As we discussed at the time, the MDL-wide innovator liability appeals in In re Darvocet, Darvon, & Propoxyphene Products Liability Litigation, 756 F.3d 917 (6th Cir. 2014), resulted in rulings under more than 20 states’ laws that branded drug manufacturers could not be liable for injuries suffered by plaintiffs who never used their products, but only took competing generic drugs.  Twenty-something states in one opinion.  If that had ever happened before, we remain unaware of it.

Well, it recently happened again, albeit on a smaller scale. See In re Zofran (Ondansetron) Products Liability Litigation, ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 3448548 (D. Mass. Aug. 4, 2017).  The Zofran MDL is like Darvon in that it involves a relatively old drug, approved back in 1991, for prevention of nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing difficult treatments such as chemotherapy. Id. at *1.  Since Bendectin was driven off the market by bogus birth defect litigation, drug companies have been loathe to pursue anything for treating morning sickness (we know of only one), which leaves off-label use.  Id. at *2.  Thus, Zofran and its generic equivalents are frequently used off-label by women (and their physicians) seeking some kind of relief from pregnancy-related morning sickness.

The Zofran litigation is a consequence of this off-label use – anything used during pregnancy becomes the target of birth defect lawsuits.  Plaintiffs make a rather extreme claim, that defendants should be liable for not researching the risks of off-label uses for which they never sought FDA labeling approval.  Id. at *3 (“The crux of all of the claims is that defendants failed to perform an adequate study of the safety of ingesting Zofran during pregnancy”).

When generic drugs get involved, things get even worse. Plaintiffs using generic drugs are barred by preemption from suing those manufacturers (absent unusual situations like failure to update warnings with FDA-ordered changes), id. at *4, but they still want money, so they try to sue the branded manufacturers – innovator liability, in these cases for off-label uses.  Such claims seek to hold manufacturers liable for the risks of someone else’s product used in a manner for which that product was never labeled.

In Zofran, the court was having none of it.  It ordered all generic plaintiffs – 35 plaintiffs from 19 states − alleging innovator liability to justify those allegations.  Id.  Challenged to put up or shut up, most of the generic plaintiffs dropped out, leaving six plaintiffs suing under the laws of six states, those being Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Oklahoma. Id.

Examining the laws of those six states, the court in Zofran, like the court in Darvocet, concluded that none of them would take the radical step of holding branded drug manufacturers liable for injuries caused by competing generic drugs.  Such liability ran contrary to “the long-settled principle that a manufacturer of a product cannot be held liable for injuries caused by another company’s product.”  Id. at *4.  Instead, plaintiffs alleged that:

As the holders of the New Drug Application (NDA) for Zofran and the patents for Zofran, [innovator] Defendants knew that any generic drug manufacturer would be required by law to use the same labeling as Zofran’s, and that any inadequacies in the labeling of generic ondansetron could be corrected by Defendants only.

Id. at *5.  Thus, the innovator defendants were being held liable not for what they chose to do, but rather for what was “required by law” – how Congress, in amending the FDCA, had chosen to structure the generic drug market.  While plaintiffs claimed this was not “novel,” id., to paraphrase Yogi Berra, “half the lies they tell about [the law] aren’t true.”

The overwhelming majority of courts—including all seven federal circuits to have addressed the issue—have held that the manufacturer of a brand-name drug may not be held liable for injuries caused by ingestion its generic equivalent, regardless of the theory of liability.

Id. at *6 (citations omitted).  The omitted citations, of just the federal appellate decisions, take up half a page of the opinion.  But don’t fret about that.  Our “Innovator Liability at 100” post, which discusses all these decisions, is closing in on 14,000 words.  The precedent rejecting innovator liability is truly “overwhelming.”

The “minority view,” on the other hand, consists of exactly four cases, one of which was “superseded by statute” “within a year” of being decided.  Id. at *8-9 & n. 6.  As for the relevant states in Zofran:

Georgia:  An intermediate state appellate court, the Sixth Circuit in Darvocet, and a federal district court, have all rejected innovator liability.  See PLIVA, Inc. v. Dement, 780 S.E.2d 735, 743 (Ga. App. 2015); Darvocet, 756 F.3d at 943; Swicegood v. Pliva, Inc., 543 F. Supp. 2d 1351, 1353-54 (N.D. Ga. 2008). Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *8-9.  On the other side – zilch.  Actually, Georgia precedent rejecting innovator liability is more extensive than what was mentioned in Zofran.  See our “at 100” post for details.

Indiana:  The Sixth Circuit Darvocet case also rejected innovator liability under Indiana law.  756 F.3d at 845. Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *10-11.  Again, there are several more Indiana law cases also rejecting innovator liability that aren’t mentioned in Zofran – but are in our post.

Kentucky:  Not only is Darvocet again on point, but the Sixth Circuit likewise rejected innovator liability in another Kentucky law case.  Darvocet, 756 F.3d at 945-46; Smith v. Wyeth, Inc., 657 F.3d. 420, 423-24 (6th Cir. 2011).  Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *11.  As our post adds, a couple of Kentucky litigation tourists also got kicked out of court in Missouri on innovator liability grounds.

Massachusetts:  Two Massachusetts trial courts have rejected innovator liability. Rafferty v. Merck & Co., 2016 WL 3064255, at *4-5 (Mass. Super. May 23, 2016); Kelly v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Co., 2005 WL 4056740, at *2-5 (Mass. Super. May 6, 2005).  Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *12-13.  We provide some more on-point Massachusetts precedent in our post, which never has to cite to a non-Westlaw slip opinion, because Bexis gets all the good ones added.

New York:  Darvocet, again, plus federal and state trial court decisions, all rejecting innovator liability under New York law.  Darvocet, 756 F.3d at 949; Goldych v. Eli Lilly & Co., 2006 WL 2038436, at *3-8 (N.D.N.Y. July 19, 2006); Weese v. Pfizer, Inc., 2013 WL 5691993, at *2 (N.Y. Sup. Oct. 8, 2013).  Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *13-14.  Actually, there’s another recent federal district court decision that agrees, as our post discusses.

Oklahoma:  Not only Darvocet, but another federal appellate decision both reject innovator liability under Oklahoma law. Darvocet, 756 F.3d at 950-51; Schrock v. Wyeth, Inc., 727 F.3d 1273, 1281-84 (10th Cir. 2013).  Zofran, 2017 WL 3448548, at *14.  Our post adds another state trial court opinion applying Oklahoma law in a similar manner (a toughie, but we found it).

Thus, the Zofran decision concludes, as to the merits of innovator liability, that there aren’t any merits, and that contorting state law to impose liability for liability’s sake, without any basis in precedent or policy, isn’t a good idea:

In summary, none of the state supreme courts in any of the six relevant states have ruled on precisely the issues presented here.  Nonetheless, for each of the jurisdictions, there is case law suggesting, often strongly so, that dismissal is appropriate. . . .

It is true that dismissal would appear to leave consumers injured by generic drugs without any form of remedy.  But it is by no means obvious that the minority viewpoint is correct or fair, or even that it is the outcome that best protects consumers.  Just as it may be unfair to leave some injured consumers without a remedy, so too it may be unfair or unwise to require brand-name manufacturers to bear 100% of the liability, when they may have only 10%, or less, of the relevant market.

Id., 2017 WL 3448548, at *14 (citations omitted).

Finally, Zofran rejects what appears to be the new overall strategy of generic plaintiffs peddling innovator liability theories – try to shift the battle from federal to state courts.  Zofran refused to certify the issue to the high courts of the six states in question.  Id. at *15-17.  New York doesn’t even allow certification (an “oops” for plaintiffs).  Id. at *16.  “Clear and recent” appellate authority in every state but Massachusetts, leaves little doubt what the relevant law is.  Id.  As for Massachusetts (and indeed all the states), the question proposed to be certified “involve[d] alleged misrepresentations, none of which are identified by the plaintiff,” leaving the basis for those claims “unclear.”  Id. at *17.  Certification of such a “hypothetical” question would thus be “inadvisable”:

It is therefore entirely possible that the Court could wind up certifying a purely hypothetical question that has no actual relationship to the evidence.  It would be an enormous waste of judicial resources to certify a fact-bound question to the [state high court], only to find that the facts as ultimately proved are different. . . .  Any answer . . . to the proposed question might therefore prove to be entirely advisory.

Id. (footnote omitted).  Courts faced with innovator-liability-related certification requests in the future are likely to be facing similar situations, given how loosely our opponents throw around misrepresentation allegations.  Kudos to Zofran for not taking the easy way out, and declining to kick the decisional can down the road.

We have two posts on innovator liability that we update on a consistent basis: our innovator liability scorecard, and our “Innovator Liability at 100” state-by-state collection of materials that we originally compiled when the one-hundredth judicial opinion on this topic was decided.  Well, not too long ago the Fourth Circuit, in McNair v. Johnson & Johnson, ___ F. Appx. ___, 2017 WL 2333843 (4th Cir. May 30, 2017), did what no court of appeals had done since the innovator liability first reared its ugly head in 1994 – it certified the question to the relevant state high court – in this case, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals:

Whether West Virginia law permits a claim of failure to warn and negligent misrepresentation against a branded drug manufacturer when the drug ingested was produced by a generic manufacturer.

2017 WL 2333843, at *1.

At least a dozen federal court of appeals decisions have rejected innovator liability under the laws of some two dozen states. Ironically, the first to do so was the Fourth Circuit itself, in Foster v. American Home Products Corp., 29 F.3d 165, 168, 171 (4th Cir. 1994), under Maryland law.  Plaintiffs did not begin resorting to the delaying tactic of requesting state court certification until relatively late in the game.  Courts of appeals were not accommodating, refusing to certify what they saw as an outlier issue in Johnson v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., 758 F.3d 605, 614-15 (5th Cir. 2014); Strayhorn v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, 737 F.3d 387, 406-07 (6th Cir. Dec. 2, 2013). See also In re Darvocet, Darvon & Propoxyphene Products Liability Litigation, 2012 WL 3610237, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 21, 2012), aff’d, 756 F.3d 917 (6th Cir. 2014); Mosley v. Wyeth, Inc., 719 F. Supp. 2d 1340, 1351 n.9 (S.D. Ala. 2010) (district courts refusing certification motions).  But plaintiffs got lucky (for a few months) in Wyeth, Inc. v. Weeks, 159 So. 3d 649, 653 (Ala. 2014), with a certified question, and with nothing left to lose they’ve been trying it ever since.

McNair is not only an outlier procedurally, but is troubling substantively.  First, the Fourth Circuit’s certification opinion seems more concerned with preemption rather than state law – addressing preemption before even bothering with state-law causation principles, and finishing that section with the observation, “while a state law failure-to-warn claim against a generic manufacturer is preempted, such claims are not preempted as to the warnings on a brand-name drug distributed by a brand-name manufacturer.”  2017 WL 2333843, at *3 (emphasis original).  Ordinarily, the existence of a recognized state law claim precedes any decision on whether that claim is preempted.  We always find it troubling when a federal court views principles of state law more through the lens of a preemption dodge than on their merits.

Although pointing out (as could hardly be denied) that even in the current preemption environment, “overwhelming” precedent rejects innovator liability, McNair, 2017 WL 2333843, at *4, the certification order makes it appear as if there is no prior West Virginia law on this subject.  That is simply not so.  As we state in our Innovator Liability at 100 post:

In In re Darvocet, Darvon, & Propoxyphene Products Liability Litigation, 756 F.3d 917 (6th Cir. 2014), the Sixth Circuit concluded that West Virginia “has rejected claims attempting to impose liability on brand manufacturers where plaintiffs ingested only generic drugs.”  Id. at 953.  Darvocet relied upon Meade v. Parsley, 2009 WL 3806716 (S.D.W. Va. Nov. 13, 2009).

[Innovator defendants] are not responsible for the damage resulting from a product that they did not manufacture, distribute or sell. . . .  Product liability law in West Virginia allows for recovery when the plaintiff can prove that “a product was defective when it left the manufacturer and the defective product was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.”  Because neither [innovator defendant] manufactured the product that injured plaintiffs, there is no proximate cause.

Id. at *2-3 (quoting Dunn v. Kanawha County Board of Education, 459 S.E.2d 151, 157 (W. Va. 1995)).

That the Fourth Circuit would decide to omit all of the most directly on-point West Virginia law-based precedent – including a published court of appeals decision − from its certification order is simply inexplicable.  Certainly, ignorance cannot be claimed, as both the Darvocet and Meade decisions were relied upon by the district court in McNair itself.  McNair v. Johnson & Johnson, 2015 WL 3935787, at *6 (S.D.W. Va. June 26, 2015).  We can only hope that the West Virginia high court (docket available here) will not be misled by these omissions.

 

May 10 is an important day in the history of the law.  On this date, way back in 1893, the Supreme Court ruled that the tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit.  The case was called Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893).  The issue concerned application of the Tariff Act of 1883, which imposed a tax on vegetables, but not fruits.  The appellant was one of New York City’s biggest produce sellers.  He imported lots of tomatoes, and was looking to dodge the tax.  He cited dictionaries defining tomatoes, in a technical/botanical sense, as the “’fruit’ as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed.”  But, alas, the High Court ruled that “[t]hese definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are ‘fruit,’ as distinguished from ‘vegetables,’ in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.”  Science be damned, people eat tomatoes in their salads, not desserts, so they are vegetables, not fruits.  Because common parlance prevailed, the taxpayer did not.

 

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

 

We’ll exploit this historical legal oddity and its exaltation of common understanding as a semi-ironic preface to a case where a pro se plaintiff went down in flames in a product liability case.  In Coleson v. Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc., et al., , 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68072 (S.D.N.Y. May 3, 2017), the plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against the defendants in New York state court (the Bronx, to be specific) , which alleged that he developed gynecomastia as a result of taking Risperdal and generic risperidone. The defendants removed the suit to federal court.  Things were already heading in the right direction for the defense.  After discovery, during which the plaintiff apparently never found an expert on causation, the defendants moved for summary judgment.  The defendants won.  The plaintiff lost.  Common sense also won: the court rejected innovator liability for an alleged failure to warn by a generic competitor.  Finally, we are reminded of that most common of courts, The People’s Court, where Judge Wapner routinely blasted plaintiffs for not having the requisite paperwork to back up their claims. 

 

After the plaintiff in Coleson had been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia around 2009 or 2010, physicians prescribed Risperdal and risperidone. Risperdal is the brand name product and was manufactured/sold by the defendants.  Since at least 1996, Risperdal’s FDA-approved disclosures stated that Risperdal is associated with endocrine-related side-effects, including gynecomastia.   Risperidone is the generic version.  It had been available since 2008.  Medicaid paid for all of the plaintiff’s prescriptions. New York’s Medicaid program excludes coverage of brand-name drugs when there is an FDA-approved generic equivalent on the market unless one’s healthcare provider specifically requests an exemption for the patient.  So it looks as if the plaintiff was probably taking risperidone.  That is, he took risperidone until sometime in 2013-14, when he switched to an entirely different atypical antipsychotic, which was also associated with gynecomastia.  The plaintiff was diagnosed with gynecomastia in 2015. 

 

Despite his usage of generic risperidone and a different antipsychotic, the plaintiff sued only the Risperdal brand manufacturer.  As with most pro se complaints, the theories of the case were less than pellucid.  The defendants and the court construed the causes of action as failure to warn and design defect against the brand manufacturers.  The plaintiff alleged that the side-effect information in the generic risperidone was different from the FDA-approved Risperdal label.  The defendants’ summary judgment motion argued that the plaintiff’s claims failed for lack of any evidence that the plaintiff ingested name-brand Risperdal, as opposed to generic risperdone. The defendants argued that they could not be held liable for either failure to warn or design defect for an injury resulting from a product that they did not manufacture, distribute, or sell. The defendants also argued that the plaintiff could not show medical causation between Risperdal and his gynecomastia.

 

Yes, we are confronted yet again with the issue of innovator liability.  Under Erie, the federal court needed to determine the substantive law of the forum, New York.  The New York Court of Appeals has not yet addressed whether a manufacturer of a name-brand prescription drug can be held liable for injuries resulting from another company’s generic equivalent. But there is at least one federal case, Goldych v. Eli Lilly & Co., No. 04 Civ. 1477 (GLS)(GJD), 2006 WL 2038436 (N.D.N.Y. July 19, 2006), and one New York state case, Weese v. Pfizer, Inc., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4761, 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 32563 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty. Oct. 8, 2013), rejecting innovator liability.  Those two New York decisions are in accord with the majority of courts to consider the topic: fifty-five other state courts across twenty-one states, in addition to all six circuit courts of appeal, have ruled that innovator liability makes no sense.  See our general innovator liability posts here and here. The Conte decision in California, which applied such innovator liability, stands as an egregious, eccentric exception.   The Coleson court acknowledged that there are a couple of cases clumsily following Conte, but the Coleson court declined to join the heresy.

 

Supporting its decision, the Coleson court discussed a recent asbestos case that, at first blush (but only first blush) seemed to offer some hope for the plaintiff.   Last year, in In re N.Y. City Asbestos Litig., 27 N.Y.3d 765, 59 N.E.3d 458 (2016), the New York Court of Appeals held that manufacturers had a duty to warn of potential dangers resulting from their products’ use in conjunction with third party products. To support this interpretation, the asbestos court observed that the manufacturers had “knowledge and ability to warn of the dangers” when consumers used the product with a third party’s product. As we discussed at the time, here, that is quite a bit different from being required to warn about use of a competitor’s product, when the defendant’s own product was not being used at all.  The Coleson court reasoned that the asbestos ruling was unlikely to make “the cost of liability and litigation . . . unreasonable”  and, moreover, the manufacturers “derive[d] a benefit from the sale of the [other party’s] product.” This rationale weighed in the opposite direction in Coleson. The brand defendants “had no oversight in the manufacturing of the generic drugs. They earned no profit from the sale of the generic drugs. Given the length of time generic drugs can sell following a patent’s expiration, to find a new duty would unforeseeably expand the cost of liability on brand-name drug manufacturers.”  Coleson, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68072 at *10.  

 

Goodbye failure to warn claim.  The plaintiff’s failure to warn claim was dismissed because he alleged a warning defect as to only risperdone, over which the defendants had no duty of care.

 

The Coleson plaintiff’s design defect claim also failed.  He could not show by a preponderance of the evidence that he ever ingested name-brand Risperdal. The plaintiff’s declaration and deposition stated that he was prescribed, amongst other drugs, “Risperdal (risperidone)” and that a hospital in 2009 or 2010 dispensed “Risperdal and/or risperidone.” The plaintiff also claimed that hospital records proving he actually received Risperdal in the hospital were likely destroyed by a fire in January 2015. [We know some especially nettlesome plaintiff lawyers who would turn this misfortune into a spoliation claim, but the pro se plaintiff lacked either the expertise or chutzpah to pursue that vexatious path.] It was true that the plaintiff’s medical records at times recorded his prescription as only for Risperdal.  But generic risperidone is regularly written as “Risperdal (risperidone),” a nomenclature even the plaintiff repeatedly adopted in his papers.  That a drug is prescribed under its brand-name does not mean that a patient receives that name-brand drug, and it is hardly justifiable to infer that it does. In the absence of real evidence, the Coleson court was unimpressed by the plaintiff’s “mere speculation or conjecture” as to Risperdal usage.  Coleson, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 68072 at *11.

 

But let’s for the moment speculate that a “fair-minded jury” could speculate that the plaintiff was prescribed brand name Risperdal somewhere in the relevant time-frame. And yet it was undisputed that by 2009, when the plaintiff was first prescribed the medicine, risperidone was a widely available generic to Risperdal. It was also undisputed that all of the plaintiff’s prescriptions were paid by Medicaid.  Aside from exceptional circumstances the plaintiff never showed, the plaintiff’s prescriptions under Medicaid needed to be filled with generic drug equivalents. Thus, from the evidence presented, no jury could draw the “justifiable inference” that the plaintiff received name-brand Risperdal for his prescriptions. There might well have been an inference of injury from ingestion of risperdone, but the Coleson plaintiff had not sued the generic manufacturer.  Id. at *12.

 

Even assuming that the plaintiff had ingested Risperdal, his design defect claim against the defendants would still fail because he could not establish that Risperdal caused his gynecomastia. The Coleson court embraced the requirement in products liability cases that, to establish causation, plaintiffs must offer admissible expert testimony regarding both general and specific causation. The requirement is particularly pertinent where a causal link is beyond the knowledge or expertise of a lay jury.  In the Coleson case, there was no such expert in sight. Id. at *13.   

 

The plaintiff suggested he did not need an expert on causation when he had something even better:  the Risperdal label.  That label contains a warning regarding gynecomastia.  The plaintiff also pointed to a  July 2015 medical report, which concluded that the plaintiff’s gynecomastia “is related to phychiatric [sic] medical ingestion.”  The court did not buy either of these arguments.  First, Risperdal’s warning label cannot establish general causation: “Product warning labels can have over-inclusive information on them, often out of ‘an abundance of causation or the avoidance of lawsuits.’  Coleson, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68072 at *14 (quoting In re Mirena IUD Prods. Liab. Litig., , 202 F. Supp. 3d  304, 323 (S.D.N.Y. 2016)).  Unless a warning label specifically says that an alleged injury can be caused by a drug, courts have held that a drug’s product warning label alone cannot “raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to general causation.”  Id. Risperdal’s label states merely that it “elevates prolactin levels” and that “gynecomastia . . . ha[s] been reported in patients receiving prolactin elevating compounds.” This information is not the same as an admission of “a genuine phenomenon” creating a “material fact with respect to general causation.”

 

Nor did the Coleson plaintiff’s July 2015 medical report establish proximate cause. The plaintiff claimed to have taken Risperdal around only 2009-10. Throughout 2010 to 2014, the plaintiff took risperidone. In early 2014, the plaintiff switched to a different antipsychotic, which is also associated with cases of gynecomastia. The plaintiff was diagnosed with gynecomastia only in early 2015, and the medical report to which the plaintiff points indicates the plaintiff had taken both risperidone and the other antipsychotic. This report does not state which, if any, of these drugs was responsible for the plaintiff’s injury. Without competent medical expert testimony on the issue of causation, a jury would be left only to “theorize” as to how the plaintiff came to suffer from gynecomastia. Id. Accordingly, the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was granted.

 

So what we have here is a good result from a smart court.  That decision was made a bit easier because a pro se plaintiff sued the wrong party, hired no expert who would render some frail opinion on ‘substantial causative factor,’’ and failed to assemble decent evidence of usage.  What’s that saying about someone who acts as his own lawyer?

 

 

We’re serious – we’re not planning to give a flip answer like “an extortion racket.”  No, it’s more like law school, where a first-year contracts professor began with the question “What is Chicken?”  (Hint – that’s discussed in Frigaliment Importing Co., Ltd. v. BNS International Sales Corp., 190 F. Supp. 116 (S.D.N.Y. 1960)).  The question of “what is product liability” is of interest to us primarily, but not exclusively, because of 21 U.S.C. §379r(e), which creates an exception for “product liability law” to what is otherwise a rather broad preemption provision governing over-the-counter (also called “monograph”) drugs.

We wrote a post in the early days of the blog – 2008 – about that particular provision, entitled “Preemption Without a Prescription,” where we discussed cases that, up to that time, had addressed the scope of §379r(e)’s saving clause.  That boundary of that clause, as we explained it then, was that “suits for purely economic loss – primarily, but not exclusively, brought under state consumer protection statutes – are not ‘product liability’ actions.”

That’s still true.

We’re not repeating the 2008 post, but we will update it.  Here is a list of cases not discussed in that post, which likewise hold that preemption defeats OTC drug litigation that does not involve personal injury claims:  Wiltz v. Chattem, Inc., 2015 WL 3862368, at *1-2 (C.D. Cal. May 8, 2015); Bowling v. Johnson & Johnson, 65 F. Supp.3d 371, 376-77 (S.D.N.Y. 2014); Gisvold v. Merck & Co., 62 F. Supp.3d 1198, 1202-03 (S.D. Cal. 2014); Crozier v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos., 901 F. Supp.2d 494, 503-05 (D.N.J. 2012) (discussing scope of §379r(e)); Delarosa v. Boiron, Inc., 818 F. Supp.2d 1177, 1188 n.7 (C.D. Cal. 2011) (discussing scope of §379r(e)); Eckler v. Neutrogena Corp., 189 Cal. Rptr.3d 339, 357-61 (Cal. App. 2015) (discussing scope of §379r(e)).

Thanks to this recent blogpost, however, we’ve become aware of another way that the definition of “product liability” is important.  Down in Texas, they have a unique indemnification statute, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. C. §82.002(a) that provides:

A manufacturer shall indemnify and hold harmless a seller against loss arising out of a products liability action, except for any loss caused by the seller’s negligence, intentional misconduct, or other act or omission. . . .

We’d vaguely heard of this statute before, in connection with a case, Hadley v. Wyeth Laboratories, Inc., 287 S.W.3d 847, 849 (Tex. App. 2009), which we liked because it held that prescribing physicians weren’t “sellers” of the drugs they prescribed, which means they can’t be sued for strict liability.

But §82.002(a) also means that, in Texas, the ability of an intermediate seller to recover indemnity (including counsel fees) requires that the underlying action to be one for “products liability.”  That’s where the blogpost comes in.  It discussed a recent case, vRide, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 2017 WL 462348 (Tex. App. Feb. 2, 2017), that also addressed the definition of “product liability.” vRide involved an indemnity claim brought by a lessor of a motor vehicle from the defendant, which manufactured the vehicle.  The underlying claim had not been for strict liability, but rather for misrepresentation – that the vehicle did not have the attributes that the original defendant (the lessor) claimed that it did.

The court in vRide held that a misrepresentation claim did not fall within the meaning of “product liability”:

The [plaintiffs’ complaint] did not allege that the [product] was unreasonably dangerous, was defective by manufacture or design, was rendered defective because it lacked certain safety features, or was otherwise defective. Instead, the petition alleged that [defendant] represented [that the product] had certain safety features when in actuality [they] did not have those safety features. . . .  In short, the [complaint] did not contain allegations that the damages arose out of personal injury, death, or property damage allegedly caused by a defective product.

2017 WL 462348, at *7. We can imagine situations in which this definition could come in useful in litigation involving OTC preemption, since it excludes from “product liability” even some actions involving (as did vRide) personal injury.

The most significant hypothetical involves a situation where the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by a generic OTC drug. In that situation, given the broad scope of preemption available in generic drug cases, one could expect plaintiffs to attempt to assert innovator liability against the branded drug manufacturer.  But innovator liability is based (like vRide) on the (we believe phony) proposition that “misrepresentation” is not “product liability” and thus can extend to non-manufacturers.  But if misrepresentation is not “product liability,” then the savings clause in §379r(e) would not apply, and innovator liability claims would be expressly preempted whether or not they involved personal injury. vRide would thus be precedent in favor of preemption.

That would be a good thing.  And so is cross-fertilization – where a definition in a completely unrelated statute can be utilized in support of preemption.

This is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.

Looking back at our posts on innovator liability, it’s becoming more and more difficult to title them. According to the DDL blog, innovator liability has been rejected, abolished, denied, refused, disallowed. You get the idea. With the news from earlier this summer that the California Supreme Court is going to consider the issue – which will hopefully spell the demise of Conte – we may be nearing the end of the chapter on innovator liability. In the meantime, we’ll keep bringing you the wins as they stack up.

Today’s case was actually decided right around the time the California Supreme Court decided to take on the issue. Gillette v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 2016 WL 4217758 (Mag. D. Minn. Jun. 16, 2016). The decision didn’t come to our attention, however, until the magistrate’s report and recommendation was adopted last week. See 2016 WL 4203422 (D. Minn. Aug. 9, 2016).

The Gillette decision comes out of the Mirapex MDL and involves the application of Indiana law. Indiana products liability claims are governed by the Indiana Products Liability Act (“IPLA”) which provides a single cause of action subsuming all common law strict liability and negligence claims, as well as tort based warranty claims. Gillette, 2016 WL 4217758 at *3-4, *6. So, plaintiff in this case had one cause of action based on her allegations that her use of Mirapex caused her to gamble compulsively.

But was it Mirapex that plaintiff was taking at the time she suffered her injuries? According to her pharmacy records, plaintiff was prescribed Mirapex from 2001 until 2015. Id. at *1-2. It appears that from 2001 until April 2010, plaintiff’s pharmacy filled her prescriptions with brand name Mirapex. In April 2010, when her prescribing physician increased plaintiff’s dosage, her pharmacy began filling her Mirapex prescriptions with its generic equivalent – pramipexole dihydrochloride. Id. at *1. From April 2010 until late 2015, plaintiff received the generic version of the drug manufactured by a succession of four different generic drug manufacturers. Id. at *1-2.

Continue Reading Brand Defendants Thwart Another Innovator Liability Claim

The recent decision of the New York Court of Appeals in In re New York City Asbestos Litigation, ___ N.E.3d ___, 2016 WL 3495191 (N.Y. June 28, 2016) (“NYCAL”), was not too good for asbestos defendants – as it permitted, under certain circumstances, non-manufacturers to be sued for failure to warn of a risk that the product they manufactured didn’t have (exposure to asbestos), where they “encourage[ed]” the use of products containing that risk with their products and thereby benefitted economically:

[A] manufacturer’s duty to warn of combined use of its product with another product depends in part on whether the manufacturer’s product can function without the other product, as it would be unfair to allow a manufacturer to avoid the minimal cost of including a warning about the perils of the joint use of the products when the manufacturer knows that the combined use is both necessary and dangerous. And, the justification for a duty to warn becomes particularly strong if the manufacturer intends that customers engage in the hazardous combined use of the products at issue.

*          *          *          *

[W]here a manufacturer creates a product that cannot be used without another product as a result of the design of the product, the mechanics of the product or the absence of economically feasible alternative means of enabling the product to function as intended, the manufacturer has a substantial, albeit indirect, role in placing the third-party product in the stream of commerce. . . .  Specifically, when the manufacturer produces a product that requires another product to function, the manufacturer naturally opens up a profitable market for that essential component, thereby encouraging the other company to make that related product and place it in the stream of commerce.

NYCAL, 2016 WL 3495191, at *__ (for some reason there is no Westlaw star paging at the moment).  This opinion is very bad news for the affected companies, who are now sucked into the maw of interminable asbestos litigation on the basis of products they didn’t even make, but it should not open the door to innovator liability type claims against our medical product manufacturer clients, and it’s good on causation, too.

Here’s why.

Continue Reading New York Decision Not Good For Asbestos, But Not Bad For Drug/Device

When we were young(er), we had a pretty good memory. It is not bad now, as far as we recall, particularly when it comes to pulling up bits of esoteric nonsense.  For more important stuff, we find qualifiers like “vague” and “fuzzy” being applied more often to our own characterization of what we think we recall.  (We can only imagine how different things will be should be advance to the current age of McConnell, Bexis, or Weil.)  Buried somewhere between esoteric and important would be the question of whether we have seen a certain issue before in cases that have been the subject of past posts.  With a caveat about our memory, supplemented by a less than exhaustive search of prior posts, we thought we could present a decision addressing an issue we have never talked about before—and we have talked about a boatload of issues through the years.  (No, “boatload” was not our first choice, but we try to keep it clean here.)

The silly Conte case popularized the idea that a company that developed and brought a drug to the market could be liable for injuries allegedly caused by a generic version of the drug sold by a competitor. Conte was itself a reaction to the realization, even before Mensing and Bartlett, that most traditional product liability theories against the makers of generic drugs would be preempted.  When plaintiffs have tried to sue both the manufacturers of the generic drug they took and the company that “innovated” the drug and a single decision rejected the claims against both sets of defendants, we have called that a one-two punch.  Because plaintiff lawyers are stubborn in their pursuit of ways to pin liability on defendants with money—or get far enough along in the case to take some of that money to go away—we have described a number of varieties of these one-two punch cases. Just skimming our scoresheets on these issues should give some idea of that variety.

While off-label promotion allegations feature prominently in a range of cases involving prescription drugs, we have not seen them much in innovator liability or generic drug cases.  That might be because NDA holders tend not to do much promotion at all on their drug once generic drugs have entered the market and ANDA holders tend not to promote their generic drugs much at all, especially when there are multiple generics available.  This is not a matter of on-label or off-label promotion as much as it is of economics.  So, when we saw that Perdue v. Wyeth Pharms., Inc., No. 4:15-CV-208-FL, slip op. (E.D.N.C. July 20, 2016), delivered a one-two punch in a case where both the branded manufacturer and three generic manufacturers were alleged to have promoted off-label, we thought we might have a chance to talk about something novel.  We were wrong.  We wrote about another case last year.   Twice.  Involving the same drug as in Perdue.  One post even talked about elephants, known not just for their girth but for their memories.  Oh, the irony.  But that will not stop us from talking about the good result in Perdue.

Continue Reading A One-Two Punch Case With An Off-Label Twist

We’ve always hated Conte v. Wyeth, 85 Cal. Rptr.3d 299 (Cal. App. 2008), and the whole concept of innovator liability (imposing liability on the original innovator drug manufacturer for injuries allegedly caused by a generic drug equivalent).  As amicus for PLAC, Bexis tried to strangle Conte in its cradle, as discussed here, but failed, as the California Supreme Court denied review.

Good news. Others have succeeded where Bexis failed.  The California Supreme Court has just granted an appeal in T.H. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 199 Cal. Rptr.3d 768 (Cal. App. 2016), an even more extreme Conte follow-up that imposed innovator liability in perpetuity − for injuries occurring even after an innovator manufacturer had sold all rights and left the relevant market altogether.  For full discussion of T.H., see our post here.  The order, entered yesterday, states:

The applications to appear as counsel pro hac vice are granted. The petition for review is granted.  The issue to be briefed and argued is limited to the following:  May the brand name manufacturer of a pharmaceutical drug that divested all ownership interest in the drug be held liable for injuries caused years later by another manufacturer’s generic version of that drug?

It appears online here.  Fingers crossed folks, but this is the necessary first step towards eliminating Conte.

This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.

It’s been a bit of a slow news week in the drug and device litigation world. We are coming off a short work week and like the rest of us, judges may be looking to enjoy a few extra hours outdoors during these late spring days. We don’t blame them. While we prefer bringing you hot of the presses news or interesting new takes on old standards, sometimes all we have to report is that good law continues to be good law.

That’s today’s case – another blow to innovator liability. As you’ll see from our innovator liability scorecardRafferty v. Merck & Co., 2016 Mass. Super. Lexis 48 (Mass. Super. May 23, 2016) isn’t the first time a Massachusetts court has rejected this concept. But now that it has done so twice, we hope Massachusetts can be added to the list of states where innovator liability is now dead (we won’t say “and buried” since there is no state supreme court ruling yet). The case contains a thoughtful analysis of the issue and is certainly worthy of including if you are briefing this topic.

Plaintiff ingested finasteride, the generic version of Merck’s Proscar. After experiencing complications, plaintiff brought suit against his prescribing physician and Merck. Id. at 1. Plaintiff alleges that even though he didn’t ingest Merck’s product, as the brand manufacturer, Merck “had a duty to maintain the accuracy of the labels for those individuals who would rely on those labels,” including individuals who would ingest generic product. Id. at *8.

The court starts its analysis with the framework for how a generic drug gets FDA approval and following approval how the labeling requirements for brand and generic manufacturers differ. Id. at *3-6. This regulatory framework serves as the cornerstone for the Supreme Court’s Mensing and Bartlett decisions which largely insulate generic drug manufacturers from product liability lawsuits. The Rafferty court, like most others to have considered the issue, recognized the “unfortunate” result of barring generic users from recovery but also like most other courts, it was unwilling to bend or expand existing law to extend product liability to a company that did not manufacture the product at issue.

Continue Reading Another Rejection of Innovator Liability

We have closely followed the development (or perhaps more accurately, stagnation) of so-called “innovator liability.” It started with the wrongly reasoned and wrongly decided opinion from the California Court of Appeal in Conte v. Wyeth, 168 Cal. App. 4th 89 (2008), where the court held that an innovator drug company could be liable for injuries allegedly caused by generic products it did not make and did not sell. We rolled our collective eyes at this unmooring of tort law, where lines of cases dating back to cars with wooden wheels placed responsibility with parties who made and sold the allegedly offending product.

In the eight years since Conte, courts throughout the country in more than 100 different cases have roundly rejected innovator liability, with only a few exceptions. You can view our innovator liability scorecard here, and you can click on the “Conte” link on the side of the page to see all of our commentary on the subject. There is a lot of it. Our 50-state survey of innovator liability is here, which is as good a place to start as any. The upshot is that innovator liability should become another Sindell v. Abbott Labs, which introduced market share liability in 1980, only to become nothing more than a curious historical footnote in product liability law.

We revisit the issue now because the California Court of Appeal has gone off the rails again. In T.H. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., No. D067839, 2016 Cal. App. LEXIS 179 (Cal Ct. App. Mar. 9, 2016), the court held that a listed drug manufacturer can be liable for injuries alleged caused by a generic version of the drug terbutaline sulfate, even though the listed manufacturer divested itself of the product six years before the plaintiff even used it. At least in Conte the plaintiff alleged that Wyeth still held the NDA. Here, the listed manufacturer had been completely out of the terbutaline business for several years.

Continue Reading Another Outlier From California On Innovator Liability