-blown new drug applications, some under pre-NDA rules, some through a showing of substantial equivalence, etc.  Comment K applies to all of them, and the Utah Supreme Court has never drawn a distinction.  There is no reason to believe it would draw a distinction between drugs and medical devices because of their respective regulatory pathways either.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit held that Comment k would not help the defendant in any event because the defendant did not prove that the product was approved by the FDA. This is wrong.  Utah’s version of Comment k requires the defendant to prove certain elements, but FDA approval is not one of them.  Neither the Utah pattern jury instruction nor the instruction given by the district court called for the defendant to prove FDA approval.  Yet, the Eleventh Circuit based its opinion on this purported failure of proof.

We can’t help but consider the possibility that this plaintiff’s judgment had more staying power because it came out of an MDL “bellwether” trial. Maybe.  Maybe not.  It seems to us that if you assume that “bellwether” verdicts actually help the parties value other cases, a defense verdict is as useful as a plaintiff’s verdict.  Both have dollar amounts attached to them, and the number attached to the defense verdict is zero, plus the defendant’s costs.  That should have been the result in Christiansen.

“The facts and data considered by the witness . . . .” That is what expert witnesses must disclose to the other side after forming their opinions, although the rule was not always this way.  Before 2010, you had to disclose “the data or other information” considered by an expert.  But for many that was too broad, potentially encompassing attorney thoughts or impressions.  So the committee changed the rule, and we now have the “facts and data” standard.  As the committee explained, “The refocus on ‘facts or data’ is meant to limit disclosure to material of a factual nature by excluding theories or mental impressions of counsel.”  Rule 26(a)(2)(B)(ii) advisory committee note to 2010 amendment.  We wrote on the 2010 changes to Rule 26 here.

Your work product is therefore somewhat safer from disclosure than it once was, but if an expert considered “facts and data,” those facts and data must be disclosed. That is the lesson of In re Benicar (Olmesartan) Products Liability Litigation, No. 15-2606, 2017 WL 970263 (D.N.J. Mar. 13, 2017), where an MDL judge ordered the plaintiffs to produce medical records upon which their experts had relied.

The records at issue appear to have involved patients other than the plaintiffs, which we guess is why the production of medical records was the least bit controversial.  As it turned out, those other patients’ records became discoverable when two experts considered them in forming their opinions.  One, for example, reviewed the charts of certain patients and relied on them in reaching his ultimate conclusions. Id. at *3.  The other similarly confirmed that his review of a number of patient charts “contributed to his thinking.” Id.

Continue Reading All Things “Considered”: Plaintiffs’ Experts Ordered To Produce Patient Records

The Defendant/Petitioner has filed its merits brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in BMS v. Superior Court.  This is the case where the California Supreme Court expanded specific personal jurisdiction beyond recognition by basing specific jurisdiction on a pharmaceutical company’s forum contacts involving different products and people other than the plaintiffs.  We wrote about the opinion and its problems here, here, and here, and the opinion came in at number one on our 2016 worst ten list.

As expected, the Petitioner pharmaceutical company has put forth compelling arguments that the California Supreme Court’s version of specific jurisdiction runs against binding precedent and is an all-around bad idea. The Petitioner is also joined by a number of amici, most notably the United States of America.  (You can view all the briefs on the SCOTUSblog here.)  If we have been critical of the Solicitor General in the past, we will voice no concern this time around.  The SG hit the nail on the head, and the United States’ brief reinforces the Petitioner’s very strong arguments—and adds another, which we will get to in a minute.

First, the briefs. The general thrust of both briefs is that the California Supreme Court’s “sliding scale” approach to specific jurisdiction impossibly contradicts binding precedent.  A court simply court cannot base specific jurisdiction on a defendant’s forum contacts involving other individuals and other products, no matter how intense those contacts are.

For the Petitioner, it comes down mainly to one concept—proximate causation. That is to say, for a claim to “arise from or relate to” a defendant’s forum contacts, the defendant’s activities in the state must be a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Take, for example, this opening salvo:

The [California Supreme Court] concluded that Bristol-Myers could be haled into California on respondents’ claims merely because Bristol-Myers sold Plavix to other persons and developed other products in the State.

            That is not how specific jurisdiction works.  Since International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), this Court has made clear time and again that “specific or case-linked” jurisdiction requires a causal connection between the defendant’s forum conduct and the litigation. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011).  That bedrock requirement ensures that a common connection links the defendant, the forum, and the litigation; that States do not assert jurisdiction over matters occurring and directed entirely outside their borders; and that any litigation to which a defendant is subject is a direct and foreseeable consequence of its in-state activities.  Courts cannot dispense with this causation requirement because a defendant has wide-ranging contacts with a State.  Only general jurisdiction allows that, and then only where the defendant is at home.

Petitioner’s Br. at 2. This is (or at least should be) an uncontroversial description of specific jurisdiction, and the Petitioner draws from it that specific jurisdiction requires a “causal connection” between the defendant’s forum contacts and the plaintiff’s claims. Id. at 14.

Continue Reading Solicitor General Urges Supreme Court to Reverse California’s Ill-Conceived Version of “Specific Jurisdiction”

It is has been a rough few weeks for forum-shopping litigation tourists. We wrote the other day on the Missouri Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dolan, which held that Missouri’s courts do not have jurisdiction over out-of-state controversies involving out-of-state defendants.  It has long been the practice of many plaintiffs’ lawyers to group hundreds of claims together in Missouri state court because they prefer that venue and for the sake of their own convenience.  The Norfolk Southern Railway case should put an end to that.

Another bulwark against litigation tourism is the Class Action Fairness Act, which Congress enacted in 2005 to address abuses in aggregated litigation. Among other provisions, CAFA makes actions combining 100 or more plaintiffs removable to federal court as “mass actions.”  We have written a lot on mass actions, including multiple posts on removing mass actions to federal court even when plaintiffs’ counsel try to break their claims into multiple actions of less than 100 plaintiffs.  A not-too-old post on the topic is here, and you can link from there to numerous others.  The gist is that transparent gamesmanship should not prevent federal courts from retaining jurisdiction over hundreds of plaintiffs bringing coordinated claims, even when plaintiffs’ lawyers go through their usual machinations to avoid it.

That is what happened in Portnoff v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, No. 16-5955, 2017 WL 708745 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 22, 2017), and the district court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion to remand is really interesting.  First some background:  Six plaintiffs’ law firms filed a “Petition to Consolidate and for Mass Tort Designation” in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas requesting consolidation of 87 pending pharmaceutical cases.  They withdrew the petition about two weeks later and filed a second petition in its place. Id. at **2-3.

Continue Reading An Intelligent Treatment of “Mass Actions” in Pennsylvania

A case from Douglas County, Nebraska, caught our eye this week for a couple of reasons. It’s a great Daubert order in an Accutane case in Nebraska state court.  In addition to that, this blogger’s mother grew up on a farm in Douglas County, Nebraska.  It was a lovely 80-acre parcel terraced into a gentle slope leading down to the Platte River.  The Platte River is a shallow meandering river—a mile wide at the mouth and six inches deep, as some Nebraskans like to say—and it flows from west to east, eventually emptying into the Missouri River, and then on to the great Mississippi.  It forms the western boundary of Douglas County.

The Platte River is no use as a commercial waterway, but because of the gradual slope of the Platte River Valley, it has been a highway into the Rocky Mountains for hundreds of years. Traders established trails through the Valley, followed by wagon trains carrying settlors and ultimately surveyors for the Trans-Continental Railroad.  When the Trans-Continental Railroad was built, the government’s policy toward public lands was one of disposition.  The government therefore divided parcels along the railroad’s route into 160-acre tracts and gave every other parcel to the railroad companies, with the government keeping the rest for sale to other private landowners.  This checkerboard land ownership pattern persists to this day.  We have not done the research, but we would wager a bushel of corn that some grantee around the turn of the twentieth century split his 160-acre grant in half and sold it to our great grandfather—resulting in our lovely 80-acre farm in Douglas County.

The Douglas County judge who decided Freeman v. Hoffman La Roche, Inc., No. CI 10-9312802, 2017 WL 385440 (Dist. Ct. Neb. Jan. 23, 2017), may or may not live within view of the Platte River, but she produced an extraordinarily exacting Daubert order that came to the correct result—the exclusion of causation opinion because the expert had not applied a reliable methodology.  The plaintiff alleged that her Accutane use resulted in Crohn’s disease, which the defendants contested.

The battle came down to experts, and it is clear that this case is not the first rodeo for these experts or the lawyers. The plaintiff’s causation expert was Dr. David Sachar, who has been a plaintiffs’ expert for 15 years.  He offered the opinion that Accutane caused the plaintiff’s Crohn’s disease, but he did not follow any accepted scientific method.  Instead, he purported to rely on “lines of evidence” to draw his conclusions.

What are “lines of evidence”? Well, it’s not all that clear to us, but the expert identified nine categories of information:  (1) Animal studies; (2) class effect; (3) biological plausibility; (4) dose relationship; (5) clinical studies; (6) adverse event and challenge/de-challenge/re-challenge reports; (7) the defendants’ internal documents; (8) published medical literature; and (9) epidemiological studies. Id. at *8.  This list looks good on its face, but it does not disclose a scientific method, let alone application of a scientific method to draw a valid conclusion. Put another way, this expert was probably able to produce a nice long report—assuming that expert reports are required and/or permitted under Nebraska procedure.  But a long-winded report is not necessarily good science.

Continue Reading Nebraska Daubert Order Finds Expert a Mile Wide at the Mouth, But Only Six Inches Deep

A recent case in the Southern District of New York debunks two myths that we see all the time. Myth number one:  A medical device is defective if it fails.  Myth number two:  A plaintiff can prove causation on a failure-to-warn claim by asserting that he or she would not have consented to the procedure if his or her doctor had told her about some risk.  Plaintiffs often assert these positions.  Neither is true.  And the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation granting summary judgment in Tomaselli v. Zimmer Inc., No. 14-CV-04474, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9874 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2017), does a really nifty job explaining why.

In Tomaselli, the plaintiff was treated with a hip repair device—a Greater Trochanter Reattachment device, or GTR.  A GTR is not like the ball-and-socket total hip replacement devices that have generated so much litigation and with which so many of our readers are familiar.  A GTR consists of a plate and two 1.8 millimeter cables that are surgically implanted to reinforce the top of a patient’s femur—the trochanter—in the event of a fracture. Id. at **1-2.

The plaintiff later complained of hip pain, and imaging revealed that one of the cables broke. Id. at *5.  It is not clear whether the broken cable made any difference:  The cable stayed in place, and removing it would not have alleviated the pain. Id. The evidence also suggests that the pain was not substantial:  The plaintiff went for long periods of time between doctor’s appointments; she was able to exercise and engage in daily activities; and she testified that stretching and taking a few steps would relieve any pain. Id. at *6.  The plaintiff sued the device’s manufacturer and distributor anyway, alleging a variety of product liability claims.

The defendants moved for summary judgment under New York law, and the magistrate recommended granting their motion on every claim. The magistrate’s report and recommendation is particularly interesting on the two issues that we foreshadowed above—failure to warn and product defect.

Continue Reading Hip Case Breaks the Right Way in New York

We thought we understood statutes of limitations and choice-of-law rules in New Jersey.  Until yesterday.  That was when we read the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in McCarrell v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., No. 076524, 2017 WL 344449 (N.J. Jan. 24, 2017), which unhinged that state’s statute of limitations and choice-of-law jurisprudence from its own precedent and placed statutes of limitations in a special class without much explanation.  And the court did all of this for the stated purpose of preserving plaintiffs’ claims and not “discriminating” against an out-of-state plaintiff’s ability to sue a New Jersey company in New Jersey, after the suit would be barred in the plaintiff’s home state.

How did we get here? Well, this is a New Jersey Accutane case, which tells you that it was contentious, as most things seem to be in that multi-county proceeding.  Other than that, the facts in McCarrell are fairly typical—an out-of-state plaintiff (in this case a fellow from Alabama) who was prescribed a drug in his home state, used the drug in his home state, experienced alleged complications in his home state, and received medical treatment in his home state sued the drug’s manufacturer where the company is incorporated—in this case, New Jersey. McCarrell, at *3.

The rub in McCarrell was that the plaintiff’s claim was time barred under Alabama’s statute of limitations, but not under New Jersey’s statute of limitations, which includes a discovery rule.  The choice of law therefore determined the outcome, which led the parties to contest the issue hotly in the trial court, the intermediate appellate court, and eventually the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Each court applied different rules, which is why this case is so interesting and why the Supreme Court’s opinion is so odd. We have long understood that the choice of forum does not determine the applicable substantive law.  Sure, the forum’s procedural law applies, but the substantive law is determined by applying the forum state’s choice-of-law rules.

Continue Reading New Jersey Supreme Court Turns Back The Clock on Statute of Limitations

The FDA released its final Guidance on Postmarket Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices during the week between Christmas and New Year. You can link to a full copy here, and we gave you our detailed take on the draft Guidance here. You can also click here to see what our data privacy and security colleagues wrote about the final Guidance on Reed Smith’s Technology Law Dispatch, as they beat us to the presses.

The final Guidance resembles the draft, with a few refinements. We see two guiding principles in the final Guidance.  First, the final Guidance continues to follow a risk-based approach.  As we observed before, the FDA could not have taken a different tack.  Medical devices always present both benefits and risks, and the goal of regulators when it comes to cybersecurity is to assess and mitigate risks without overly compromising a device’s benefits.  Second, the FDA recognizes that managing medical device cybersecurity takes a village.  Or, in the Agency’s words, “FDA recognizes that medical device cybersecurity is a shared responsibility among stakeholders including health care facilities, patients, providers, and manufacturers of medical devices.”  Guidance, at 12.

The final Guidance therefore recommends the implementation of cybersecurity risk management programs.  Such  programs would include monitoring reported adverse events under current regulations.  The FDA also recommends incorporating elements consistent with the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.  Guidance, at 14.  We commented in our prior post that the FDA was combining familiar medical device elements with others borrowed from the cybersecurity world.  The citation to NIST’s Framework is a perfect example of the wedding between those two worlds.

More specifically, a cybersecurity risk management program would include:

  • Monitoring cybersecurity information sources for identification and detection of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and risk;
  • Maintaining robust software lifecycle processes;
  • Understanding, assessing and detecting presence and impact of a vulnerability;
  • Establishing and communicating processes for vulnerability intake and handling;
  • Using threat modeling to define clearly how to maintain safety and essential performance of a device by developing mitigations that protect, respond and recover from the cybersecurity risk;
  • Adopting a coordinated vulnerability disclosure policy and practice; and
  • Deploying mitigations that address cybersecurity risk early and prior to exploitation.

Continue Reading What You Need To Know About the FDA’s Guidance on Postmarket Cybersecurity

This is the second time in two years that we have written the Drug and Device Law Christmas blogpost. Last year, your dedicated blogger posted on Christmas Day a nice little piece on innovator liability that we are sure you all read while listening to Andy Williams, drinking egg nog, and roasting chestnuts on an open fire (note: If you would rather not light an open fire, a gas grill is a very capable substitute for roasting chestnuts, if that is your thing.) If you did not read our post last year, we forgive you.  And whether you read us regularly or just pop in from time to time to read about preemption, please accept our holiday greetings and our undying gratitude.  To all our readers, Happy Holidays from the DDLB!

Our gift to you on this Friday, December 23, 2016, is a blogpost discussing a topic on which we have not written a lot—alter ego personal jurisdiction.  That is when a court takes jurisdiction over a corporation based on the forum contacts of a corporate subsidiary.  We wrote about a district court rejecting alter ego jurisdiction here, but there is not much else discussing the subject in detail in the archive. That could be because successful examples of alter ego jurisdiction are exceedingly rare.  The most common scenario is where plaintiffs sue an alleged corporate wrongdoer and try to hale into court not only the alleged wrongdoer, but also its out-of-state corporate parent.  Their motivation is not a mystery:  Plaintiffs want more defendants, larger balance sheets, and deeper pockets to reach into.  And if the corporate parent has a recognizable “big” name, that’s all the better.

Unfortunately for plaintiffs and fortunately for the defense, this transparent ploy rarely works, and it did not work in a recent hip replacement case, Goldthrip v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 15-00651-KD-B, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170801 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 8, 2016).  In Goldthrip, the plaintiffs sued not only the company that made and sold the hip implant, but also its corporate parent.  There were, however, two problems:  First, the plaintiffs sued in Alabama, but the parent corporation was a New Jersey company.  Second, the parent corporation neither made nor sold products; it was a holding company, as parent companies often tend to be. Id. at **2-4.

Continue Reading Alter Ego and Agency – A Different Spin on Jurisdiction

We don’t write a lot on the various pelvic mesh MDLs in West Virginia because we are so heavily involved in two of them. But the MDL court entered an order last week on design defect and alternative design that we consider to be a real gem.  The case is Mullins v. Ethicon, Inc., No. 2:12-cv-02952, 2016 WL 7197441 (S.D. W. Va. Dec. 9, 2016), and we recommend it to all of you.  We say that not only because the district court held that West Virginia law requires that each plaintiff must prove a feasible alternative design—which is the correct result—but also because the order is particularly well reasoned.

Not every state requires proof of a feasible alternative design, but it is nevertheless a basic product liability concept. It is a particularly good fit when dealing with products that always bear risks—such as implanted medical devices.  The Restatement (Third) of Torts, Product Liability § 2 is as good a place as any to start, as it bakes alternative design right into the definition of a design defect:  “A product . . . (b) is defective in design when 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 seller or other distributor, or a predecessor in the commercial chain of distribution, and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.”  (emphasis added).

Take the obvious example of a machine with sharp spinning parts. The same machine with a protective guard may be a safer alternative design.  Or it might not.  The point is that the plaintiff has to prove it.  Take also the example we discussed in Bexis’ aptly named post “On Alternative Design.”  That case involved hernia mesh, not pelvic mesh, and the plaintiffs’ claims failed because, among other reasons, they had failed to prove that a mesh of a different design would have been any safer.  Consider hormone-based contraceptives.  Cholesterol drugs.  We could go on and on.  All these products bear known and unavoidable risks, and those risks should not be labeled “defects” and result in potential liability unless the plaintiff can prove an alternate design would feasibly mitigate them.  And, no, it is not sufficient to say that the feasible alternative is to use a different product or not use any product at all.  As we observed in the aforementioned post, that would convert strict liability into absolute liability.  As we asked in yet another post on this topic, are motorcycles defective because full-sized automobiles are generally safer?  You get the point.

Continue Reading A Gem on Alternative Design from a Pelvic Mesh MDL