Multidistrict Litigation

 

We have offered our view that cases seeking to impose liability based on well-known risks found with an entire class of prescription medications tend to be weak.  We think design defect claims usually are clearly preempted in this context and warnings claims will often be preempted too, even with Levine’s high “clear evidence” hurdle.  Cases about thrombotic risks with hormonal contraceptives have featured prominently in such posts, like this opus, precisely because design is not the issue and FDA has long been intimately involved with labeling of these products.

Another obvious fertile ground for preemption has been with gastrointestinal bleeding with anticoagulants, something of the therapeutic flip side to the risk of thrombosis.  First, it is a well-known issue.  Our quick PubMed searches easily got us to articles about this from the 1950s.  Second, this risk has been described in drug labels for a long time.  We easily found this as the first warning in prescription labels as early as 1998, although we suspect they had been around for a few decades by that point.  Third, this risk has been seen with every anticoagulant since there have been anticoagulants.  We have no doubt that any anticoagulant drug coming to market gets a thorough review of its bleeding risk and its labeling about that risk by FDA.  This surely includes attention to any differences in the labeling of the different anticoagulants and whether any post-approval studies or adverse events merit changes.  These facts should make it hard to articulate, let alone prove, a design defect claim that gets by Bartlett or a warning claim that gets by Levine, unless Buckman gets ignored.

We say “should,” but, in all fairness, it certainly depends on where the case is and who is deciding it.  Even in the nascent era of drug and device product liability litigation where cases should pretty much be in federal court unless they are in state court in the defendant’s true home state, the court can be all but determinative of the decisions on litigation-altering issues.  The selection of court can, in turn, depend on the selection of the MDL’s home in litigations where the lawyer advertising drums up enough cases to get the JPML’s attention.  We were going to contrast cases decided by different MDL courts overseeing product liability litigation over the bleeding risk of relatively new prescription anticoagulants.  Instead, we will be discussing one decision addressing allegations we think are pretty typical of what is getting offered up elsewhere and our dear readers can draw their own conclusions.

Fortner v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., No. 17cv1562 (DLC), MDL No. 2754, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117030 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2017), comes out of the Eliquis MDL.  Based on the JPML’s statistics, when decided, there were 23 pending cases out of a total of 69 ever-filed cases in this relatively young MDL.  The drug was approved in 2012 with extensive warnings about the risk of bleeding.  Plaintiffs in the MDL offered various allegations about how the drug was defectively designed because it had a clotting risk, was not accompanied by a drug-specific clotting test, was not accompanied by an “antidote,” and was to be taken twice a day.  These same criticisms were offered as warnings claims, but there were no allegations that the manufacturer had received post-approval safety information triggering some alleged duty to try to change any aspect of the label through the CBE process.  The manufacturers challenged whether these allegations stated any state law claim that was not preempted and, before there was even an MDL established, dismissed a number of cases without prejudice in Utts I, which we discussed here.  After the MDL was established, the plaintiffs got another shot with amended complaints and still came up short in Utts II, this time with prejudice.  The court, in an exercise of magnanimity, invited the remaining plaintiffs to see if they could come up with complaints that stated a non-preempted claim.  That is how we get to Fortner, who alleged a variety of claims under Tennessee law based on the same allegations about the drug, manufacturers, and FDA that most of the remaining plaintiffs apparently offered.

As is often the case with pleading around statutes of limitation—complaints with dates for everything but when plaintiff’s alleged injury occurred—it looks like the fourth attempt at a complaint was modified to be vague, repeating allegations “in less detail and without identifying or appending the specific studies from which these allegations are drawn.” Id. at *7.  The Fortner court saw through this “pleading tactic” of “masking the basis for her claim”:  The complaint’s “claims do not become more plausible simply because the plaintiff has omitted from the FAC the sources upon which her conclusory factual allegations are based.” Id. at **7-8.  Well stated and clearly correct, but many courts let uncertainty work to the plaintiff’s advantage in this posture, despite TwIqbal’s requirement of factual allegations that plausibly state a claim.

The critical aspect of Fortner’s approach is that the court required the plaintiff to plead a warning claim based on “sufficient factual content to support a plausible inference that there exists newly acquired information such that the defendants could unilaterally have changed the Eliquis label to include additional warnings.” Id. at *8.  This, in turn, flowed from the court’s prior decisions holding that “post-approval failure to warn claims are preempted unless the plaintiff can plausibly allege that there existed ‘newly acquired information’ such that, pursuant to the Changes Being Effected (‘CBE’) regulation, the defendants could independently have updated the Eliquis label to include such warnings.” Id. at *5.  There is no such thing as a pre-approval warning claim—absent an allegation that the launch label resulted from fraud-on-the-FDA that side-stepped Buckman—so this is a pretty good statement of what a non-preempted prescription drug warnings claim should allege.

By contrast, under the court’s prior analysis, there is no such thing as a non-preempted post-approval design defect claim because “FDA regulations prohibit a change of the type implicated by the claim.” Id. Here, the first urged defect was twice daily dosing—which is a design issue if the plaintiff alleges the product should have been designed to deliver the effective dose by taking it once a day, for instance, and something that clearly cannot be changed without a new NDA.  The other urged defects are things we see as more labeling than design issues—lack of a drug-specific clotting test or an “antidote” to the drug that could be recommended or sold with the drug.  Even if such a test or antidote existed, it could not be sold with the drug based on anything the manufacturer could have done independent of FDA action.  In reaffirming its prior decision on the preemption of pre-approval design defect claims, the Fortner court noted that Yates was the only appellate court to address the issue and no binding authority disagrees with its analysis.

Based on a trio of preemption rulings at the pleading stage, it looks like the Eliquis MDL will be short lived.  That is not always the case with MDL proceedings based on dubious claims, where the burden of one-sided discovery and the weight of the docket tend to dictate the result more than anything approaching the merits.  In terms of issues that seem as obvious to us as preemption of pre-market prescription drug design defect—we note that “duh” and “no duh” mean the same thing, like “regardless” and “irregardless” or “flammable” and “inflammable”—it will help to have more appellate courts follow Yates.

 

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

There is always a level of uncertainty when a case gets remanded from an MDL. New judge; new interpretations of prior rulings; new rulings. It can be the cause of much anxiety on both sides. And the biggest question is – what’s left to be done? That might seem simple. The case was remanded for trial. But cases rarely go back completely trial ready. Legal issues that turn more on state law are often left to the remand court to decide, as are case specific evidentiary decisions. There are also often questions as to whether a particular issue was raised in the MDL or not. If so, what was the ruling? If not, was it waived? So, there is definitely wiggle room for remand judges to imprint their reasoning and conclusions on a case. And where you’ve made progress in the MDL, you certainly don’t want to lose momentum post-remand.

Which was likely the thinking of defendants in Walker v. Ethicon, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112738 (ND IL Jun. 22, 2017) when faced with expert reports that went beyond the scope of what was deemed permissible by the MDL court in the mesh litigation. In this case, plaintiff served an expert report from Dr. Shull, a gynecologic surgeon. Dr. Shull had previously been challenged by defendants in the MDL but certain issues were reserved for the remand court. Certain issues had also been ruled on by the MDL court in the context of other cases and other experts – in defendants’ favor. Defendant here asked the court to apply those rulings. Generally speaking the remand court found plaintiff offered no justification not to.

First up was the expert’s opinion that different surgical procedures – ones not involving the use of the product — were safer alternatives to the defendant’s mesh product. Id. at *5. In addition to the vast body of case law holding that non-use is not an “alternative design” for the product, the mesh MDL court had so held in another case. Id. The remand court agreed. The remand court also considered the impact of Illinois state law because Illinois does not require plaintiff to prove the existence of a safer alternative design, but such evidence may be relevant. Id. at *7. Plaintiff tried to argue that because a product could be found unreasonably dangerous without evidence of a safer alternative design, it follows that a product could be found unreasonably dangerous with evidence of a safer alternative regardless of whether that was a different design or a different surgical procedure. Id. But that disregards that what is relevant but not required under Illinois law is evidence of a safer alternative design. Plaintiffs offered no support for interpreting “safer alternative design” in Illinois any differently than any other state. Nor did they explain how the alternative procedure was relevant to any element of any of plaintiff’s claims. Without relevance, the testimony was excluded. Id. at *8.

Next were the doctor’s opinion on the duties of medical device manufacturers – testing, pharmacovigilance, and training. The court excluded them all. Defendants challenged the opinion on adequacy of research and testing of the product on both the relevance and the doctor’s qualifications and competence. This is one of the topics on which the MDL court provided guidance but ultimately left the decision to the remand court. On relevance, the MDL court found it doubtful, but was willing to leave the call to the trial court based on nuances in state law. Id. at *10. Pertinent to defendants’ motion, the MDL court had also ruled that an expert “may not offer testimony that is solely a conduit for corporate information.” Id. On the qualification challenges, the MDL court did not exclude an expert on those grounds if the request for exclusion did not provide “specific content or context.” Id. at *11.

Applying those rulings to the specific case, the remand court found that defendants had properly challenged Dr. Shull’s qualifications with enough specificity and so that challenge was not denied, but reserved for the remand court. Id. So, on qualifications, Dr. Shull “is not qualified to testify regarding the standard of care for medical device testing.” Id. at *13. Plaintiffs, however, argued that they were only offering testimony from Dr. Shull regarding what testing defendants did or did not do – the extent of the testing rather than its adequacy. Id. at *12. The court took that as a concession, but went on to exclude that testimony as well. That is information found in company documents – don’t need the expert for that. Id.

Plaintiffs also wanted Dr. Shull to testify about how the defendants monitored adverse events. They claimed he was not offering an opinion as to what systems defendants should have been using just that what they were doing was “woefully inadequate.” The court found this was a “distinction without a difference.” Id. at *14-15. Dr. Shull’s experience as a surgeon does not give him the expertise to testify on the standard of care for adverse event reporting. Id. at *15. And, again if he planned to talk generally about adverse events, that’s company documents and not an area for expert testimony.

Finally, Dr. Shull’s report included an opinion on whether defendants appropriately trained physicians. On this point, the MDL court had already ruled that Dr. Shull could not testify about what should or should not be included in the Instructions for Use for the product – and that covers training of physicians. Dr. Shull could testify to the risks of the product and whether such risks were included in the product materials. Id. at *16. That’s it.

We’re not sure what remains in Dr. Shull’s report, but we certainly agree that the above portions were appropriately trimmed away.

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

The plaintiff thought she had a strong summary judgment opposition. She included the deposition testimony of her prescribing doctor, who suggested that Boston Scientific’s warnings for the pelvic mesh device were inadequate. And she included her own affidavit, in which she said that she wouldn’t have agreed to let her doctor implant that device in her if she’d known that it could cause the negative life changing conditions that she allegedly later suffered. Plaintiff thought her opposition was enough to save her failure to warn claim. It wasn’t. The MDL court granted partial summary judgment. It turned out that Plaintiff’s opposition papers contained a big gap—no evidence of proximate causation. Plaintiff offered no evidence that her doctor read Boston Scientific’s Directions for Use (“DFU”). And, if her prescribing doctor didn’t read the DFU, changing it to include the allegedly proper warning wouldn’t have changed anything, particularly her doctor’s decision to prescribe.

That wasn’t the end for plaintiff, though. She had other claims that survived and that she could take to trial. That trial, however, would happen before a different court.  After its summary judgment decision and completing other pretrial matters, the MDL court transferred the case back to the original transferor court for trial.

Plaintiff saw this as an opportunity. She moved the new court to reconsider the MDL court’s summary judgment decision. Her basis was that, in fact, her prescribing doctor had read the DFU. The plaintiff had simply failed to present that portion of his deposition testimony to the MDL court. On that basis, she asked the new trial court to change the MDL court’s decision and deny summary judgment against the failure to warn claim.

No luck. She lost her reconsideration motion.

So, with no failure to warn claim, Plaintiff went to trial.

She lost there too.

Undaunted and still fighting to revive her failure to warn claim, plaintiff appealed to the Fourth Circuit. She challenged both the MDL court’s original summary judgment decision and the trial court’s denial of her motion to reconsider that decision.

And she lost again.

All of this is described in the Fourth Circuit’s recent opinion. Carlton v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2017 WL 1854278 (4th Cir. May 9, 2017). The Fourth Circuit saw plaintiff’s problems as both substantive and procedural. Substantively, a failure to warn claim cannot survive without evidence that the doctor would have read the warning. Id. at *3. Procedurally, it’s not the court’s job to find the evidence that supports proximate causation. It’s the parties’ job to present that evidence to the court: “The responsibility to comb through the record in search of facts relevant to summary judgment falls on the parties—not the court. We therefore affirm the MDL court’s partial summary judgment award.” Id.

Her procedural failings were particularly problematic on her challenge to the trial’s court’s denial of reconsideration. This wasn’t new evidence on which she was relying. It was evidence that had indisputably been available at the time the MDL court decided the summary judgment motion:

At oral argument, Appellant’s counsel asserted that in light of this late revelation, the MDL court’s summary judgment award constituted clear error causing manifest injustice. Not so. We have consistently affirmed denials of motions to reconsider summary judgment rulings where the motion is merely a vessel for the very evidence that was initially lacking in opposition to summary judgment. Significantly, the entirety of Dr. Kennelly’s deposition testimony was available well before summary judgment briefing, and the additional portions of testimony Appellant provided to the district court for “reconsideration” thus did not amount to the type of evidence constituting grounds for a valid motion for reconsideration. We therefore affirm the district court’s denial of Appellant’s motion for reconsideration.

Id. at *4.

While not for lack of fighting on plaintiff’s part, we suspect that this one is now finally over.

We have blogged before about the Mirena IUD litigation. Cases alleging injuries from device migration and uterine perforation were centralized in an MDL in the Southern District of New York, but, as we reported here, summary judgment was granted for the defendants in all of those cases when Daubert motions disposed of the plaintiffs’ causation experts.  There is another group of Mirena plaintiffs, this time alleging that Mirena caused them to develop idiopathic intracranial hypertension (“IIH”), a serious brain disorder marked by increased pressure in the brain and central nervous system.

Exactly one published study has ever linked Mirena to IIH. The lead author was Mahyar Etminan, Pharm. D. – much more about him in a minute.  You can read the Etminan article here. The Etminan article reported the results of two analyses:  an epidemiological study and an analysis of adverse events reported in the FAERs database.  The epidemiological study – that is to say, the unbiased statistics – did not demonstrate an increased risk of IIH associated with Mirena use when compared to combined oral contraceptives.  But the article reported that the FAERs analysis demonstrated a higher-than-expected proportion of IIH reports with Mirena as compared to all other products in the FAERS database.  (We’ve devoted an entire post (and cheat sheet) to why adverse event reporting doesn’t, and can’t, demonstrate causation.)

The Etminan article was published in 2015 and included a standard “no conflict of interest” statement. In the ensuing months, Mirena IIH plaintiffs in a half-dozen district courts disclosed their experts.  Among them was none other than Mahyar Etminan, who, it turns out, had been on plaintiffs’ payroll all along in a blatant conflict of interest not disclosed in his article.  Etminan, along with three other causation experts, cherry-picked the results of the FAERs analysis to allege a causal relationship between Mirena and IIH but never dealt with the conflicting epidemiological data from the same article.

And it gets even better.   In December 2016, Etminan executed an affidavit, which you can see here.  In it, Etminan explained that the methodology of the FAERs analysis was flawed and did not support its conclusion.  Specifically, in comparing the proportion of IIH reports among Mirena users with the proportion among non-users in his FAERs analysis, Etminan failed to limit the comparator groups to women of reproductive age.  Because women of reproductive age have a higher background incidence of IIH than other age groups, failing to limit the comparator groups to these women introduced a bias against the Mirena group.  When the analysis was re-done with the correct comparator groups, the affidavit explains, the results did not support a claim that Mirena increases the risk of IIH.

And so Etminan, the source of the only published study claiming that Mirena causes IIH, publicly renounced his published conclusions. (Earlier, when the flaws in the FAERs analysis came to light, Etminan withdrew from the seven cases in which he’d been named as an expert.)  We don’t know that we have ever seen anything like this in all of our days litigating mass torts.  And we love watching the collapse of a house of cards erected on a foundation of paid (and undisclosed) advocacy.

But the story isn’t over yet. None of plaintiffs’ other causation experts – all of whom also relied on Etminan’s published FAERs analysis – has yet withdrawn.  And, just days ago, IIH cases were centralized in an MDL in the Southern District of New York.  (Plaintiffs had sought such an MDL in 2014, but the JPML rejected that request.)  Regular blog readers are familiar with our views of many MDL plaintiffs and their lawyers, spawned during countless hours fighting hordes of meritless claims that MDL judges allow to remain pending.  By rights, with no evidence of causation, plaintiffs should be out of court.  And, certainly, some threshold determination of merit should precede the formation of an MDL.  But mass torts exist for the masses, who queue up for settlement handouts that don’t depend on meritorious claims.  Can the new IIH MDL proceed very far down the litigation path when the plaintiffs’ causation claim has been debunked by its primary supporter?  Back in November, we learned never to say never.  So stay tuned.

Regular readers of this blog know that we have a pretty jaded view of many MDLs. Obviously consolidation makes sense, at least on paper, in terms of efficiency and the best use of scarce court resources.  But, in practice, many MDLs promote a litigation “mob mentality,” in which the merits of individual cases are not important at the outset and, in the world of “settlement inventories” and “mass settlements,” may never draw the scrutiny of the judge or anyone else.   Though we continue to hope that “Lone Pine” orders will burgeon and raise the standards for plaintiffs seeking to fly under the radar and await settlement, many MDLs remain “safe havens” for plaintiffs who can’t satisfy the burden of proving their claims.

And a recent decision from the hip implant MDL does nothing to disturb this reality. In that MDL, a longstanding “Explant Preservation Order” requires preservation of hip implant devices removed from plaintiffs during explant surgeries.  The order requires plaintiffs to “make good faith efforts to ensure that [medical facilities] preserve” explanted devices and provides options for plaintiffs’ counsel to claim devices within 60 days of explant or, in the alternative, for the devices to be sent to the defendants.  It  requires all parties to handle explanted devices in accordance with a written protocol or consistent  with “methods and practices accepted by those in the field of inspection and testing of orthopedic devices,” to notify each other of devices in their possession before the date of the order, and to make devices available to each other after inspection and testing.   All of this, obviously, ensures that the critical evidence in this product liability MDL is preserved and handled in a fair and consistent manner.

In Marquis v. Biomet, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28465 (N.D. Ind.  Mar. 1, 2017), the defendants moved for summary judgment against six plaintiffs.  Five of these plaintiffs had had their devices explanted before they filed suit, or after they filed suit but before their cases were transferred into the MDL, and did not know what happened to their devices after they were explanted.  The sixth plaintiff had several revision surgeries.  During the first, the femoral head of her hip implant was replaced, and she asked for the explanted femoral head.   She explained, “I figured I paid for it.  I wanted it.”  She kept the femoral head in her closet, didn’t disclose on her fact sheet that she had kept it, and didn’t tell anyone she had it until her deposition.  The devices explanted during her subsequent surgeries were not preserved.

Continue Reading Hip Implant MDL Denies Summary Judgment on Claims of Plaintiffs Who Failed to Preserve Explanted Devices

A multidistrict litigation (MDL) can be a sound way of managing a mass tort.  Efficiencies are available (e.g., deposing company witnesses only once) and the U. of Chicago part of us dreams of economies of scale.  Then again, an MDL can be vexing, as plaintiff lawyers park their weak cases in the MDL and find ways to push their relatively few strong cases up front.  Think of the MDL as a vast kennel, with all of the associated dangers and bad smells.  Then again, an MDL can be an out-and-out disaster, as the old If-you-build-it-they-will-come model oft-described by blogger emeritus Mark Herrmann takes hold.  The very existence of the MDL itself makes the mass tort massive.  The MDL becomes a magnet for the meritless.  Plaintiff lawyers resist any discovery of individual cases – there are too many! – and insist on dedicating the MDL to endless discovery of company conduct, as that is common to all cases and, viewed through the MDL lens, is always proportional, no matter how intrusive or expensive.  (At least that is the plaintiff argument.  But now some courts have finally grown weary of MDLs becoming festivals of discovery about discovery, and decided that proportionality applies even when the MDL case inventory has reached four or five digits.  See here, for example.)

We have gone through this evolution of thought in the course of a single MDL, watching good intentions morph into an extortion racket.  We have also seen courts gradually catch on to what has gone wrong with the MDL system.  Is this an instance of phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny? Legislation has been revived in Congress that aims to cabin the insanity of MDLs and class actions. And, mirabile dictu, some MDL judges have started to rein in asymmetrical discovery and have even demanded that plaintiff lawyers furnish evidence of such niceties as usage of the product and medical causation.  We’re not saying let’s make MDLs great again, but can we at least make them less miserable?  Or maybe just make them less.  Perhaps we don’t need an MDL every time there’s an alarming study or an uptick in adverse events.

Continue Reading JPML Refuses MDL for Proton Pump Inhibitor Kidney Injury Cases

Regular blog readers may recall that, every year, we eagerly await a Monday and Tuesday right around February 14th.  This has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day (though we like a dozen roses and a box of chocolates as much as the next person.)  No, at this time every year (for the past eighteen or so) we cross our fingers that there is no blizzard, beg everyone in our work life to cover any emergencies, and head to New York for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  This year was the 141st annual show, and, as always, it was a mecca for all things dog.  As we ate breakfast in our hotel, we were visited by Mobius, a red Doberman so tall he had to lean down to attempt to taste our complimentary make-it-ourselves waffle.  To board the shuttle from the Hotel Pennsylvania (worthy of its own post) to Piers 92 and 94 for the daytime breed judging, we had to step over “Sky,” a 140-pound Greater Swiss Mountain Dog sprawled in the aisle of the bus, calmly oblivious to accidental bumps and kicks and happily kissing anyone who asked.  We live for this stuff, even if our chosen favorite almost never wins.

For the atmosphere is rarified. A few years ago, the show stopped being “champions only” and admitted “class dogs” – dogs still working their way through point-earning breed classes to achieve their championships – for the first time.  But, save for the infrequent upset, the group competition (the televised portion, in which the single winner of each breed competes against the winners from the other breeds in its “group” – sporting, herding, toy, etc.) is dominated by the very top-winning show dogs in the country.  Last year, we fell in love with a gorgeous German Shepherd Dog named Rumor.  She was a heavy favorite to win it all (“Best in Show”), but was upset by C.J. the German Shorthaired Pointer and settled for Reserve Best – second place.  And she retired, to raise beautiful puppies and live the life of a cherished house pet.

But, alas, said puppies did not get made on the first attempt. And, come January, Rumor’s owner/handler decided to give her one more shot at the big one.  So she “came back out,” showed at ten shows in January, and took one more run at the Garden.  And, this time, after upsetting the favorite, Preston the Puli, to take the Herding Group, she won it all.  It was very, very cool to witness.  And we already can’t wait ‘til next year.

And there was a blog-worthy lesson to be gleaned from it all (at least if you stretch a little): if you haven’t achieved everything you want, think about taking another shot.  And H.R. 985, a bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee this week, would pick up where CAFA left off (and then some) to correct still-rampant abuse of the system by class action and MDL plaintiff lawyers, to the detriment of our clients, the judicial system as a whole, and all too often, to the plaintiffs the lawyers ostensibly represent.

Under “Purposes,” the bill states: “The purposes of this act are to – (1) assure fair and prompt recoveries for class members and multidistrict litigation plaintiffs with legitimate claims; (2) diminish abuses in class action and mass tort litigation that are undermining the integrity of the U.S. legal system; and (3) restore the intent of the framers of the United States Constitution by ensuring Federal court consideration of interstate controversies of national importance consistent with diversity jurisdiction principles.”  Worthy goals all, if a trifle ambitious. The bill’s key points read like a set of nesting boxes – just when you think you’ve opened the last, there is another present inside.  Here are some highlights:

Class Actions

  • Injury allegations: this provision requires a court to deny certification unless “the party seeking to maintain such a class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative.” This is ascertainability something for which we’ve advocated, and also something that our side tried unsuccessfully to get fixed through the Federal Rules Committee. Thus, the judiciary had its chance to fix this. Nothing happened, so now Congress is poised to step in. About time.
  • Conflicts of interest: this provision requires class counsel to state, in the body of the complaint, “whether any proposed class representative or named plaintiff in the complaint is a relative of, is a present or former employee of, is a present or former client of (other than with respect to the class action) or has any contractual relationship with . . . class counsel” and shall “describe the circumstances under which each class representative or named plaintiff agreed to be included in the complaint and shall identify any other class action in which any proposed class representative or named plaintiff has a similar role.”
  • Attorneys’ fees: “[N]o attorneys’ fees may be . . . paid . . . until the distribution of any monetary recovery to class members has been completed,” and “[u]nless otherwise specified by Federal statute, . . . the portion of any attorneys’ fee award to class counsel . . . shall be limited to a reasonable percentage of any payments directly distributed to and received by class members [and in] no event shall the attorneys’ fee award exceed the total amount of money distributed to and received by all class members.” We particularly like this because it would effectively put an end to cy pres, against which we’ve railed for years. By limiting the denominator for fee awards to “payments directly distributed to and received by class members” it prevents cy pres sums from being used to inflate fee awards.

There are other provisions, requiring stringent accounting provisions for settlement funds forbidding certification of issue classes unless all relevant Rule 23 prerequisites are satisfied (another thing our side tried first to fix through a change to Rule 23), and most significantly providing for severance of misjoined plaintiffs for purposes of jurisdictional determinations. This legislative elimination of fraudulent misjoinder is a key point, since it addresses the multi-plaintiff complaints we love to hate.

We note that since the “effective date” of this act provides for its application to all “pending” civil actions, cases currently in state court can be removed (or removed again) under the provision negating misjoinder as a means of preventing diversity-based removal to federal court.

Finally, in an issue close to our hearts as we daily encounter plaintiffs unwittingly victimized by so-called “litigation funders,” the bill provides, “In any class action, class counsel shall promptly disclose in writing to the court and all other parties the identity of any person or entity, other than a class member or class counsel of record, who has a contingent right to receive compensation from any settlement, judgment, or other relief obtained in the action.” A sunshine law for third-party funding is something else for which we’ve advocated.

Multidistrict Litigation:

  • Proof of exposure and injury: We were thrilled to see a “Lone Pine”-esque provision build into the MDL portion of the bill. It provides, in pertinent part, “In any coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings . . . , counsel for a plaintiff asserting a claim seeking redress for personal injury [in the MDL] shall make a submission sufficient to demonstrate that there is evidentiary support (including but not limited to medical records) for the factual contentions in the plaintiff’s complaint regarding the alleged injury, the exposure to the risk that allegedly caused the injury, and the alleged cause of the injury . . . within 45 days after the civil action is transferred to or directly filed in the proceedings. That deadline shall not be extended. Within 30 days after the submission deadline, the judge . . . shall [determine] whether the submission is sufficient and shall dismiss the action without prejudice if the submission is found to be insufficient.” Thirty days later, in the continued absence of a satisfactory submission, the action is to be dismissed with prejudice. Not long ago, we advocated for amending the MDL statute to require early factual disclosure, with dismissal as the sanction for not disclosing enough to satisfy Rule 8. This is the functional equivalent.
  • Trial Prohibition (“waiving Lexecon”): MDL judges “may not conduct any trial in any civil action transferred to or directly filed in the proceedings unless all parties to the civil action consent to trail of the specific case sought to be tried.” This provision would remove the threat of MDL trials as a tool to force defendants to settle. It is something else for which we have advocated.
  • Ensuring Proper Recovery for Plaintiffs: MDL plaintiffs “shall receive not less than 80 percent of any monetary recovery obtained in that action by settlement, judgment or otherwise.”

While most of the press coverage seems to focus on class actions, to us the removal and MDL provisions are at least as important. The vast bulk of our professional life is spent in the mass tort space – mostly MDLs these days, with the occasional class action thrown in. We have become accustomed (but never inured) to plaintiffs without injuries herded by counsel who are their friends or bosses into mass actions in which they don’t belong. On the other end of the spectrum, we encounter severely injured plaintiffs who will recover next to nothing because lawyers and litigation funders own most or all of the plaintiffs’ stakes in the inevitable settlements. And, at every turn, we sit across the table from tanned and affluent plaintiff attorneys who are the only ones apparently immune to the vagaries of the system and who are the sole beneficiaries of its inequities. H.R. 985, as drafted, attempts to address many of these issues. We do have questions. Who defines “the same type and scope of injury,” for example? And we have doubts: can a bill possibly survive the powerful plaintiff attorney lobby when it attempts to resurrect the integrity of mass litigation by hitting those attorneys squarely in their pocketbooks? But we heartily and excitedly support this bill, and we know that some of its provisions are way, way better than none. We will keep you posted.

Is the lesson learned by at least one plaintiff’s counsel in the In re Yasmin & Yaz Mktg. Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig. We already know mass tort MDLs are a breeding ground for lax plaintiff-side representation. A handful of plaintiffs’ attorneys lead the charge, while the rest file their cases, and then lie in the weeds waiting for settlement. And in a system designed not to pay much attention to the individual cases, at least until the litigation is significantly advanced, missing due dates in an individual case also doesn’t garner much attention. That is until it does.

Today’s case isn’t about preemption, or expert opinions, or off-label use, or even about pleadings standards. What it is about is an individual plaintiff’s counsel being held accountable for not paying attention to MDL orders and for simply doing nothing. We’re just going to tell this one like it is, because we couldn’t even make up facts this absurd.

The individual case is Dzik v. Bayer Corp., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 684 (7th Cir. Jan. 13, 2017). Plaintiff filed her suit alleging that she suffered a blood clot from her use of Yasmin, a birth control pill. Id. at *2. Discovery, however, revealed that plaintiff had not filled a Yasmin prescription for 10 months before her alleged injury. Plaintiff’s counsel suggested that plaintiff had been given samples shortly before her injury. In May 2014, defense counsel requested plaintiff produced additional medical records or even an affidavit from the prescribing doctor to substantiate use at the time of injury. Id. That requested was ignored for 15 months.

During those many months, defendant began settling the pending cases. As for non-settling plaintiffs the court entered an order (sometime in the summer of 2015) splitting them into two groups – those likely to settle and those likely not to. Pursuant to the order, if a plaintiff thought her case was likely to settle with a little more negotiation, plaintiff should so notify defendant and if defendant agreed, the case was stayed for 60-90 days to facilitate settlement. Id. at *3. For all other cases, defendant had to notify plaintiff that her case was in the non-settling group and if plaintiff didn’t timely object to that classification, plaintiff had 120 days to serve a Plaintiff Fact Sheet and certain pharmacy and medical records, and a report from an expert on causation. Id. If a plaintiff failed to comply, defendant could move for dismissal and dismissal with prejudice was automatic for any plaintiff who did not respond to the motion to dismiss within 14 days.

Continue Reading You Can Hide But You Can’t Run

It’s hard to believe that, with over half of all cases pending in the federal courts now docketed in multi-district litigations (“MDLs”), the statutory basis for all this litigation is but one section of the United States Code:

(a) When civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts, such actions may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. Such transfers shall be made by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation authorized by this section upon its determination that transfers for such proceedings will be for the convenience of parties and witnesses and will promote the just and efficient conduct of such actions.  Each action so transferred shall be remanded by the panel at or before the conclusion of such pretrial proceedings to the district from which it was transferred unless it shall have been previously terminated:  Provided, however, That the panel may separate any claim, cross-claim, counter-claim, or third-party claim and remand any of such claims before the remainder of the action is remanded.

(b) Such coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings shall be conducted by a judge or judges to whom such actions are assigned by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation. For this purpose, upon request of the panel, a circuit judge or a district judge may be designated and assigned temporarily for service in the transferee district  . . .  The judge or judges to whom such actions are assigned, the members of the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation, and other circuit and district judges designated when needed by the panel may exercise the powers of a district judge in any district for the purpose of conducting pretrial depositions in such coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.

(c) Proceedings for the transfer of an action under this section may be initiated by −

(i) the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation upon its own initiative, or

(ii) motion filed with the panel by a party in any action in which transfer for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings under this section may be appropriate. A copy of such motion shall be filed in the district court in which the moving party’s action is pending.

[Procedures for the JPML deliberations on creating MDLs, notice, and filing of transfer orders]

(d) [Composition of JPML]

(e) [Restrictions on appealability of JPML orders]

(f) The panel may prescribe rules for the conduct of its business not inconsistent with Acts of Congress and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

(g) [Peculiar to antitrust]

(h) [Peculiar to antitrust]

28 U.S.C.A. §1407.

That’s it. There are as many subsections of the MDL statute (2) peculiar to antitrust as there are governing the substance of what MDLs are intended to accomplish.

Continue Reading The Multi-District Litigation Statute Needs Rewriting

Last week, along with many of you, we attended the ACI Drug and Medical Device Conference in New York City. The quality of the presentations was uniformly high, and the collegiality and camaraderie were welcome, refreshing, and a lot of fun.  There was plenty to drink.  There was lots of food.  Oh, and we got to see Hamilton!  We should preface our comments by pointing out that we were skeptics – we knew how pricey (really, really pricey) tickets are, and we weren’t even positive we would enjoy this immensely innovative rap musical.  To wit, one of our best beloved musicals of recent years was the wonderful, if short-lived, revival of Finian’s Rainbow that played the Great White Way a couple of years ago.  We go for the traditional stuff, and had neither resources nor plans to spring for Hamilton.

But we got very lucky. A generous friend had bought four tickets a full year earlier in anticipation of the annual conference.  And there was a last-minute cancellation.  And we got to go.  And it was worth all of the hype (and all of the money, if you have it).   We enjoyed it so much that we came home and researched ticket availability to return with the Drug and Device Law Long-Suffering Companion.  Tickets are on sale for next year, and we thought that we could avoid the crazy street prices by planning way ahead.   Not so – even this far in advance, tickets (from official ticket sources, not ticket agencies) are way out of the reach of normal consumers.  Sometimes, the early bird does not get the worm (or the greatest financial benefit).

And, with just a bit of creativity, we can glean the same message (among others) from today’s case. Dobbs v. DePuy Orthopedics, — F.3d —, 2016 WL 7015648 (Seventh Cir. Dec. 1, 2016), is an appeal of an attorney’s fee decision from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  (We’ll explain how it got there in a minute.)  The plaintiff/appellant had direct-filed a product liability claim in the Hip Implant MDL in the Northern District of Ohio.  Believing that the promised compensation was too low, he opted out of the global settlement and fired his lawyers, who had advised him to accept the global settlement, which included a 35% attorneys’ fee.   (The global settlement provided one level of payment for unrepresented plaintiffs, and a second level, 35% higher, for represented plaintiffs.)

Less than two months after his lawyers withdrew their appearance, the plaintiff accepted the global settlement. Because he was considered “represented” for purposes of the settlement, he was paid the larger amount.  (Not clear why he was considered “represented” when his lawyers had been fired.)  His former lawyers asserted a lien on the award and sought to recover attorney’s fees.  The MDL judge tried unsuccessfully to mediate the fee dispute in the Northern District of Ohio then transferred the case to the Northern District of Illinois, where the case would have been filed if the MDL had not been pending.

Continue Reading Court of Appeals Applies Law of Would-Be Filing Court in Fee Dispute in Hip Implant Case Filed Directly Into MDL