This post comes only from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog.

The MDL court in the Testosterone Replacement Therapy (“TRT”) litigation recently entered summary judgment in favor of a non-US manufacturer that did not distribute in the US, along with its US subsidiary. The judgment ended efforts to hold those two defendants, Besins Healthcare, S.A. and Besins Healthcare Inc., liable under a series of product liability claims for injuries allegedly caused by the use of AndroGel, a TRT product. In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Prods. Liab. Litig. Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings, 2018 WL 2416239 (N.D. Ill. May 29, 2018).

The court knocked down each of the plaintiffs’ claims in rather short order. Plaintiff’s strict liability and negligent design defect claims fell because plaintiffs had no evidence of a defect. Plaintiffs tried to rely on allegations in the complaint. That doesn’t cut it on summary judgment. Allegations are not evidence:

As the non-moving party, it is plaintiffs’ burden to identify evidence to show why defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Because plaintiffs have provided nothing more than quotations from their complaint and from this Court’s order denying the Besins defendants’ motion to dismiss, they have not met their burden.

Id. at *5. A lack of evidence also ended plaintiffs’ manufacturing defect claim: “Plaintiffs present no evidence or argument that AndroGel suffers from a manufacturing defect. Thus the Court considers plaintiffs to have forfeited that negligence theory.” Id. The court entered judgment against plaintiffs’ defect claims.

More interesting was the Court’s rejection of Plaintiffs’ failure to test claim. Plaintiffs relied on an email from an R&D employee at a Besins subsidiary reacting to publications suggesting an association between AndroGel and cardiovascular risks. The employee wrote that “the community should be calling for further study” and that Besins should be “very careful . . . about getting into this discussion” because it might have an “ethical obligation” to conduct such studies as a company that profited from the manufacture of AndroGel. Id. at *2. It’s not surprising that plaintiffs focused on this email.

But they did little else. In fact, plaintiffs’ evidence went no further than the email, which on its own does not establish a failure to test claim. On the other hand, the Besins defendants, who were not distributors of AndroGel in the US, presented actual evidence undermining plaintiffs’ claim. In particular, they relied on the R&D employee’s deposition testimony in which he clarified that Besins did not have the right to conduct testing in the United States. Id. This went unchallenged, and the court found it dispositive:

Plaintiffs have provided nothing to support a contention that the Besins defendants have a duty to conduct safety studies in the United States. To the contrary, the undisputed evidence shows that the Besins defendants cannot do so, and plaintiffs have not attempted to reconcile that evidence with their position.

Id.

The court found other unfixable problems with plaintiffs’ failure to test claim. Plaintiffs presented no evidence that Besins actually failed to test. The R&D employee’s email certainly doesn’t prove that. Plaintiffs also provided no evidence of a proximate causation, making no evidentiary connection between the alleged failure to test and their injuries:

[P]laintiffs have provided no evidence that the Besins defendants’ alleged failure to test proximately caused plaintiffs’ injuries. Plaintiffs’ theory is that the Besins defendants’ failure to adequately test AndroGel caused AbbVie [the company to whom Besins licensed the exclusive right to market and distribute AndroGel in the US] to lack sufficient information about AndroGel’s risks. The alleged failure to test, plaintiffs say, thus “directly contributed to AbbVie’s failure to provide an adequate warning to healthcare providers in the United States.” Plaintiffs, however, do not cite any evidence to support this theory. Their conclusory argument is insufficient to withstand summary judgment.

Id.

The court also rejected plaintiffs’ failure to report adverse reports claim. Plaintiffs described this claim as a failure to report adverse events to other manufacturers, industry experts and the FDA. Having so constructed their claim, however, plaintiffs presented no evidence or argument to establish that the Besins defendants had an enforceable duty to report adverse events to other manufacturers or industry experts. Id. at *6. For their part, the Besins defendants presented evidence that they had no duty to report AndroGel adverse events to the FDA. That responsibility instead fell solely to AbbVie, the company to whom the Besins defendants licensed the exclusive right to market and distribute AndroGel in the US. Id. With no duty, plaintiffs had no claim. Setting that aside, plaintiffs nonetheless presented no evidence that the Besins defendants failed to report any adverse event or that such failure proximately caused their injuries. Id. For all these reasons, the court entered judgment against plaintiffs’ failure to report claim.

The upshot of this opinion appears to be that the non-distributor Besins defendants are our of the Hormone Replacement Therapy MDL.

We write this as key elements of the Drug and Device Law Passover Feast languish in the oven. Tomorrow, the Drug and Device Law Bubbie will force four generations of our family – the devout and the not and everyone in between – to read (aloud) the lengthy prayer service that precedes the meal.  The ritual includes much laughter, enthusiastic (if discordant) singing, and predicable misbehavior from those of us at the “kids’ table” (the 50- and 60-year-olds, as distinguished from our parents) that provokes sharp rebukes from the elders.  And, these days, the gathering is a little bit bittersweet (cue “Sunrise, Sunset”), as time’s toll on the eldest members of the clan is softened by the presence, each year, of more of our babies’ babies.  We complain about the cooking.  We grouse about the most troublesome relatives.  But we wouldn’t miss it for the world, though we should mention that “feast” is something of a misnomer, as many Passover staples are notorious for barely crossing the line into “palatable.”

Speaking of misnomers, earlier this week, one of our co-bloggers termed causation the “MVP” of mass tort practice. While we heartily agree in principle, we have read (and participated in) too many scenarios in which a passive judge “benched” this “player” to allow meritless cases to queue up in settlement inventories. On the flip side, we are heartened by the increase in Lone Pine orders demanding early causation evidence and by judges who refuse to allow plaintiffs lacking proof of causation to escape summary judgment.

Such was the result of today’s case, a Risperdal case out of the Northern District of Alabama. In Drake v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47164 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 22, 2018), the plaintiff was an obese 36-year-old man who was diagnosed as schizophrenic at age 17.  He was initially prescribed Risperdal but was switched to other drugs several months later.   He was switched back to Risperdal about two years after that and then remained on the drug for about thirteen years before different drugs were again substituted.

Shortly after the plaintiff stopped taking Risperdal, a social worker noticed that he had large breasts and told his mother that he should be tested for gynecomastia, benign enlargement of glandular breast tissue in males. Antipsychotic medications have been associated with gynecomastia, which “is distinct from pseudo-gynecomastia, which is breast enlargement due to fat deposits in overweight males.  The two conditions may be differentiated only with a physical exam.” Drake, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47164 at *4.  No exam took place.  The plaintiff was never diagnosed with gynecomastia, though his levels of prolactin were elevated.  Prolactin is a hormone that induces lactation, but it “does not have a direct grown-stimulating effect on the breast glandular tissue.” Id. at *6 (citation omitted).  Many of the drugs prescribed to the plaintiff were known to cause prolactin elevation.

The plaintiff’s complaint, asserting all of the usual causes of action, alleged that Risperdal caused him to develop gynecomastia. The defendant moved for summary judgement, arguing that the plaintiff could not meet his burden of establishing causation.  The judge emphasized that the plaintiff was required to prove both general and specific causation and that expert testimony was required for both.  The plaintiff’s expert was a certain former FDA commissioner who has testified that the risk of gynecomastia in children and adolescents was higher than Risperdal’s labeling represented.  But, as the court pointed out, while the expert’s “report and deposition testimony from other  cases might be sufficient to raise a question of fact regarding general causation, . . . his report and testimony contain[ed] no evidence regarding the cause of [the plaintiff’s] alleged injuries. Id. at *13.  And the plaintiff had no other causation expert.

As such, as the court put it, “the plaintiff’s evidence concerning specific causation [was] threadbare.” Id.  There was no evidence that the plaintiff had even been diagnosed with gynecomastia.  And while the plaintiff argued that, if his elevated prolactin level had caused “testosterone level drops leading to estrogen expression,” then Risperdal could “theoretically [have caused] gynecomastia,” there was “no evidence in the record regarding [the plaintiff’s] testosterone or estrogen levels, and evidence that Risperdal could theoretically cause gynecomastia [was] not sufficient to raise a disputed issue of material fact concerning specific causation.” Id. The court concluded, “In the absence of medical or expert evidence, a fact finder must speculate about the cause of [the plaintiff’s] enlarged breasts, and a verdict may not rest on speculation.” Id.  

In other words, maybes on top of maybes do not proof of causation make. If the plaintiff cannot be bothered to get a diagnosis or an expert, that plaintiff should not be in court.  Unassailable, although we’ve all seen too many such “easy” decisions go wrong.  We like this case.  We will continue to keep you posted on the good and the bad, and we wish happy gatherings to all celebrating any holiday this week.

The major sporting event this time of the year is the NCAA basketball tournament.  Our money is on Villanova University, because that is where we sent a lot of our money over the last four years, funding the education of the Drug and Device Law Son.  Even if we didn’t have a Villanova graduate in the family, we’d probably root for that school, because it is just down the road from where we live, it runs an athletic program that manages to be both excellent and clean, and we know many extremely fine people associated with the University.  Our money is also on Jalen Brunson as the tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP).  [That being said, there is a lot to like in all of the Final Four teams.  In particular, the amazing run of Loyola of Chicago, with chaplain Sister Jean, is a  great sports Cinderella tale.  Plus, the smartest guy in our law school class went to Loyola-Chicago, and is probably right now bragging to his students at USC Law about the inevitability of the Ramblers cutting down the nets at the end.]

 

If we had to pick an MVP for the area of law in which we practice, we’d choose causation.  It is a powerful concept we learned back in our first year of law school, and it probably plays a bigger role in deciding cases than anything else, including duty, breach, damages, or Bexis’s beloved preemption.  Even when dealing with statutes that do their best to erode such tried and true defenses as reliance, causation can ride in to save the day for our clients.  If no other defense seems available, do not give up on causation.  It poses fundamental questions of “so what?” “what if?” “but for?” “why?” and “huh?” — and there are lots of plaintiffs who can never answer those questions satisfactorily.

 

Today’s case, United States v. Chin, 2018 WL 1399297 (D. Mass. March 20, 2018), is a criminal case, which (1) might seem a bit far afield from the heartland of what we – and here the royal “we” encompasses most of our readers as well as ourselves – do, (2) explains why today’s post was penned by this particular ink-stained wretch, as ex-AUSAs are always quick to glom onto any case where the first listed party is the United States of America, and (3) turns on the all-powerful notion of causation.  The defendant was convicted for mail fraud racketeering (RICO), conspiracy, and violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  The underlying conduct involved the notorious national spinal meningitis epidemic traced to defective doses of injectable methylprednisolone acetate manufactured by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). The defendant was a supervising pharmacist at NECC.  Now it was time for sentencing.  The government sought $82 million in restitution to be paid to the families of the deceased and the survivors.   

 

The court observed that “[r]eality casts a cold light on the $82 million request.”  The defendant was destitute and would never-ever be in a position to pay even a small fraction of the amount sought.  The government conceded at oral argument that “any restitution award would be no more than a symbolic gesture.”  Indeed.  This selfsame scenario played out in many courts when we represented the United States.  The statutes and sentencing guidelines made restitution a component of sentencing, and the standard presentence report would include a recommendation of restitution. But the standard joke in our office was that we would go out onto the roof of the courthouse and shoot off fireworks if a defendant ever actually paid any restitution. As the government said in Chin, an order of restitution amounts to a mere gesture.

 

Nevertheless, courts take restitution seriously, as they should.  Restitution is required by the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA), 18 U.S.C. section 3663A(c)(1)(A)(ii).  Restitution is paid to victims, so the Chin court begins with the MVRA’s definition of “victim”: “a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of an offense.”  When we see words such as “directly,” “proximately,” and “as a result of” we think causation.  So did the Chin court.  “Directly” and “proximately” signal efforts to cabin the causation concept in some reasonable, predictable fashion.  Any law school graduate can think back to the ancient Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R., (1928) case, where New York’s high court (per future SCOTUS Justice Cardozo) tried to limit proximate cause via the requirement of foreseeability.  Then again, we are also all familiar with how courts over the intervening years have stretched foreseeability to the breaking point, so much so that, as we have said with respect to some decisions, on even a not-so-clear day some judges can foresee forever.   But the Chin court actually drew a pretty tight circle around causation.  It held that “a loss for restitution purposes must be causally tied to the underlying offense of conviction, in Chin’s case, mail fraud and racketeering conspiracy based on predicate acts of mail fraud.”  The government’s calculation of an $82 million restitution award was based on a tabulation of the medical expenses, costs for physical and occupational therapy, lost income, burial expenses, and other expenditures compiled by patients who were injected with  the contaminated drugs.  But NECC “made no representations to end-users and patients for the purposes of obtaining property (money); rather, it made those misrepresentations … to the hospitals and clinics that purchased the drugs.”  The government suggested at oral argument that the word “sterile” on the syringes in question, if seen by a patient prior to injection, would potentially constitute a misrepresentation for mail fraud purposes, there is  no evidence in the record to suggest that this ever occurred. 

 

Moreover, in an interesting way, the learned intermediary relationship played a role in cutting off causation in the Chin case.  To the extent that patients may have implicitly relied on NECC’s representations by relying on their doctors as learned intermediaries, this additional layer of insulation between NECC and the patient further renders any such reliance “too attenuated” to satisfy the “direct causation” standard of the MVRA.  Consequently, the Chin court calculated the total restitution award as the loss suffered by the hospitals and clinics that purchased lots of degraded or defective drugs during the life of the racketeering enterprise.

 

In sum, the Chin case demonstrates the continuing force of the causation requirement. This was a criminal case, and the issue of restitution was at the center.  The Chin court’s analysis of proximate causation is better and tighter than we typically see in civil cases, and we can, ahem, foresee some litigant attempting to distinguish away Chin on those grounds.  But why should there be any difference in the causation analysis?  We intend to have the Chin causation analysis in our pocket the next time we litigate the issue, especially if we are in the sometimes challenging First Circuit.     

 

 

 

The district judge in the In re Zimmer Nexgen Knee Implant Products Liability Litigation MDL issued a summary judgment order in October 2016 that we called “the best Wisconsin law decision we have ever seen.”  What was the reason for our unusually unbridled enthusiasm?  The district judge debunked the idea that the learned intermediary rule does not apply in Wisconsin.  We have often heard that refrain, but we have always been skeptical.  The truth is that Wisconsin’s appellate courts have not addressed the issue, and the In re Zimmer Nexgen judge predicted that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court would adopt the learned intermediary rule if given the opportunity.

The Seventh Circuit has affirmed that order, so its opinion now inherits the mantle of “Best Wisconsin Law Decision We’ve Ever Seen.” That title is cemented not only by the adoption of the learned intermediary doctrine, but also the rejection of a heeding presumption, which is also very helpful.  We note that the three judges who issued this opinion have spent a combined 83 years on the Court of Appeals and that the author of the opinion spent five years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Maybe the latter fact was considered when assigning the opinion; maybe it was not.  Regardless, it is a clear-minded and well-reasoned opinion that we commend to anyone who has grappled with warnings claims in Wisconsin.

Here is what happened. The plaintiff sued a knee implant manufacturer alleging design, manufacturing, and failure-to-warn claims after his prosthetic knee replacement loosened, which is a known complication of all joint replacement procedures. In re Zimmer Nexgen Knee Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 16-3957, — F.3d –, 2018 WL 1193431, at *1 (7th Cir. Mar. 8, 2018).  Following summary judgment, the plaintiff raised only the warnings claims on appeal and argued that the manufacturer failed adequately to warn both the plaintiff and his surgeon.

Of course, an alleged failure to warn the plaintiff raises the application of the learned intermediary rule, which “holds that the manufacturer of a prescription drug or medical device fulfills its duty to warn of the product’s risk by informing the prescribing physician.” Id. at *2.  Because neither the Wisconsin Supreme Court nor the state’s intermediate appellate courts have addressed the rule, the Seventh Circuit undertook an Erie analysis. Id. at *3.

Although we would like to believe that the Seventh Circuit reviewed our frequently updated 50-state survey on the learned intermediary rule, it is more likely the court did its own research or relied on that provided by the manufacturer.  What it found was one Wisconsin trial court opinion applying the doctrine and noting its widespread acceptance. Id. at *3 (citing Staub v. Berg, No. 00-cv-0117, 2003 WL 26468454 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Jan. 6, 2003)).  The Court also found three federal district court opinions invoking the learned intermediary doctrine under Wisconsin law, and one case called Maynard v. Abbott Labs observing that “Wisconsin does not apply the learned intermediary doctrine.” Id. On this last point, the Seventh Circuit was particularly blunt:  “That statement is incorrect—the Wisconsin Supreme Court has never weighed in on the topic [and] Maynard itself is bereft of any analysis on the point.” Id.

The Seventh Circuit also relied on the learned intermediary doctrine’s “broad support in other jurisdictions,” including 48 states where the highest court or the intermediate appellate courts have adopted the doctrine in some form. Id. Finally, the rationale for the learned intermediary rule applies even more forcefully in cases involving surgical implants because “it is not reasonably conceivable that an individual could obtain and implant a device that requires a trained surgeon without the intervention of a physician.” Id. Amen.

The following holding and the reasoning upon which it is based are what make In re Zimmer Nexgen the Best Wisconsin Law Opinion We’ve Ever Seen:

In short, there is good reason to think that given the opportunity, the Wisconsin Supreme Court would join the vast majority of state supreme courts and adopt the learned-intermediary doctrine for use in defective-warning cases like this one involving a surgical implant. We predict the state high court would do so.  Accordingly, to the extent that [the plaintiff’s] defective-warnings claim is based on [the manufacturer’s] duty to warn him, it is foreclosed by the learned-intermediary doctrine.

Id. at *4.  For good measure, the Seventh Circuit held that the plaintiff’s direct warnings claim failed also because the plaintiff did not identify any danger about which that the manufacturer should have warned him and because he had no evidence of causation.  Even if the plaintiff would have heeded a different warning, “[he] didn’t select the NexGen Flex implant.”  His surgeon did.  Id.

The Seventh Circuit likewise rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the manufacturer failed adequately to warn the surgeon.  The plaintiff cited the defense expert’s testimony that he would have used more cement to place the implant and argued that the manufacturer failed to warn about the amount of cement needed. Id. at *4.  But that was not sufficient because “no evidence supports [the plaintiff’s] contention that it was [the manufacturer’s] responsibility to instruct surgeons about the amount of cement they should use.” Id. at *5.  This surgeon relied exclusively on his education and training, not on any materials from the manufacturer, and the plaintiff offered no expert opinion that the warnings were inadequate in any event. Id.

Finally, the Seventh Circuit rejected the warnings claims on causation. The surgeon did not read the instructions for use and could not been affected by a different warning. Id. at **5-6.  The plaintiff urged the Seventh Circuit to apply a “heeding presumption,” i.e., a presumption in the absence of proof that the surgeon would have read and heeded a proper warning. Id. at *5.  But Wisconsin law squarely places the burden of proving causation on the plaintiff.  As the Seventh Circuit held,

Here again, the state appellate courts have not addressed this doctrine [the heeding presumption]. We seriously doubt that they would adopt it in this context.  [¶]  To the contrary, as we’ve already noted, the state court of appeals has recently held that “[a] plaintiff who has established both a duty and a failure to warn must also establish causation by showing that, if properly warned, he or she would have altered behavior and avoided injury.”

Id. (citing Kurer v. Parke, Davis & Co., 679 N.W.2d 867, 876 (Wis. Ct. App. 2004)).  In other words, since Wisconsin law already places the burden of proving causation on the plaintiff, the Seventh Circuit would not alter that law by creating a presumption.

The plaintiff’s last request was to certify questions to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which the Seventh Circuit rejected because “[n]o genuine uncertainty exists here.” We could not agree more and would not be surprised to see this opinion on our Ten Best list at year end.

(Note that this post comes from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog.)

Good morning. Do you have your coffee? If so, start sipping it. You will need it. Because this morning we’re going to discuss leads for implantable cardiac defibrillators (“ICD”), Riata Leads to be precise. Now, while this may not be the most thrilling subject, you have to admit that Riata Leads is a solid name. It sounds like something important, like rock-solid leads for selling real estate, the type of game-changing leads that Shelly “the Machine” Levene would plot to steal from his boss’s office. Like the Glengarry leads. But these are not the Glengarry leads. They truly are ICD leads, ones that detect a patient’s abnormal heartbeat and deliver an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat. So take another sip of your coffee.

Plaintiff Richard Connelly alleges that in 2003 his doctors surgically connected Riata Leads to his heart but that, in 2010, the leads improperly shocked him 16 to 20 times while he slept, causing damage to his heart and requiring surgery to replace them. Connelly v. St. Jude Med., Inc., 2018 WL 732734, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2018). Plaintiff hired a lawyer and sued, claiming that St. Jude, the manufacturer, failed to file adverse event reports about the Riata Leads and that, if it had, plaintiff’s doctor would not have implanted them or, in the least, would have removed them after he did implant them. Id. at *1-2.

As you can probably tell already, this is another parallel violation claim. So take another sip. Plaintiffs file a lot of these claims. We write about them often. And they often fail, for many reasons. This one failed because plaintiff didn’t adequately allege causation. In particular, his complaint didn’t connect the defendant’s alleged failure to file adverse event reports about the Riata Leads to his doctor’s decision to implant them or leave them in.

In this respect, the allegations had a number of problems. They had a timing problem. The allegations did not plausibly suggest that the defendants failed to file adverse reports about the Riata Leads before they were implanted in plaintiff, which happened in 2003. Id. at 3. The allegations had regulatory problems. While the FDA issued a 483 Report covering the years 2002 to 2009 noting that the defendant failed to file adverse event reports on Riata Leads, plaintiff did not identify a single failure to file a report before the Riata Leads were implanted in him in 2003. Id. The allegations had defect identification problems. The FDA inspection that resulted in the 483 Report focused on malfunctions in the Riata Leads due to perforation, but the defect alleged by plaintiff had to do with improper abrasion. Id. OK, take one last sip of coffee. We’re almost there.

Finally, plaintiff claimed that defendant’s failed to file adverse event reports about Riata Leads after they were implanted in him, resulting in his doctor not removing them. This theory failed as a matter of California law, which does not allow such claims:

[T]o the extent Connelly’s claim is premised on a theory that St. Jude had a post-distribution (i.e., post-implantation) duty to warn, this fails as a matter of law. Under California law, a defendant may be held strictly liable for a failure to warn only if “the defendant did not adequately warn of a particular risk that was known or knowable…at the time of manufacture and distribution.” Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 810 P.2d 549, 558 (Cal. 1991).

Id. at 4.

Having already dismissed plaintiff’s complaint once before, this time the Court dismissed it with prejudice.

Ok, all done. Now “Put . . . that . . . coffee . . . down! (I’m here from downtown. . . . I’m here from Mitch and Murray.)

We have written extensively on the travesty of the Neurontin trilogy (like here and here) and noted how the plaintiffs’ efforts to fit cases based on alleged off-label promotion of the prescription SSRIs Celexa and Lexapro into the same rubric have not been as successful. Today’s case addresses what we understand to be some of the last few cases in the MDL.   In re Celexa & Lexapro Mktg. & Sales Practs. Litig., MDL No. 09-02067-NMG, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13579 (D. Mass. Jan. 26, 2018).  This summary judgment decision addresses three cases, one by a third party payor on behalf of a purported class and two by parents of former pediatric users.  As always, we reserve the right to focus on the parts we want and to make gratuitous statements about how these cases exemplify much of what is wrong with civil RICO and consumer fraud cases over prescription drugs.

A little background on the litigation and these cases should help.  The allegations centered on the claim that the manufacturer of these drugs had caused economic injury to the plaintiffs by promoting the use of the drugs for pediatric patients when they were only approved for adult use.  To dispose of the plaintiffs’ cases, the court did not have to resolve whether the manufacturer engaged in such promotion, let alone whether any promotion was untruthful—which we think it would need to be to impose liability consistent with the First Amendment.  Celexa was approved to treat depression in adults in 1998 and an application to treat depression in adolescents was filed in 2002.  FDA denied that application based on a lack of efficacy in one of the two clinical studies.  Lexapro was approved to treat depression in adults in 2002 and an application to treat depression in adolescents was filed in 2008 and approved a year later.  The Celexa label always stated that “safety and effectiveness in pediatric patients have not been established” and, starting in 2005, described the results of certain pediatric trials.  The Lexapro label had similar language until the pediatric indication was added.  The first individual plaintiff sued over the prescription, purchase, and intermittent use of Celexa by a thirteen year old depressed patient in 2002-2003.  The second individual plaintiff sued over the prescription, purchase, and use of Celexa and later Lexapro by an eight to fifteen year old autistic patient from 2003 to 2010.  The TPP plaintiff sued over prescriptions paid for a relatively small number of Celexa prescriptions for pediatric beneficiaries from 1999 to 2004 and for a somewhat larger number of Lexapro prescriptions for pediatric beneficiaries between 2012 and 2015, but also claimed to represent a nationwide class of payors.  The plaintiffs asserted a mix of federal civil RICO and state consumer fraud claims and, skipping some procedural history, the court entertained summary judgment motions.

The consideration of the RICO requirements of injury and causation resolved all issues. For those of you who know RICO or have just followed along with some of our posts, RICO requires an injury to “business or property” as a matter of standing.  Relying on the Neurontin cases, these plaintiffs claimed that they had been injured because they paid for drugs that were not effective for the indications for which they were prescribed.  They claimed, however, that any payment for an off-label prescription was an injury because they contended that FDA had somehow been defrauded in connection with the applications for pediatric indications.  2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13579, *19.  If you are following along, then you might wonder how this theory could apply to Celexa prescriptions or the earlier prescriptions of either drug.  First things first, though, as the Celexa court had to unpack the Neurontin rulings to see if they supported plaintiffs’ relaxed standard.  They did not, so plaintiffs had to prove lack of efficacy.  The TPP and second plaintiff could not:  “[T]he FDA in this case approved the drug for use in adolescents.  There is no conclusive or even strongly suggestive evidence of inefficacy in this case and plaintiff have presented no evidence as to the inefficacy for [the second plaintiff] or for any of [the TPP’s] plan members.” Id. at *22.  As one might expect with prescriptions over the eight years, the second individual plaintiff’s prescribing physician testified that the drugs had been effective with the patient’s autism.  The TPP’s evidence resembled what we have seen in other cases—no proof from physicians for the plan beneficiaries and the plan still pays for pediatric prescriptions for both drugs, contrary to the allegations in the case.

Plaintiffs’ attempted end run was that they had experts who would say FDA was somehow defrauded about efficacy for pediatric use—presumably just for Lexapro, as FDA rejected the only application for a pediatric indication for Celexa, and not for autism, as that was not an indication for either drug.  As the court noted, and we will let the Neurontin characterizations lie, plaintiffs’ “fraud theory is a tenuous attempt to shoehorn the facts of this case into the facts of Neurontin, where there were no positive, or even equivocal, clinical trials for the indications at issue.” Id. at *25.  Here, FDA “determined that two clinical studies were positive” and “FDA is the exclusive judge of safety and efficacy and a court should not question that judgment unless new information not considered by the FDA develops.” Id. (internal quotes and citation omitted).  Keep in mind that RICO is federal, so there is no preemption.  Not too shabby.  And summary judgment for the manufacturer on two of the plaintiffs.

On the remaining plaintiff, the first individual, the manufacturer challenged causation.  In part because we think the analysis was somewhat confused, we will skip to what mattered and probably applies to other plaintiffs with similar claims.  The prescribing physician’s testimony did not support reliance on a sales representative’s discussion of Celexa at all. Id. at *30.  While he did acknowledge a possibility of some unrecalled exposure to off-label promotion, this is not enough to avoid summary judgment on an issue for which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.  “A mere possibility that the doctor could have, at some point, encountered off-label promotion, although he has no memory of it, does not rise to the level of a disputed material fact.” Id. at **30-31.  That sounds like what courts are supposed to say when evaluating a summary judgment motion on proximate cause for failure to warn with a prescription medical product.  The court here called this “but-for causation,” but we will not quibble. Summary judgment was awarded to the manufacturer on the last plaintiff’s RICO claim and the analysis on RICO determined the result of the various consumer fraud claims.  Like we said up front, this was all without reaching whether the manufacturer did anything wrong with its promotion.

 

Last week, we took a short Western Caribbean cruise to celebrate a jarringly-advanced birthday. While the weather wasn’t an asset (it was 43 degrees when we departed Fort Lauderdale, and hovered in the 60s for most of the trip), we left behind record cold and treacherous ice in Philadelphia, so we had no climatic complaints.  We were slightly apprehensive, however, because we were sailing on the very ship that had been in the news a few weeks earlier for a norovirus outbreak that sickened a couple hundred passengers.  But we convinced ourselves that the adverse publicity surrounding the recent outbreak would ensure that pre-sailing sanitation and onboard precautions were at an all-time high.  And we were correct:  the entrance to every venue on the ship was blocked by crew members bearing giant bottles of hand sanitizer, application of which was required for passage.  Even at the 24-hour soft-serve frozen yogurt machine (if we were assured this would be operational at all times, we could happily exist without dining rooms), the crew member manning the controls would not hand over a cone to anyone who did not sanitize first.  It apparently worked:  we came through unscathed and heard of no reports of illness on the ship.  (We also had a blast — played round after round of trivia, “clear kayaked” off the coast of Cozumel, drank many glasses of wine, and spent hours and hours motionless except for turning the pages of our book.)  Bottom line was that the cruise line did all that it was supposed to do to protect its passengers.  Beyond that, people had to be smart and careful, because the ship’s duty only extended so far.

Today’s case also involves questions of duty and of whether the defendant’s duty extended as far as the plaintiff said it did.   In Liu v. Janssen Research & Development, LLC, No. B269318, 2018 WL 272219 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 3, 2018), an unpublished decision from the California Court of Appeal, the plaintiff’s son and decedent died after briefly participating in a clinical trial for a long-acting injectable form of the defendant’s antipsychotic medication.  The decedent had begun treatment for mental illness nine years earlier, and had been taking another antipsychotic medication for five of those years.  His treating psychiatrist was the doctor selected to be the principal physician/investigator for the defendant’s clinical trial, and it was she who invited the decedent to participate in the study.

The decedent underwent a screening EKG, which revealed several abnormalities, and a blood test, which revealed slightly elevated liver enzymes. The treater concluded that the results were not clinically significant, and “based on [the decedent’s] otherwise normal physical examination and denial of a family history of cardiac disease,” she admitted him to the study. Liu, 2018 WL 272219 at *1.

Three days later, after a second blood test, the decedent was injected with a non-therapeutic one-milligram dose of the study drug to test for adverse reactions. A second EKG was performed within two hours.  The next day, the results of this EKG and the pre-injection blood test were analyzed, and they indicated worsened cardiac function and much higher liver enzymes than four days earlier.  The decedent was admitted to an acute-care hospital, where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, pneumonia, failing liver function, and altered mental state.  He died two days later.

The plaintiff sued a host of study defendants, including the treater and the drug manufacturer, for negligence, product liability, and negligent failure to warn. After much motion practice, the case proceeded to trial on only the negligence claims and against only the drug manufacturer.  The defendant moved in limine to exclude the plaintiff’s cardiology and pharmacology experts’ opinions that the one-milligram test dose contributed to the decedent’s death, but the trial court admitted the testimony.

At the close of evidence, the trial judge granted a partial directed verdict, finding that the physician/investigator (the treater) was not the agent of the defendant for purposes of finding the defendant vicariously liable for her medical negligence. This left two issues for the jury to consider: 1) whether the defendant manufacturer had an independent duty to intervene in the decedent’s medical care, even if the medical issues “preexisted, or were unrelated to, the study itself,” id. at *5; and 2) the defendant’s duty to monitor the administration of the study drug, including the issue of whether the one-milligram test administration caused the decedent’s death.  The jury found that the defendant was negligent and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death, assessing the defendant’s fault at 70% and awarding $5.6 million in damages.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal considered whether the defendant had a duty to intervene in the decedent’s treatment for his preexisting heart disease, and whether there was sufficient evidence that the single one-milligram test dosage was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death. With respect to the first question, the court held, “We agree as a matter of law that defendant, as the drug manufacturer/sponsor of a clinical trial, undertook a general duty not to harm the study participants as part of the clinical trial protocols. Administration of the [test dose] fell within the scope of this duty, and we will discuss the sufficiency of the evidence to support liability under this duty of care . . . . But the significant legal question . . . is whether the general duty not to harm study participants encompassed a duty to diagnose or treat [the decedent’s] preexisting, life-threatening heart disease and to intervene in the medical care and decisions precipitated by [the decedent’s] abnormal test results.  . . . [W]e conclude that it did not.”  Id. at *6.

The court’s holding turned on the question of foreseeability. It explained that the general duty FDA regulations impose on study sponsors – to ensure compliance with study protocols and the participants’ safety – is intended to “protect participants generally from foreseeable harm caused by the drug studies themselves, including participants’ adverse reactions to study medications.” Id. at *7.   But it cited state law decisions standing for the proposition that “it is not foreseeable to a study sponsor that study physicians with the primary responsibility for participants’ health and safety will fail to recognize, diagnose, and properly treat preexisting, life-threatening conditions that first manifest during drug studies,” as did the decedent’s heart and other conditions. Id. (citations omitted).  Simply put, “it is not reasonably foreseeable to a drug study sponsor that the response by study physicians . . .  would fall below the standard of care for a medical practitioner.” Id. at *8.

That left the question of medical causation. As noted, the jury’s verdict was based on the testimony of the plaintiff’s cardiology and pharmacology experts. Both experts testified on direct examination that the test dose was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death.  But, while the pharmacologist testified that the drug could cause heart arrhythmias, she admitted that there was no evidence that the decedent died from an arrhythmia.  And, while the cardiologist “unequivocally concluded the administration of any amount of the test drug . . . was sufficient to push the decedent ‘over the edge,’ [he] did not provide a reasoned explanation that illuminated for the jury how or why such a low dose of [the drug] could have had such a substantial effect on [the decedent’s] life-threatening heart disease.” Id. As such,  the appeals court found that, “at best, [both] causation experts opined as to a theory that might have contributed to [the decedent’s] death, [they] did not provide the necessary factual basis to qualify that theory as substantial evidence.” Id. at *12.

Judgment for the plaintiff reversed. And though the decision is unpublished and can’t be cited, it reinforces the reality that duties are not unlimited and drug companies aren’t responsible for medical care and aren’t liable for everything that happens to everyone who takes their drugs.  We like this decision and wish it were published – we’ll keep our eyes open for one that is.  And now, we’d gladly use a gallon of hand sanitizer for one more stroll around the deck with a frozen yogurt cone.

Today we are talking about a case that is not exactly in the heartland of what we generally examine.  It is not a product liability or mass tort case.  But it is reasonably close.  It is kind of an off label promotion/False Claims Act case.  Okay, let’s admit what it really is: a wrongful discharge/employment case.   The plaintiff alleged that she was constructively discharged because she blew the whistle on what she perceived to be unlawful off label promotion.  The notion of causation is front and center.  The causation issue is always near and dear to our defense hearts.

And yet.  And yet.  Not so long ago we watched a mock jury reach agreement that whether or not the product caused the plaintiff’s injury, the mock jurors were hell-bent on awarding damages.  The jury decided that there were things about the company’s conduct that could be improved, and their verdict would set such improvements in motion.   Swell.  The mock jurors were essentially mocking the jury instructions.  Causation-schmausation.  We shudder at the realization that real, not mock, jurors also do this.  Every. Damned. Day.

Today’s case is also literally near to us, because it was authored by the Third Circuit, which is just down the street from several of us DDL blogsters.  It is also apparently a decision of first impression on the appellate level — that a “but for” (and not a lesser “motivating factor”) causation standard is necessary for FCA retaliatory discharge claims.  So sit back and take in this DDL-adjacent blogpost, wherein we lay out a significant ruling on a significant issue by a significant court.

The case is DiFiore v. CSL Behring, LLC, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 92 (3d Cir. Jan. 3, 2018), and is primarily focused on the federal False Claims Act (FCA) anti-retaliation provision protecting employee-whistleblowers who engage in activity protected by the FCA.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer on the wrongful discharge claim because the plaintiff had failed to show constructive discharge as a matter of law. Then the FCA retaliation claim proceeded to trial. The judge instructed the jury that the FCA retaliation provision required that protected activity be the “but-for” cause of adverse actions against the employee. In the jury instruction, the judge listed some, but not all, of the alleged adverse actions.  The jury found in favor of the employer.  On appeal, the employee raised three arguments:  (1) the court improperly granted summary judgment on the state law wrongful discharge claim; (2) the but-for causation standard for retaliation was too exacting; and (3) the court erred by not listing all the alleged adverse actions in its jury instruction.  That middle issue is the reason you are reading about the DiFiore case on the DDL.  Otherwise, you’d have to run to an Employment Discrimination Law (EDL) blogpost to find out about it.

The Third Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed the decisions below.  We will get to the Third Circuit’s analysis momentarily, but let’s first supply a bit more background.  The plaintiff in DiFiore had risen to Director of Marketing. That’s a pretty high position for a whistle-blower.  The plaintiff took issue with what she saw as off-label marketing strategies, such as reference to off label sales in forecasts.  The plaintiff expressed her concerns to her supervisors, and she claimed in her lawsuit that the company initiated a third-party compliance audit in part because of her complaints.  So far so good.  But the plaintiff contended that, as a consequence of her protected conduct, she suffered several adverse employment actions, including warning letters about her interactions with other employees and failure to pay off her company credit card charges, an uncharacteristically poor performance review, deteriorating relationships with supervisors, diminution of duties, removal from a committee, and a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) that she interpreted to be a death knell.  The PIP required improvement the designated areas within 45 days or she could be subject to discipline up to and including termination.  According to the plaintiff, most employees hit with a PIP were eventually terminated.  After receiving the PIP, the plaintiff reached out to a supervisor and an HR employee and requested a meeting to discuss an amicable separation.  The meeting was canceled for unspecified reasons.  Then the plaintiff resigned.  Then the plaintiff sued.

1.  Wrongful discharge

The plaintiff in DiFiore was not actually fired, so she needed to allege constructive discharge.  Under Pennsylvania law, constructive discharge occurs when working conditions “are so intolerable that a reasonable employee is forced to resign.”  The court concluded that while the plaintiff might have been subjected to difficult or unpleasant working conditions, those conditions fell well short of being unbearable. You might (certainly a plaintiff lawyer would) suggest that the difference between unpleasant and unbearable could be a jury question.  But the court emphasized that the plaintiff “did not sufficiently explore alternative solutions or means of improving her situation. She made no attempt to comply with the PIP.”  She chose to resign rather than reschedule the canceled meeting.  None of that was disputed. Based on those facts, the court held that no reasonable jury could find constructive discharge.

2. But-for Causation for Retaliation

This is the issue that most interests us.  We more than occasionally noodle over False Claims Act cases, off label promotion, and a little thing called causation.  Under the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision, an employee is entitled to relief if she was “discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts” conducted in furtherance of an FCA action. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h)(1).  The district court (we are in an Inn of Court with this Judge, and he is lightning smart and relentlessly fair, by the way) ruled that the plaintiff was required to show that her protected activity was the “but-for” cause of an adverse action.  Thus, that standard found a home in the jury instructions.  The plaintiff in DiFiore argued that a lower standard applies and she should have been required to prove only that her protected activity was a “motivating factor” in the adverse actions taken by the employer.  That “motivating factor” resides as dicta in an earlier Third Circuit decision, but in the meantime SCOTUS came out with a pair of decisions interpreting identical “because of” language in similar statutes (ADEA and Title VII) to require that illegal motive (age-ism or retaliation) be the “but-for” cause of the employer’s adverse action. Even if the earlier Third Circuit “motivating factor” language was not mere dicta, the intervening SCOTUS precedents controlled (there was no need for an en banc call), so the district court got it right.  The jury was properly instructed, and the defense verdict was affirmed.  Lesson for DDL practitioners: even if you do not do much employment work, remember that statutory “because of” language translates into a but-for standard.

3. Listing of adverse employer actions

The plaintiff contended that the district court’s inclusion of only four of the alleged adverse employer actions in the jury instructions—the two warning letters, the mid-year performance review, and the PIP—may have confused the jurors and led them to believe that they were not permitted to consider evidence of other incidents beyond those four events. But the Third Circuit took in the totality of the circumstances below, including that the district court correctly instructed the jury that its determination should take into account the totality of the circumstances. The district court instructed the jury that the four events occurred “among other things.” The district court’s list was, on its face, illustrative, not exhaustive.  It is hard to say that the district court got it wrong, and it is impossible to say that the omission of certain examples was prejudicial.  The district court’s failure to follow the plaintiff’s list exactly could not be a basis for reversal.

We’re now into the New Year but aren’t completely done with the old one.  The name of the first month of the year, January, is conventionally attributed to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, and doorways.  (We say “conventionally” because some sources report that January is actually named after its tutelary deity, Juno.) Janus, like some of our opponents, is two-faced.  Janus looks both forward and backward.  Bexis last month took a couple of long looks backward at 2017’s best and worst cases.  We’re still scrolling through the various Ten Best of 2017 culture lists for ideas, confirmations, and occasional outrages.  An in-house lawyer we endlessly respect pointed us to The New Yorker’s  list of top tv programs.  It’s hard to quarrel with Emily Nussbaum’s choice of The Leftovers, a fever-dream about love and loss (and a lion sex boat) as the best drama.  She was also right to praise American Vandal, the show that made us laugh out loud the most.  (The Good Place came in second on that score.)  Nussbaum also gave honorable mention to Halt and Catch Fire, an AMC show that really did seem to catch fire after its first, flawed season.  HACF stopped acting like a Mad Men, difficult-guy retread, shifted focus to the female protagonists,  and successfully steered us through the digital revolution – from PC clones to gaming to community chat boards to security to the web to PayPal to Yahoo to something even sexier than a lion sex boat: the Next Idea.  In seasons 2-4, HACF managed to show us (rather than merely tell us) how “computers aren’t the thing; they are the thing that gets us to the thing.”  That ‘thing’ is human connection. But you already knew that, right? There is an episode after the death of a major character that is the best depiction of grief and its clumsy toggling between the transcendent and the quotidian that we’ve seen.  The dead leave a lot behind.  Some of it goes to Goodwill.  Some of it survives in silly stories.  Some of it gets caught in our throats and some of it squeezes our tear ducts hard.  If you are looking for something to binge, consider The Leftovers, American Vandal, and Halt and Catch Fire (and maybe Patriot, The Americans, and Mindhunter).  You might also want to set aside an hour to take in episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return because you need to relive your college experience of attending a midnight showing of something arresting and supremely weird. 

Today’s post takes us back to 2017 for a case that is neither particularly arresting nor even a little bit weird.  Rather, the result seems inevitable.  In Siddoway v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC (In re Avandia Mktg., Sales Practices & Prods. Liab. Litig.), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203885 (E.D. Pa. December 12, 2007), the plaintiff alleged that he sustained a heart attack from taking Avandia, and that the label did not warn him adequately.  The facts here, both regarding the plaintiff’s use and the regulatory backdrop, lead ineluctably to the defendant’s victory on summary judgment.   The plaintiff was initially prescribed Avandia from 2001 through 2002. In 2003, the plaintiff suffered two heart attacks, and ultimately underwent a successful heart transplant operation. He blamed Avandia for those heart attacks.  Following the heart transplant, a different doctor prescribed Avandia to the plaintiff. The plaintiff continued to take Avandia from December 2003 through June 2007, and did not experience any other adverse cardiovascular condition.

Let’s go backward for a moment.  When Avandia was initially approved by the FDA in 1999 to treat Type II diabetes, the drug’s label contained no warning of an increased risk of heart attack. But in 2007 – four years after the plaintiff’s heart transplant — the FDA issued a safety alert for Avandia, notifying consumers that “data from controlled clinical trials have shown that there is a potentially significant increase in the risk of heart attack and heart-related deaths in patients taking Avandia.”  The FDA directed that a boxed cardio warning be added to the Avandia label.  So there’s your lawsuit, right?

Not quite.  Now let’s go forward.  After the label change and after the plaintiff filed his lawsuit, the manufacturer and the FDA conducted extensive research on Avandia’s safety. In 2013, the FDA ultimately concluded that there was no increased risk of heart attack associated with Avandia use compared to alternative diabetes medications. Thus, in 2014, the FDA approved an updated Avandia label that removed the boxed warning for a potential increased risk of heart attack.  Good science led to good news for patients, but not such good news for this particular patient’s lawsuit.  All of the plaintiff’s nine causes of actions essentially boiled down to failure to warn theories, and the facts on the ground had removed all support for that theory.  Even putting aside the question of whether the original label was inadequate because it lacked a warning that had now been repudiated by the FDA, the plaintiff’s case failed for inability to show that the alleged failure to warn was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  To the extent that specific claims bumped against the learned intermediary doctrine (Utah law governed, so the learned intermediary doctrine was alive and well), the plaintiff faced a huge problem when it came to posing the usual question to the prescriber:  knowing what you know today, would you still have prescribed this medicine to the plaintiff?  From his deposition testimony, it is clear that the prescriber’s “understanding of Avandia’s risk profile today is the same as it was when he prescribed Avandia to [the plaintiff]—that Avandia is not associated with an increased cardiovascular risk compared to other diabetes drugs.  He also testified that, if the current package insert were in place when he was prescribing Avandia to [the plaintiff], he still would have prescribed it.”  That is pretty inescapable logic.  John Adams once said that “facts are stubborn things.”  So is science.  So are label changes. 

But the plaintiff did try to escape the facts, the science, and the label changes.  He pointed to the prescriber’s testimony that he “quit using” Avandia for patients after 2007.  But that same prescriber’s testimony made clear that even when the 2007 data on which the plaintiff based his claims is considered along with the other Avandia risk data available today, he would still prescribe Avandia to the plaintiff, just as he had in 2001 and 2002, when there was no heart attack risk warning in the Avandia label. It is as if the plaintiff tried to preserve his case by seizing upon one favorable moment in time and excluding any other, subsequent facts that might prove inconvenient.  Don’t look forward, and don’t look backward.  Just look at the evidence in that nanosecond that might support a claim.  But no decent doctor would do that.  Nor would any sensible court.  Hence, the Siddoway court held that the plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the prayed-for warning would have deterred the doctor from prescribing Avandia to the plaintiff before he suffered the 2003 heart attacks.  The court looked at all the evidence, forward and backward, and saw its way clearly towards complete dismissal of the case.   

 

In the mass torts world in which we find ourselves, glimmers of jurisprudential light can seem few and far between. Two things we love are good warnings causation decisions and sneaky plaintiffs getting caught at their own games.  Today’s case has both.  In Thompson v. Janssen Pharm., Inc., 2017 WL 5135548 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2017), the court considered simultaneous motions:  the plaintiffs’ motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice and the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The plaintiff began taking Risperdal in 2001 after he was diagnosed with tics and other disorders, and he alleged that the drug caused him to develop gynecomastia (breast enlargement). Nevertheless, he continued – and continues – to take Risperdal (sixteen years, five doctors, and counting) because it effectively controls his tics, notwithstanding his alleged gynecomastia, his lawsuit, and his doctor’s recommendation that he stop taking the drug.

The Plaintiffs’ Motion for Voluntary Dismissal without Prejudice

The plaintiffs sued in the Central District of California, asserting the usual litany of claims. One day before the defendant moved for summary judgment, the plaintiffs moved for voluntary dismissal without prejudice so they could re-file their case in state court and park it in the already-existing JCCP, California’s version of an MDL.  They claimed that, though they had “been diligently seeking discovery” to prove their case, they were “unable to do so effectively” in federal court. Thompson, 2017 WL 5135548 at *4.

The court explained that factors relevant to its decision included: 1) the opposing party’s effort and expense in preparing for trial; 2) excessive delay and lack of diligence by the moving party in prosecuting the action; 3) insufficient explanation of the need for dismissal; and 4) the fact that the opposing party has moved for summary judgment. Id. at *5 (citations omitted).  Naturally, the plaintiff argued that all of these factors weighed in favor of granting the motion, but the court disagreed.

The court pointed out that, though the plaintiffs argued that they had been diligent in prosecuting his case, they had “failed to serve expert disclosure or expert reports.” Id. at *6.  Moreover, through the plaintiffs’ motion was “purportedly premised on their intention to join the pending state court [Risperdal litigation],” they gave “no explanation as to why they waited until . . . mere days before the summary judgment deadline” when they had notice of the state court litigation for more than a year. Id. The court concluded that this was “an insufficient explanation of the need for dismissal,” one of the factors to be considered. Id. (internal punctuation omitted).

In addition, though the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was not pending when the plaintiffs filed their motion (it was filed the next day), the defendants had notified the plaintiffs that they would be filing for summary judgment before the plaintiffs moved for dismissal. The court held that “the proximity of the two motions raise[d] the inference that that Plaintiffs’ motion might have been motivated by a desire to . . . avoid an imminent adverse ruling by way of Defendants’ summary judgment motion and also avoid the consequence of their failure to serve expert disclosures.” Id. (internal punctuation and citation omitted).

Simply put, as the court correctly perceived, the plaintiffs’ tactic was a transparent attempt to hide their meritless case in another mass proceeding on the chance that an inventory settlement would line their pockets at some point down the road.  The court concluded, “. . . Plaintiffs have not provided sufficient justification for voluntary dismissal given the untimeliness of the request and the proximity to Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.” Id.  Motion denied.

The Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

It was undisputed that all of the plaintiffs’ claims were premised on the defendants’ alleged failure to warn about the rate of gynecomastia. As such, the defendants argued that all of the plaintiff’s claims failed because, inter alia: 1) the plaintiff assumed the risk by continuing to take the drug once he was aware of the alleged risk; and 2) the plaintiff could not prove “warnings causation;” in other words, he could not satisfy his burden of proving that that a different warning would have changed his doctors’ decisions to prescribe the drug for him. Id.

As to assumption of the risk, the defendants argued that the plaintiff was aware of the risk of gynecomastia but “continues to use Risperdal because he believes the benefits of the medicine in treating his condition outweigh the very risks that he has sued upon.” Id. at *7 (citation omitted).  The court disagreed, holding that the record did not clearly indicate that the plaintiff’s treating physicians discussed the risk of gynecomastia with the plaintiff.

But it was clear, on the record, that all of the plaintiff’s prescribing physicians were themselves aware of the risk of gynecomastia. And the plaintiff “provided no evidence that a different warning would have altered the physicians’ decisions to prescribe Risperdal.”  Therefore, the plaintiff could not “demonstrate the [warnings] causation required to survive summary judgment under California’s learned intermediary doctrine.” Id. at *8.

Nor were the plaintiffs’ claims saved by California’s “overpromotion exception.” As the court explained, “California courts have in the past recognized that the learned intermediary doctrine may not apply where a medication has been overpromoted to the extent that any warnings would have been nullified.” Id. at *9 (citation omitted).  But the overpromotion exception applies only in “unusual cases” (our California colleagues tell us that it is very rarely applied), and not “where a plaintiff’s prescribing physician did not rely on promotional statements when choosing treatment options.” Id. (citation omitted).  In this case, there was no evidence that any of the plaintiff’s prescribers relied on the defendant’s promotional activities, and the exception did not apply.

And so, in the absence of evidence of warnings causation, the court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The correct result, and a nice cautionary tale for plaintiffs thinking they can game the system, ignore both rules and law, and await the filling of their outstretched hands.  Does our defense heart good.