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Today’s post is a little different in its format from what our readers are used to. What follows is a lightly edited (primarily adding full citations) version of a webinar presentation Bexis made recently for the “HLTh” Action Group of the Product Liability Advisory Council. The availability of this type of cutting-edge presentations is yet another reason why drug and medical device manufactures would be well served by joining PLAC. We’ve never been much for adding images to our blogposts, but here we have put together Bexis’ slides and speakers notes so that our readers can follow them more easily.

This post is a deeper dive into a preemption-related concern that we have raised before − how and why defendants can, and should, reconcile the beneficial holdings in Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), with the rejection of the so-called “purposes and objectives” prong of implied preemption by the most conservative justices (at least in terms of federalism) on the Court.

For those of you accessing the Blog on mobile devices, this post may be hard to read. So, here are links to both the slide images and the accompanying text.

Continue Reading Logical Contradiction Doctrine:  Buckman for Textualists

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One of the decisions we were looking forward to at the end of 2022 has occurred. In In re Zofran (Ondansetron) Products Liability Litigation, ___ F.4th ___, 2023 WL 128570 (1st Cir. Jan. 9, 2023), the court unanimously affirmed the MDL-wide preemption order dismissing all claims.  Since the history of the Zofran litigation is well covered in our prior posts, we’ll stick to the First Circuit’s preemption rationale here.

Continue Reading MDL-Wide Preemption Win in Zofran Affirmed

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The flimsy decision in In re Acetaminophen − ASD-ADHD Products Liability Litigation, 2022 WL 17348351 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 14, 2022), leaves us scratching our heads.  First, it claims to find “helpful guidance,” id. at *7, in Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), a prescription drug preemption case, despite the relevant drug(s) being over-the-counter (“OTC”), and thus approved under an entirely different FDA regulatory process.  Since Levine is probably the worst prescription medical product liability decision to occur during the now 15-year lifespan of this Blog, when a citation like that appears, the result is not likely to be any good.  Then, the decision makes a hash of the relevant administrative record, ignoring what the preemptive FDA regulations said in favor of material from the Federal Register that never actually made it into the regulations themselves.

Continue Reading A Painful Preemption Decision

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Product liability litigation over Class III medical devices is an interesting creature.  Absent something unusual, cases and litigations should not get past motions to dismiss.  That is pretty clearly what Congress intended when an express preemption provision was added to the Medical Device Amendments of 1976.  We understand that each plaintiff may think her case is exceptional in that it should meet the exception to the rule of preemption.  (We do not really think the plaintiff lawyers think that, although they sure argue it enough.)  But the usual is more common than the unusual by definition.  When you hear hoof beats, you should look for a horse not a zebra, unless you happen to be in a part of the world where zebras are endemic or end up in a zebra enclosure in a zoo.  When you hear Class III medical device product liability case, you should look for all claims to be dismissed unless there is something as unusual as a basis to claiming the plaintiff’s particular device deviated from its FDA-approved specifications.

In 2001, the Supreme Court made getting past motions to dismiss harder when it held in Buckman that plaintiffs could not recover claims predicated on violations of FDA regulations.  An unfortunate fiction developed post-Buckman—particularly after Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. 552 U.S. 312 (2008)—that plaintiffs could assert “parallel claims” that were neither expressly preempted by the provisions of the MDA nor impliedly preempted under Buckman.  We, and others, have described the purported path of a parallel claim as being like navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, a monster and whirlpool on opposite sides of a narrow strait per ancient Greek mythology.  Without claiming that mythology is the same as fiction—we are not touching that with a twenty foot sarissa—we can say that a true parallel claim is as rare as a striped unicorn or perhaps a flying horse.  The unfortunate fiction of which we spoke above has taken shape with particularly egregious appellate decisions like Bausch such that some trial courts are advised, when they hear the hoof beat of a Class III medical device product liability case, to expect Pegasus or his stripy, horned pal to gallop around the corner.

Viewed over the course of more than five years and many decisions, three of which have featured in prior posts (here, here, and here, which drew honorable mention honors in 2018), we think Bausch delayed the inevitable in Gravitt v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2022 WL 17668486 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 14, 2022), by insisting that parallel claims for failure to report adverse events to FDA exist.  After an unnecessary odyssey, the manufacturer of a Class III breast implant won summary judgment on the last of plaintiffs’ claims, alleged failure to report adverse events to FDA.  (We say “plaintiffs,” but the decision referred to the plaintiff with the implant—who we will call the “plaintiff”—by her first name and the consortium plaintiff by his first name.  In terms of whether the last claim was supported, the court referred the female plaintiff only and somehow omitted any reference to “burden.”  These are usually signs that at least one claim will survive summary judgment.)  A shout out to Dustin Rawlin and his colleagues for sticking it out on this case and sending us this decision.

Continue Reading Fallacious FDA Reporting Claim Finally Falls

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We disagree with plenty of courts on plenty of things, but most of the time it’s at least arguably just a conflict with one of our pro-defense views.  But occasionally, very occasionally, we run into a decision that’s just plain wrong on some factual or legal aspect.  Blackburn v. Shire U.S., Inc., 2022 WL 16729466 (11th Cir. Nov. 7, 2022) (thankfully unpublished), is such a decision.

Continue Reading Blackburn – That’s Just Plain Wrong

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Two weeks ago, we decried the pattern that some courts follow in allowing shifting slates of boilerplate allegations to cases to discovery.  The decision in Corrigan v. Covidien LP, No. 22-cv-10220, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210296 (D. Mass. Nov. 21, 2022), reminded us of another of our post-TwIqbal pet peeves:  when courts treat sweeping legal conclusions as if they were plausible factual assertions.  The basic allegations in Corrigan were that the plaintiff’s surgeon used defendant’s surgical stapler to perform an anastomosis—reattachment of two parts of the digestive tract—in connection with removing part of his sigmoid colon (for unspecified reasons, but often diverticulitis or cancer) and the anastomosis later leaked, leading to further surgical intervention.  As we said two weeks ago, medical device manufacturers are not insurers.  That makes sense because surgery on humans, even done by the best surgeons, in the best hospitals, and with the best devices and equipment, has less than a 100% success rate.  Anastomoses leak, infections develop, hernias recur, patients report post-operative pain, and all manner of complications and less than optimal outcomes occur.  A common refrain when scientists are presented with a surgical study reporting no complications or failures is that the study was too small, too short, and/or insufficiently rigorous.  Thus, a common procedure with a very high success rate will still generate large numbers of reported failures, like anastomoses that leak.  This is part of why rates, and particularly comparative rates, provide more useful information about devices and surgeries than do gross numbers.

Even more authoritative sources than this Blog agree with us.  FDA, for instance, makes clear that data from its Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience (“MAUDE”) database “is not intended to be used either to evaluate rates of adverse events or to compare adverse event occurrence rates across devices.”  The reasons for this are not a secret:  “The incidence, prevalence, or cause of an event cannot be determined from this reporting system alone due to under-reporting of events, inaccuracies in reports, lack of verification that the device caused the reported event, and lack of information about frequency of device use.”  Directly stated, “[t]he submission of an MDR itself is not evidence that the device caused or contributed to the adverse outcome or event.”  FDA’s description of the MAUDE database also makes clear in a number of places that the data may be outdated or incomplete for various benign reasons.

Continue Reading Criticizing FDA Reporting Systems Should Not Be Enough To Plead A Warnings Claim

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Drug manufacturers are not insurers against injury from or while taking medications.  Neither are distributors or pharmacies.  Just because a patient experiences a complication while taking a medication, including the very condition the medication is supposed to help prevent, does not mean that some person or entity should be liable to the patient for her injuries.  Sometimes, there is no fault or liability to be found.  We do not think these are controversial principles, but we find that they apply to more than a few of the cases giving rise to the decisions about which we expound.

We also find that missing facts from complaints can speak volumes.  Similarly, when a plaintiff waits until the third complaint to add case-specific factual allegations that should have been there from the start or when factual allegations pop in and out of serial amendments you have to question the basis for those allegations.  At least we do.  As inveterate curmudgeons, we tend to think bare-bones, boilerplate allegations are unlikely to be supported if the case gets to the merits.  Of course, part of the game for some plaintiffs is to get past pleadings and hope the defendants opt for settlement instead of paying the costs of defense.  The Twombly and Iqbal decisions tightened pleading standards, and thus improved the chance of success on motions to dismiss in federal court and some states have followed along.  The hole, and source of our periodic grumbling, is how often dismissals are without prejudice and accompanied by leave to amend.  Too often, it seems that the provision in Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 that courts “should freely give leave when justice so requires” leads to leave even when it should be obvious that amendment will be futile, not to mention a waste of judicial resources.

Continue Reading Five Strikes Needed To Dismiss A Questionable Case

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A potential top-ten case came across our desks the other day, and even better, it comes out of our home state of California.  In Amiodarone Cases, No. A161023, 2022 WL 16646728 (Cal. Ct. App. Nov. 3, 2002) (to be published), the California Court of Appeal held that federal law preempts state law failure-to-warn claims alleging that branded and generic drug manufacturers did not ensure that patients received FDA-approved Medication Guides for amiodarone, a heart medicine.  Along the way, the Court disabused several harmful misconceptions on California’s learned intermediary doctrine and held that fraud claims based on journal articles and decades-old statements were bunk. 

The FDA approved amiodarone in 1985 as a last-resort treatment for ventricular fibrillation, and a few years later—in 1989 and 1992—the agency notified the manufacturer of statements that it considered false and misleading, including purported promotion for an unapproved use.  Id. at *1.  Fast forward a few decades, and hundreds of plaintiffs in a coordination proceeding in California have alleged that they experienced side effects after their doctors prescribed amiodarone off label.  Id. at *2. 

You read that correctly.  These plaintiffs were reaching back to alleged misstatements made 30 years ago.  Moreover, amiodarone has been available in generic forms since 1998, so the plaintiffs ginned up claims against generic manufacturers, too—that all defendants (branded and generic) failed adequately to warn plaintiffs of potential risks because they did not ensure that patients received FDA-approved Medication Guides with their prescriptions. 

This is not a new idea.  Amiodarone patients in other jurisdictions have made similar Medication Guide/warnings claims, and some have survived challenges to the pleadings, including in Wisconsin and Illinois.  You can see our take on these orders here and here.  Long story short, we disagreed with those results, especially the short shrift that those orders gave to implied preemption. 

Continue Reading California Appellate Court Reaffirms Federal Preemption, Learned Intermediary Doctrine in Amiodarone Cases