We’ll get to today’s case in a moment, but first, a few words about SCOTUS and expiration dates.

 
One hundred and one years ago tomorrow saw the birth of Lewis Powell, who served as a United States Supreme Court Justice from 1972 to 1987.  Powell succeeded Hugo Black.  More interesting, considering current events, is that Powell was succeeded by Anthony Kennedy. Whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh succeeds Justice Kennedy is a matter of some some controversy.  One reason for that controversy is that Justice Kennedy was often a swing vote.  In a prior post, we recounted our one close encounter with Anthony Kennedy.  He impressed us a smart jurist who was determined to do the right thing.  Still, it must have seemed somewhat vexing to SCOTUS litigants that everything likely turned on the predilections of one Justice.  The other eight Justices often seemed predictable, almost a done deal.  But Justice Kennedy, at least on some issues, was the wild card.  We have no evidence that Justice Kennedy purposely positioned himself as the swing vote, or that he reveled in his inflated importance, but his importance as a swing vote was undeniable.
 
We have also seen no evidence that Justice Kennedy patterned himself after his predecessor, but it is remarkable how similar they were in locating themselves right at the center of the Court.  Justice Powell was often a swing vote.  If our affirmative action jurisprudence is a bit of a mess, some of the blame for that must go to Justice Powell, whose controlling opinion in the 4-1-4 landmark Bakke decision created a slippery standard that sprung from Powell’s idea of the perfect academic affirmative action program – the Harvard College admissions system.  Even back in 1978, it was pretty obvious that the Harvard system was not quite the holistic, individual-respecting scheme that Powell portrayed. (The legal defense of U.Cal Davis Medical School’s affirmative action program was entrusted to the great Archibald Cox.  During oral argument, Justice Blackmun asked whether the set-aside seats could be compared to athletic scholarships.  Cox replied, “Well, I’m from Harvard … “ – laughter intervened – “I don’t know whether that’s our aim, but we don’t do it very well.”)  Given the current lawsuit challenging Harvard admission policies, the Bakke compromise and its progeny seem even more fragile.  

The story of how Powell came to be appointed to the High Court was told in Bob Woodward’s book, The Brethren. (We hear Woodward has another book out.)  President Nixon was politically hobbled in 1972.  In trying to fill an earlier SCOTUS vacancy, Nixon had two of his selections rejected by the Senate.  Powell was an interesting choice.  He was from Virginia, which fit in with Nixon’s southern strategy.  But Powell would not fit into what we now consider the usual mold.  He had never been a judge. (Black had been a senator, not a judge.  Chief Justice Warren had also been a politician.  Douglas headed the SEC. It used to be acceptable for Justices not have to have a judicial track record.  Why the change?). Powell was a corporate lawyer. He represented the tobacco industry. He was a leader in the ABA.  He wrote a famous memo about how corporate America should deal with a hostile media.  There were plenty of reasons why Nixon would have liked Powell.  But there was one important reason why Powell would be acceptable to Senators who weren’t enamored with Nixon: Powell was 64 years old.  Woodward reported that a Senator waved a cigar and told Powell why he would be confirmed: “We think you’re going to die.”  (Powell himself was not all that fired up to join SCOTUS.  He had turned down an earlier offer.  He did not think he had the constitutional law chops of a Douglas, Black, or Brennan.  Plus, he was not eager for the huge pay cut.)

Recently John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show argued for eliminating life tenure for judges.   Oliver supported a proposal for staggered 18 year terms.  (Powell served 15 years on SCOTUS.)  Every four year presidential term would include an opportunity to appoint at least two SCOTUS justices.  The system would permit reasonable turnover.  It would avoid the dangers of a gerontocracy.  It might somewhat reduce the temperature of SCOTUS confirmation hearings, since there wouldn’t be a multigenerational impact at stake.  Such a change would require a constitutional amendment.  Spoiler alert: it won’t happen.  But while we’re just dreaming, we have another reason for cuddling up to this idea.  When presidents harbor the hope of appointing a Justice who will support certain policies/rules for thirty years, that means they will select relatively young people.  That elevate-them-when-they-are-young approach also offers the advantage of proffering someone with a limited paper record and a limited target area for skeptical senators. Thus, instead of a SCOTUS appointment being the capstone of a long, distinguished career, it is more and more conferred on jurists in mid-career.  As we slouch toward dotage, we less and less like the idea of such important jobs going to juveniles.  Frankly, we hate seeing presidents and Supreme Court Justices younger than ourselves.  It is an annoyance almost as painful as being forced by some website to enter our birth year in a drop down menu, and scrolling down and down.  And down. 
[Quick quiz: Which Supreme Court Justice served the longest term?  Answer below.]

Why are we pondering these issues at this moment?  Obviously, the ongoing Kavanaugh kerfuffle is top of mind.  We also find ourselves ruing life tenure when we read a judicial decision that seems gruesomely wrong-headed.

And now we get to today’s case.  
 
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In Sumpter v. Allergan Inc., 2018 WL 4335519 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 11, 2018), the plaintiff brought suit over ruptured silicone breast implants.  The implants were premarket approval (PMA) medical devices.  As the Sumpter court acknowledges, the Medical Device Amendments Act “preempts claims challenging the safety and effectiveness of … PMA devices.”  Federal law dislodges any state laws (including via jury verdicts) that are “different from, or in addition to, any requirement applicable under [federal law].”  In the face of this rather clear preemption, the plaintiff in Sumpter ditched her design defect and failure to warn claims.  All that was left was the claim for manufacturing defect.  And here begins the Sumpter court’s descent into sheer awfulness.  As a preliminary matter, the Sumpter court tells us that, “[g]enerally, manufacturing defect claims that allege the ‘manufacturer failed to adhere to the specifications imposed by a device’s PMA’ are not preempted at the pleading stage.”  That quote is from the 2009 Hofts decision out of the Southern District of Indiana.  More than once, this blog has derided Hofts for its mangling of Riegel and Twombly and Iqbal.  Hofts made our list of the ten worst decisions of 2009.  Most courts that have considered Hofts have rejected it.  But not the Sumpter court.  If anything, Sumpter manages to multiply Hoft’s errors.  First, the plaintiff, as is all too typical, never comes close to specifying what the manufacturing defect was.  Second, the Sumpter court’s standard for assessing what constitutes a manufacturing defect is altogether wrongheaded.  A manufacturing defect happens when the product is out of spec from its design,  Something about the particular product is different from a product that is manufactured correctly.  Maybe something is in there that shouldn’t be, or something is missing.  Ot a component was flawed.  But that is not the Sumpter court’s test.  No, the Sumpter court concludes that a claim for manufacturing defect will lie when plaintiffs say that the products differed from the “intended result.”  What does that mean?  Presumably, a case was brought because someone was injured.  That is never the “intended result.”  Does “intended result” end up requiring a perfection that exists nowhere in the law, on any assembly line, in any product portfolio, or, indeed, on our planet? Moreover, the mere existence of a malfunction cannot, by itself, give rise to an inference that the manufacturer violated the FDCA.  Where is there any basis to invoke the infernal Riegel “parallel violation”?  Through the Sumpter looking-glass, every product liability case contains a manufacturing defect claim destined for a jury.  
 
The closest the plaintiff came to articulating a semi-specific manufacturing defect claim was an allegation of “material fatigue.”  Was there any hint in the case that the materials in the implants at issue were in any way out of spec, or different from the norm?  Nope.  Rather, the plaintiff “extrapolated from the injuries” that “there must have been a manufacturing defect.”  Goodbye TwIqbal.  Goodbye whatever is the relevant state law on manufacturing defect.  Hello, new-fangled res ipsa loquitur theory, even though the Sumpter court never uses those magic Latin words.  Under the Sumpter court’s reasoning, once one claims injury from a product, there’s a manufacturing defect that is immune from a motion to dismiss.  (Unless, one supposes, one is in an outlier case where the product was intended to inflict injury.  And then, surely, there is another legal claim at hand.)  The Sumpter court has defectively manufactured a tort claim that, by all rights, should be dismissed based on well-established, clear SCOTUS precedent.
 
The only consolation is that, as we have pointed out many times before, manufacturing defect claims are hard to win.  The odds are long against the likelihood that the plaintiff will ever demonstrate a true manufacturing defect.  Then again, erroneous jury instructions could wreak havoc in favor of even an empty claim, and how can we predict that won’t happen?
 
Justice Powell once said that history “teaches us tolerance for the human shortcomings and imperfections which are not uniquely of our generation, but of all time.”  Tolerance, indeed.  Plus, unlike with SCOTUS, the Sumpter court might some day get reviewed by a higher court.  And then there is the highest authority of all: the DDL blog ten-worst list at the end of this year.  
[Answer to question:  William O. Douglas sat on the High Court for 36 years and 211 days.  He was confirmed at the age of 40.  The judge we clerked for had clerked for Douglas, and could never utter WOD’s name without a growly follow-up along the lines of “…that bastard.”  Apparently Douglas, while being brilliant and charismatic, was not always very nice.]

One of our primary goals is to bring you the latest and greatest news in the drug and device litigation world. But sometimes we don’t learn of a case at the time it’s decided. So, then we need to move on to another of our guiding principles – if it’s good for the defense, we talk about it. So, while today we happen to have come upon a case that was decided in 2017, it dovetails with our recent post Taking Out the Laundry With TwIqbal where we talked about plaintiffs’ attempts to bluff their way to a valid parallel violation claim. And that’s exactly what the plaintiff in Rand v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2017 WL 8229320 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 5, 2017) tried to do. Plaintiff put together a “laundry list” of allegations that the defendant’s device violated with no hint of what exactly the defendant did that was in violation. In our prior post we commented that “most courts are willing to use TwIqbal to call bull$%@&! on these types of allegations.” Fortunately, Rand can be added to that list.

The device at issue in Rand is a hip resurfacing prosthesis that underwent pre-market approval from the FDA. That’s why we are talking about parallel violation claims. Following a nice Riegel analysis, the court looked at plaintiff’s allegations for each cause of action.

Strict liability: Under California law, this is a claim for a design, manufacturing and warning defect. Because the FDA reviews “device design, manufacturing processes, and device labeling” as part of the PMA, “the MDA preempts state-law claims against these three aspects of PMA-compliant devices.” Id. at *4. So, plaintiff made 2 laundry lists – one of “various federal regulations” and another of defendant’s alleged misconducts. Double the nonsense.

First, plaintiff included regulations that go to the adequacy of defendant’s PMA application. “But FDA’s approval demonstrates the agency’s reasonable assurance of [the device’s] safety and effectiveness based on the application.” Id. So any claim premised on those regulations is preempted. Second, the court moved on to TwIqbal finding some allegations so poorly pleaded that it is “impossible to determine whether they add to federal requirements and hare hence preempted.” Id. Finally, some allegations were completely conclusory.

Plaintiff’s second list wasn’t much better. Not only did it include conclusory allegations – basically just speculation – but plaintiff also included alleged misconduct that was irrelevant. For example, plaintiff alleged wrongdoing regarding device components used in off-label combinations but plaintiff was implanted with such a combination. In other words, plaintiff was tossing pasta at the wall and just hoping something stuck. That’s not good enough under TwIqbal.

The only allegation that made the cut was failure to report adverse events. Id. This is California, so it’s to be expected.

Negligence: This largely mirrors plaintiff’s strict liability claim and suffers the same fate. The only new “misconduct” included in the negligence count was about defendant’s withdrawal of the device for “demographics groups” to which plaintiff didn’t belong. Irrelevant. Id. at *5. And, plaintiff surmised that defendant’s breach proximately caused his injury but provided no support for that allegation. Id. The entire negligence claim was dismissed.

Breach of express warranty: Again, most of plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient:

Without more details, the statements that [defendant’s] devices are of merchantable quality, safe, effective, and fit and proper for its intended use are no more than an affirmation merely of the value of the goods or a statement purporting to be merely the seller’s opinion or commendation of the goods. Such unspecific statements do not create a warranty.

Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court did find that a press release cited by plaintiff created an express warranty but plaintiff failed to allege how the press release violated any PMA requirement. Without that, the claim was dismissed without prejudice.

Breach of implied warranty: This claim was preempted:

Both types of implied warranties involve an assertion that the goods are fit for then intended purpose. Implied warranty of merchantability further imposes labeling requirement and requires that the goods conform to the statements on the label. But these conditions are precisely what a PMA entails. Thus, unless the defendant violates these conditions under the PMA, § 360k(a) expressly preempts this claim.

Id. at *6 (citation omitted). Since plaintiff used the device for the purpose the FDA approved – no breach of implied warranty claim.

Fraudulent concealment: Here again plaintiff attempts to rely on a failure to report adverse events to state his claim. But essential to a fraud claim is that defendant had a duty to disclose the concealed fact to plaintiff. Id. We think this negates failure to report as a basis for strict liability as well and we’ve made our views on that clear many times. Here, plaintiff didn’t allege that federal regulations require defendant to report adverse events to plaintiff – nor can he because that’s not the law. That means that this would be an “additional requirement” which is preempted. Id..

The claim also failed for no allegation of intentional concealment by defendant and for not satisfying Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirement for fraud. Id.

It may not be the latest and greatest, but it adds to the wealth of decisions tossing plaintiffs’ multi-paragraph list of violations which are a lot more bark than bite.

Today’s guest post is by frequent contributor Dick Dean of the Tucker Ellis firm.  This time, Dick is sharing some insights on Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), which we consider the single worst prescription medical product decision since we started blogging.  Not surprisingly, Dick shares our views of Levine.  We agree with him.  Further, if Levine had been decided the way Dick advocates, all of the subsequent preemption focus on “independent”action, “major” changes and “newly acquired” information could have been avoided, and a more rational system turning on the substance of the conflict would have ensued.

As always, our guest bloggers are 100% responsible for the contents of their posts, deserving of all the credit (and any blame) for what they have written.

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Cases involving the “purposes and objectives” obstacle part of the implied preemption doctrine are rare.  The recent decision in Fontana v. Apple, Inc., ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, No. 2:18-cv-00019, 2018 WL 3689044 (M.D. Tenn. August 3, 2018), is a reminder of the efficacy of this powerful, but little used, defense.  Plaintiff brought a personal injury action claiming he developed cancer from the use of a cell phone.  In the 1990s these claims were addressed by extensive Daubert practice.  But this claim was dismissed at the pleadings stage because it interfered with the FCC’s ability to carry out its mission of setting radio frequency emission levels established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  It was specifically based on “purposes and objectives” obstacle preemption.  That is good for the cell phone industry but does it “speak” to us in the pharmaceutical defense world?  Indeed it does.  Fontana relied heavily on Farina v. Nokia Inc. 625 F.3d 97 (3rd Cir. 2010) [ed. note: blogged about here], finding a similar claim obstacle preempted, and Robbins v. New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC, 854 F.3d 315 (6th Cir.2017) (barring an attempt to prohibit the building of a cell tower based on health reasons finding obstacle preemption).  The rationale of Fontana, Farina and Robbins is straightforward:

The reason why state law conflicts with federal law in these balancing situations is plain.  When Congress charges an agency with balancing competing objectives, it intends the agency to use its reasoned judgment to weigh the relevant considerations and determine how best to prioritize between these objectives.  Allowing state law to impose a different standard permits a re-balancing of those considerations.  A state-law standard that is more protective of one objective may result in a standard that is less protective of others.

Farina, 625 F.3d at 123 quoted by Fontana, 2018 WL3689044 at *2.

Allowing juries to impose liability on cell phone companies for claims like [plaintiff’s] would conflict with the FCC’s regulations.  A jury determination that cell phones in compliance with the FCC’s SAR guidelines were still unreasonably dangerous would, in essence, permit a jury to second guess the FCC’s conclusion on how to balance its objectives.

Farina, at 125-6 quoted by Fontana at *3.

Of course, the parallel to FDA determinations about efficacy and safety of drugs and the sufficiency of labels is striking.  The FDA engages in a classic weighing process as to whether a drug can come on the market and what its label should say.  Its processes are far more detailed than those of the FCC which played out in these three cases.  But jury second guessing of pharmaceutical labels is permitted by the Supreme Court in Wyeth v Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), where the Court rejected preemption because of the manufacturer’s ability to submit a change in the label.  But that leaves the second issue in Wyeth—who should decide adequacy.  The three-Justice dissent (Alito, Roberts and Scalia) fully adopted the “purposes and objectives” argument—that the FDA should make these decisions and not be second-guessed by juries as to labeling decisions.

It should first be noted that even given Wyeth, there are areas within the pharmaceutical area where “purposes and objectives” preemption has been applied.  That is exactly what happened in Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 353 (2001) (finding state law fraud on the FDA claims to be impliedly preempted).  It also happened in Zogenix v. Patrick, No. 14-11689, 2014 WL 1454696 (D. Mass. Apr. 15, 2014) [ed. note: blogged about here], where Massachusetts state rules made it impossible to market an opioid approved by the FDA.  These rules were struck down since they interfered with the FDA’s ability to carry out its mission of regulating drugs.  Specific reliance was placed on the purposes and objectives portion of implied preemption.

The power of the reasoning in Fontana, Farina and Robbins merits a review the of Wyeth analysis of “purposes and objectives” preemption.  The Wyeth majority’s rejection of the “purposes and objectives” claim is thin and wanting.  It is an afterthought to an opinion that deals primarily with impossibility preemption given the provisions of the “changes being effected” provision.  It is at odds with prior Supreme Court precedent on “purposes and objectives” in Geier v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 529 U.S. 861, 881 (2000) (finding obstacle preemption based on a general rule of the Department of Transportation favoring a “mix of seat restraints), and with subsequent precedent in Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012) (an immigration case).  In Wyeth, the Court first noted that Congress had long recognized a role for state law causes of action under the FDCA.  Id. at 574–75.  But the fact that some state actions may be “complementary” does not mean that others may not be at cross purposes. Second, the court coupled the “complementary” argument with the fact that there was no express preemption provision in the FDCA.  Id.  But the Supreme Court itself has consistently held that the lack of finding of express preemption does not bar implied preemption.  See Geier, 529 U.S. at 869; Buckman, 531 U.S. at 352.  Third, it refused to consider the “new” FDA legal position on preemption.  An agency position is certainly not conclusive to whether there is “purposes and objectives” preemption, since the position of the United States on this issue is a changing one dependent on the politics of the administration in power. Moreover, implied preemption is not dependent on the FDA advancing that position.  PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604 (2011) (where implied preemption was found over agency objection).  But the major failure was that the Wyeth majority did not compare the entire federal regulatory scheme to the state jury system on the issue of who should decide adequacy; it demanded a specific regulation at odds with the jury system.  Wyeth, 555 U.S. at 580.  It distinguished Geier finding there was a “specific rule” in conflict with state tort lawsuits, but that rule was only that the Department of Transportation allowed a “mix” of restraint systems.  The generality of that “rule” does not begin to compare with the detailed federal regulations on drug approval and labeling decisions.  Simply put, the majority in Wyeth used an incorrect legal test to determine whether there was “purposes and objectives” preemption.

Wyeth, however impaired, is still the law.  But precedents do get changed.  And the Supreme Court’s treatment of this issue after Wyeth helps to demonstrate that Wyeth was wrong in its “purposes and objectives” analysis.   In Arizona v. United States the Supreme Court confronted a preemption challenge to a number of Arizona statutes involving immigration.  One such statute, section 6 of Arizona S.B. 1070, provided that a state officer could arrest someone if the officer had probable cause to believe that a person was “removable” from the country.  The United States argued that this statute was an obstacle to the “removal” system created by federal statutes and regulations.  Section 5 of the state legislation made it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to apply for work in Arizona.  The government argued that was at odds with federal legislation making a specific choice not to impose criminal liability for this conduct.  The Supreme Court agreed that these statutes did create an obstacle to the full “purposes and objectives” of Congress.  567 U.S. at 406–07, 410.  It looked at what was provided for by each regulatory scheme and determined whether there was a conflict between them.

Presuming that Judge Gorsuch would follow the Scalia position in Wyeth—that has three Justices supporting that position.  Justice Thomas does not generally agree with “purposes and objectives” preemption.  But U.S. v. Arizona may be viewed by new Justices as a basis to reevaluate the Wyeth position of “purposes and objectives” preemption.  Justice counting aside, the reasoning of this part of Wyeth makes no sense.

That said, a note of caution is in order.  Cases where this defense is advanced in the pharmaceutical area should be carefully chosen with careful consideration given to the facts and the judges involved.  Enough bad law has already been made in this area.  In the short term, fact patterns like Zogenix where the state tries to intrude into the regulatory area cry out for this defense.  Using it now in a typical failure to warn claim is not likely to succeed.  But Wyeth’s reasoning is subject to challenge.  As other industries get the “cell phone” treatment on “purposes and objectives” preemption, this disparity will increase the focus on that reasoning.

Recently Rudy Giuliani was broiled for saying that the truth isn’t the truth.  Denying a tautology won’t typically earn one high marks for logic.  Add in the callback to Pontius Pilate’s “What is truth” question, and it sounds like bad epistemology in service of bad morality.  But we’re not here to talk politics.  Nor are we here to try to answer Pilate’s question.  Maybe the Drug and Device Law Daughter, who is just starting her second year at Harvard Divinity School, can field such questions.  We cannot.

As a former prosecutor of mail frauds and wire frauds and as a current defender of companies accused of consumer fraud, the question we have faced is usually more along the lines of “what is a lie.” It is not merely the opposite side of the street, though it surely is in the same neighborhood.  Liars are everywhere.  They overstate their income when applying for a loan.  They understate their income when reporting to the IRS.  They use sucker lists to lure retirees into investing in nonexistent oil wells.   They loot companies via creative accounting.  They tell us our table will be ready in “just a few minutes.”  They tell us our flight is “On Time.”  They check the box saying they have read and they accept the terms and conditions.  They pretend not to want the last slice of pizza.

What makes something a lie that leads to liability?    Even putting aside the difficult issue of discerning a defendant’s intention to prevaricate, how does the law tackle claims that someone did wrong by uttering something at odds with the truth?  The police are not the truth police, and civic dockets could not bear the strain if every lie led to a lawsuit.  So the law has introduced concepts of materiality and detrimental reliance.  A lie is actionable only if it made a difference. It had to have fooled someone who is not a fool.  It had to have caused harm.

One summer, between our junior and senior years in college, we worked in the New Jersey legislature.  It was the summer of the FBI’s Abscam investigation (see American Hustle).  A couple of politicians, including a U.S. Senator, six members of the House of Representatives, a New Jersey State Senator, and the Mayor of Camden, did perp walks on their way to corruption convictions.   But the legislators and staffers we worked with were a competent and honorable group.  One of them focused on consumer fraud matters.  He told us that anytime a state investigator wanted to ring up some citations, all that was required was a visit to a nearby supermarket.  Weigh some packaged meat, compare to the stated weight, and – voila! – there would almost certainly be a discrepancy.  Evaporation and the passage of time produced a lie.   Thankfully, a rule of reason prevailed.   Nobody was really deceived or hurt.   Let’s be grownups about this.   There are plenty of real frauds to pursue.  It wasn’t cynicism; it was realism, aided by a set of reasonable priorities.

Years later, we found ourselves in Southern California.   It’s hard to say why it’s so, but it quickly became clear to us that folks on the west coast were a lot less tolerant of puffery or even the slightest deviation from their idea of truth and purity.  Is it a state of innocence?  Does life under perpetually sunny skies foster a heightened sense of entitlement?  Look at the lawsuits alleging that a company incorrectly called its product organic or natural.  They are not all filed in California, but it seems that most of them are.  Even so, most of those lawsuits don’t get much traction in the courts, because a regulatory agency had made a determination  of what could and could not be put on a product label.  In such cases, courts don’t need to engage in science, or semantics, or epistemology.  It turns out that sometimes Pontius Pilate’s question is preempted.

Today’s case originated in Southern California: Welk v. Nutraceutical Corp., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135595, 2018 WL 3818033 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2018).  The plaintiff had purchased liquid vitamin B12 and complained that the packaging overstated its contents.  The claim centered on test results from a “reputable supplement analysis center located in California” showing that, once opened, the liquid vitamin B12 “undergoes degradation at an unknown rate.”  After only 11 days, a sample of the product weakened from 255 ug/ml to 213 ug/ml.  The plaintiff contended that the amount of B12 eventually “becomes negligible and ineffective.” Thus, the bottle’s label was “untrue, false, and misleading.”  The complaint included various actions for misrepresentation, and did so on behalf of a purported class of consumers.

Tell the truth: this claim does not exist unless it is a class action, right?  And what does that tell you?

Stepping back for a moment, doesn’t this claim remind you of the statement on cereal boxes about how the contents may have settled? When you are a child, this statement might possibly have arrived as unpleasant news.  Open a box of Cap’n Crunch, and one is greeted by almost as much air as nuggets of cavity-inducing goodness. But as adults, we read this statement with calm resignation.  Perhaps that is because we, too, our bodies and our minds, have settled over time.

The defendant in Welk moved to dismiss the claim for various reasons.  The best of those reasons was that the claim was preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as amended by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.  There is an express preemption provision barring state law food labeling requirements that are “Not identical” to federal regulations.  The FDA regulates the labeling of the “quantitative amount” of nutrient supplements such as vitamin B12, and decrees application of a specific testing methodology.  The defendant’s labeling complied with the FDA’s labeling and testing methodology.

How does the plaintiff endeavor to evade preemption?  The plaintiff argued that the defendant improperly failed to disclose the fact of degradation.  But that assertion of degradation rests upon a testing methodology that is certainly not “identical” to the one mandated by the FDA.  Accordingly, the court, in a very short, very to-the-point decision, held that the plaintiff’s misrepresentation claims were preempted and must be dismissed.  Was the vitamin label a lie?  Not really.  As with many of the cases we encounter, the alleged lie was one of omission.  Tell me more, says the plaintiff.  One can always think of more.   How to decide?  There’s a scientific test.  Who decides?  The FDA.

We cannot count ourselves surprised by the result in Welk.  It is consistent with several others we have seen in food and nutraceautical cases.   But we do count ourselves as envious.  Most of our cases involve drugs and medical devices.  (No surprise there; take a look at the title of this blog.  Please don’t accuse us of false advertising because today’s case involves neither a drug or device.  We’re about to tie it together, okay?  Okay.  Here goes.). The preemption language for medical devices is there, but it’s been unduly watered down by a couple of courts.  The logic for preemption of drug labeling is there, but it, too, was overly cabined in some regrettable judicial decisions that are starting to collapse from their contradictions. (Many of those decisions indulged in a presumption against preemption – a presumption that has since been discredited.) Imagine if food preemption rules applied to all the products regulated by the FDA. Think of the logic, consistency, clarity, and efficiency.  We could use a little more of that in the DDL world.

That is no lie.

On the same day the Seventh Circuit overturned the verdict in Dolin v. GSK, the court handling the coordinated New York state court Plavix Litigation dismissed the claims of all remaining plaintiffs on the grounds of conflict preemption. Oh happy day!

Plavix is a drug prescribed to inhibit the formation of blood clots. As such, ever since it has been on the market, its label has included warnings regarding the risk of bleeding. In re: Plavix Products Liability Litigation, 2018 WL 4005859, at *2 (N.Y. Sup. Aug. 22, 2018). It is that same risk which plaintiffs in the litigation allege was insufficient. Defendants moved for summary judgment arguing plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims were preempted because defendants could not independently have changed the Plavix warning and plaintiffs’ design defect claims were preempted because defendants could not have changed the design (i.e., the chemical composition) of an FDA approved drug. Id. at *3.

Since we led with the result, you know already that defendants’ arguments held the day. So, usually at this point in our posts we comment on plaintiffs’ arguments and why they failed. In this instance, however, plaintiffs didn’t make any substantive arguments. They instead only made a procedural argument about whether the New York plaintiffs’ generally had designated Dr. Randall Tackett and Dr. Lemuel Moyé as generic experts for all cases. It really isn’t worth delving into other than to say that the court wasn’t swayed by plaintiffs’ counsel’s attempt to disassociate themselves from the “the “Dynamic Duo” since they relied on the experts’ reports and defended them at deposition. Id. at *6.  And, since now was the time for plaintiffs “to either prove it or lose it,” id., relying on a “mere procedural technicality” was insufficient to meet a substantive challenge to all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims. Id.

So, we’ll get right to the court’s analysis which starts with the holding that “federal preemption presents a question of law.” Id. at *7. We like checking off that box. The court then dove into whether the plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims were preempted under Wyeth v. Levine. Wyeth said no preemption where a defendant can unilaterally, without the permission of the FDA, change its label via CBE regulations. When is that possible? When the manufacturer has “newly acquired information.” But,

NY Plaintiffs have not produced any evidence that Defendant was in possession of “newly acquired information” after the FDA approved Plavix in 1997 which would have enabled Defendant to make any unilateral changes to the Plavix warning label without further FDA approval.

Id. at *8. The court also observed that plaintiffs did not challenge that defendants fully complied with FDA regulations in obtaining the approval of Plavix. Id. at *7. In other words, there is no allegation that defendants concealed any information from the FDA when it submitted its New Drug Application (“NDA”) or at any time thereafter during the course of the drug approval process. Id. at *6. FDA had all available information in 1997 and nothing new has developed since. And post-approval label changes, if they are based on information known to the FDA prior to approval of the label are preempted. For more on this issue see our posts on In re Celexa & Lexapro Marketing & Sales Practices Litigation, 779 F.3d 34 (1st Cir. 2015) and Utts v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. here, here, and here.

As to design defect, the court looked at the opinion of plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Moyé which was essentially that Plavix was defectively designed from its inception and that defendants either had to re-design the drug post-FDA approval or stop selling it. Id. We already know the Supreme Court has rejected these arguments as the answers to conflict preemption.   Mutual Pharm. Co., Inc. v Bartlett, 570 US 472 (2013). Which the court summed up nicely here:

If Defendant did the former to avoid state tort liability, it would be creating a new drug requiring an NDA and FDA approval. Moreover, to have stopped selling Plavix, as this generic expert suggests, to “escape the impossibility of complying with both its federal and state law duties . . . [would be] incompatible with . . . [US Supreme Court] pre-emption jurisprudence.

Id. (citations omitted).

As if preemption wasn’t enough, the court also pointed out that Dr. Moyé’s conclusion that Plavix does more harm than good had to be excluded as it “achieved no consensus in relevant medical and scientific communities.” Id. at *9. His opinion was “grounded on a consensus of one.” Id.

 

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

We haven’t talked about the district court decisions in Dolin v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, because in our opinion there simply hasn’t been anything good to talk about. Plaintiff sued the manufacturer of the brand drug Paxil arguing that the brand manufacturer should be liable for the death of her husband who took a generic version of the drug manufactured by a different company.  Plaintiff alleged that the brand manufacturer should have amended the warning that accompanied its drug to include the risk of suicidality in adults even though the FDA had expressly rejected such a warning change several times. So, the fact that the defendant’s innovator liability and federal preemption based summary judgment motions were denied left us frankly baffled at how two district courts got it wrong on both counts.

But, now we finally have something good to talk about. The Seventh Circuit just reversed the verdict for the plaintiff in this case overturning the district court’s preemption decision. In Dolin v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 4001208, slip op. (7th Cir. Aug. 22, 2018), the appellate court found overwhelmingly clear evidence that the FDA rejected the very warning proposed by plaintiff, applied Mensing to a brand manufacturer, and also found no evidence of newly acquired information to support a unilateral label change. That’s definitely worth talking about.

Before we get to all those great decisions, we note that the Seventh Circuit opted not to reach the innovator liability question finding that the “evidence of federal preemption is decisive.” Id. at p.25. However, the court did note that the issue had not yet been decided by the Illinois courts, and therefore any ruling would have to be “a prediction of state law under Erie.Id. We point this out as one of problems with the district court decisions was that in the face of an undecided state law question, they over-reached in creating innovator liability where such a claim did not exist.  It was an improper expansion of state law.  Federal Erie predictions are supposed to be conservative, not radical as was the case here.  As discussed in our “Innovator Liability at 100” post, every other court of appeals to consider innovator liability on its merits, has rejected it.  That’s seven courts of appeals (4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, & 11th), construing the law of 23 states — including Illinois.  See In re Darvocet, Darvon, & Propoxyphene Products Liability Litigation, 756 F.3d 917, 944-45 (6th Cir. 2014).

Turning to the dispositive preemption question, defendant argued that that the FDA would not have allowed it to include the warning sought by plaintiff and therefore plaintiff’s state law tort claim conflicted with federal law and was preempted. Under the standard announced in Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), a state law claim based on labeling is not preempted “if the manufacturer could have added the warning unilaterally under the [Changes Being Effected (“CBE”)] regulation.” Dolin, at p.15. Under the CBE regulation, a manufacturer can change its label without advance FDA permission if the manufacturer has “newly acquired information.” Id. at p.4. But Levine also held that “there could be preemption if the manufacturer met the stringent standard of proving that there was clear evidence the FDA would have rejected the proposed change in the drug’s label.” Id. at p.16. So, the issue for the court was whether or not defendant could have changed the drug’s label using the CBE regulation.

Before getting to the substance, we’ll start with another question the court decided not to decide – whether preemption under Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009) is a question of fact or law. The court acknowledged the recently created split in the circuits created by the Third Circuit’s decision in In re Fosamax Products Liab. Litig., 852 F.3d 268 (3rd Cir. 2017) (our worst case of the year for 2017), on which, thankfully, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to review. But even the Third Circuit decision left a window open. One in which Dolin certainly fit. “[W]hen no reasonable jury applying the clear-evidence standard could conclude that the FDA would have approved a label change, then the manufacturer will be entitled to judgement as a matter of law.” Dolin, slip op. at p. 18 (quoting In re Fosamax).

More specifically, the Seventh Circuit held that “no reasonable jury could find that the FDA would have approved an adult-suicidality warning for Paxil under the CBE regulation between 2007 and [decedent’s] suicide in 2010.” Id. Why was it such an open and shut case? About one-third of the opinion is taken up with setting out the extensive regulatory history demonstrating that both GSK and the FDA thoroughly examined the issue and the FDA completely rejected the addition of an adult-suicidality warning.

  • June 1991 – based on supplemental analysis of data related to suicide the FDA determined there was no signal for additional risk of suicide, id. at p.7;
  • September 1991 – an independent committee convened by the FDA “unanimously agreed that there is no credible evidence of a causal link,” id.;
  • January 2004 – FDA concluded based on review of multiple data sets that there was no increased risk of suicide, id. at p.8;
  • 2004 – the FDA requires a black box warning regarding an association between SSRIs (the class of drugs to which Paxil belongs) and suicide in pediatric patients but not adults, id.;
  • April 2006 – GSK unilaterally changed its label under CBE regulations to include the risk of suicide in adults, id. at p.9;
  • November 2006 – the FDA completed a meta-analysis that led it to conclude “the net effect appears to be neutral on” adult suicidality, id. at p.10;
  • 2007 – the FDA orders class-wide labeling to state that “studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants . . . in adults beyond the age of 24,” id. at p.11;
  • On at least 4 separate occasions in 2007, GSK asked the FDA whether it could retain the warning it added via CBE in 2006 and the FDA said no. Id. at p.11-13.

The court found this evidence “undisputed,” id. at p. 18, and held “[i]t is hard to imagine clearer evidence that . . .the FDA would not have approved a change.”  Id. at p.19.  It compared this regulatory history to the one the Supreme Court considered in Levine and found the Paxil evidence filled all the “evidentiary gaps” which led to the Levine non-preemption ruling. The risk of suicidality was given “more than passing attention” by the defendant and the FDA. Defendant provided the FDA with re-analyzed data in 2006. Defendant unilaterally changed the label to add a warning of the risk at issue. And, the FDA, more than once, rejected the warning. Id. at p.19-20.

Plaintiff made two arguments in response. First she argued that the FDA only rejected the defendant’s proposed warning because defendant “proposed adding it to the wrong spot on the label.” To which the court responded:

Plaintiff asks us to believe that the FDA – after deciding against an adult-suicidality warning based on its own analysis – rejected [defendant’s] warning only because GSK proposed putting it in the wrong place. That is unreasonable.

Id. at p.21. The court called that “unreasonable.” We’d probably have found a stronger adjective.

Plaintiff’s second argument is more important because it emphasizes what Levine preemption is at its core. Plaintiff argued that the defendant could have asked for a formal meeting with the FDA and therefore defendant lacks clear evidence that the FDA would have rejected the warning after such a meeting. Id. This argument misses the mark because “[s]tate laws requiring a label change are preempted unless the manufacturer could unilaterally add the new warning under the CBE regulation.” Id. In other words, if you need FDA approval there is conflict preemption.

This is where Pliva, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604 (2011), comes in and we of course laud its use in brand drug cases. Mensing held that claims against generic drug manufacturers were preempted because generic manufacturers are not permitted to unilaterally change a drug’s label. Because generic manufacturers cannot independently comply with their state law duties — changing their label would require “special permission or assistance” from the FDA — claims against them are preempted. Equate that to plaintiff’s argument in Dolin:

The preemption analysis asks only whether [defendant] could have added the adult-suicidality warning through the CBE regulation, not whether [defendant] might have been able to persuade the FDA to change its mind in a formal meeting – and certainly not whether [defendant] could have persuaded the FDA after already asking four times to include the warning and being told no four times.

Id. at p.22.

That takes care of the preemption issue up until 2007, when the FDA repeatedly rejected defendant’s CBE warning language. But plaintiff’s husband did not take the drug until 2010. So the remaining question is whether between 2007 and 2010, defendant acquired any “new” information that would have permitted a CBE label change during that period. Newly acquired information is defined as “data, analyses, or other information not previously submitted to the Agency.” 21 C.F.R. § 314.3. Plaintiff argued that in the data defendant submitted to the FDA, it “improperly attributed suicides that occurred in the wash-out phase of the drug tests as occurring on the placebo.” Dolin, slip op. at p.23. But the evidence showed that the FDA was aware that wash-out events were included and that defendant re-submitted the data to the FDA excluding the wash-out phase. Id. at p.24. Plaintiff also pointed to an article published in 2011 but the article was based on a 2006 analysis. So there was no evidence that the analysis was either new or not previously submitted to the FDA. Id. The court, therefore, concluded that plaintiff had offered no evidence that defendant acquired any new information after 2007 that would have supported a CBE label change.

All this was strong preemption evidence indeed.  We note that Dolin was written by Judge Hamilton, who is no friend of preemption generally.  See Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546 (7th Cir. 2010), also authored by Judge Hamilton.

We were always optimistic that the district court’s decisions in Dolin and the verdict would not stand and the Seventh Circuit did not disappoint (well, maybe they could have tossed innovator liability too, but a nod to Erie doesn’t hurt).

 

 

In medical device product liability cases to which preemption by reason of FDA pre-market approval (“PMA”) applies, courts have consistently misinterpreted the Supreme Court’s dictum in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 552 U.S. 312 (2008) − finding the plaintiff’s “parallel” violation claims waived by failure to assert in the court of appeals – as somehow endorsing such claims.  Of course, only those PMA plaintiffs able to take advantage of prior FDA enforcement actions (usually, but not exclusively, warning letters or recalls) really have any basis to raise so-called “parallel” claims, but that certainly won’t stop other plaintiffs desperate to avoid preemption.

Lacking factual basis to make a valid parallel claim, such plaintiffs frequently try to bluff their way through by burying their opponents in garbage.  Typically, this ploy takes the form of a “laundry list” of allegations that the defendant’s device violated just about every FDA good manufacturing practice (“GMP” or “CGMP” in the cases) in the title 21 of Code of Federal Regulations, and for good measure, sometimes other regulations as well.  These allegations often go on for several pages in a complaint, with no hint of what exactly the defendant did that was in violation, and even less about how any of these purported violations caused any injury to this particular plaintiff.

Fortunately, most courts are willing to use TwIqbal to call bull$%@&! on these types of allegations.  “To plead a parallel claim successfully, a plaintiff’s allegations must meet the plausibility standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Iqbal and Twombly.”  Shuker v. Smith & Nephew PLC, 2015 WL 1475368, at *13 (E.D. Pa. March 31, 2015), aff’d, 885 F.3d 760 (3d Cir. 2018).  “[M]ore is required to make out a parallel claim than conclusory statements that a defendant violated multiple regulations.”  Swisher. v. Stryker Corp., 2014 WL 1153716, at *2 (W.D. Okla. March 14, 2014).  “Plaintiff must do more than simply allege the existence of the regulation, and then state that Defendants violated it.” Grant v. Corin Grp. PLC, 2016 WL 4447523, at *6 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2016).

One of the first cases to encounter, and to dispatch, this kind of abusive pleading was Ilarraza v. Medtronic, Inc., 677 F. Supp.2d 582 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).  Since the complaint in Ilarraza “goes on to list eleven federal regulations alleged to have been violated,” id. at 583, the opinion needed over two  pages just to explain the regulations that plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated.  Id. at 586-88.  However, “no regulation relied upon refers specifically to the medical device at issue here.”  Id. at 588.  TwIqbal therefore barred the claims:

[W]here, as here, a plaintiff relies on nothing more that CGMP’s in support of a parallel cause of action, preemption bars the claim. . . .  Plaintiff’s claim cannot withstand the pleading requirements [that] . . . require dismissal of complaints that do nothing more than engage ion a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.  Where, as here, the plaintiff has done nothing more that recite unsupported violations of general regulations, and fails to tie such allegations to the injuries alleged, the complaint is properly dismissed.

*          *          *          *

Here, Plaintiff fails to set forth any specific problem, or failure to comply with any FDA regulation that can be linked to the injury alleged.

Id. at 588, 589 (Twombly citations omitted).

Another early pleading case is In re Medtronic, Inc. Sprint Fidelis Leads Products Liability Litigation, 592 F. Supp.2d 1147 (D. Minn. 2009), in which MDL plaintiffs, after Riegel was decided, loaded up their master complaint with lots of alleged regulatory violations.  Id. at 1153-54.  Dismissing the complaint, the court held:

Plaintiffs’ failure to allege in detail the federal requirement(s) purportedly violated by Medtronic also raises the specter of Twombly. . . .  Hence, their assertion that the [device] did not comply with the CGMPs/QSR is insufficient, without more, to save their claims. Under Twombly, Plaintiffs were required to provide enough factual detail in the Complaint to alert [defendant] of the “grounds” upon which their manufacturing-defect claim rests. Merely alleging that [defendant] failed to comply with the CGMPs/QSR . . . is insufficient without some factual detail about why that violates federal standards.

Id. at 1158 (citations and quotation marks omitted).  The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding, in pertinent part, that “Plaintiffs simply failed to adequately plead that [defendant] violated a federal requirement specific to the FDA’s PMA approval of this Class III device.”  In re Medtronic, Inc., Sprint Fidelis Leads Products Liability Litigation, 623 F.3d 1200, 1207 (8th Cir. 2010).

But TwIqbal has defeated “laundry list” pleadings much more recently.  In Canary v. Medtronic, Inc., 2017 WL 1382298 (E.D. Mich. April 18, 2017), plaintiffs’ complaint recited “over the course of nine pages and nearly thirty paragraphs . . . a plethora of CGMPs and other regulatory provisions to which Defendant allegedly was subject.”  Id. at *8.  Nonetheless, the court TwIqballed the complaint.

A number of courts have rejected this “laundry list” approach to pleading a parallel claim arising from a manufacturer’s alleged violation of FDA regulations or CGMPs. . . .  [T]he allegations that follow Plaintiff’s lengthy recitation of purportedly relevant CGMPs and regulatory duties are too vague and conclusory to satisfy the Twombly/Iqbal standard of plausibility. . . .  [T]he allegations put forward by Plaintiff here in support of her product liability claims lack the factual content necessary to permit the plausible inferences (i) that Defendant violated one or more FDA regulations . . . and (ii) that Plaintiff was injured as a result of these violations.

Id. (citations omitted).

A similar result was reached in McLaughlin v. Bayer Corp., 172 F. Supp.3d 804 (E.D. Pa. 2016).  Five unrelated plaintiffs tried to gin up a parallel claim with a long list of purported regulatory violations, filing a single complaint that “simply include[d] a laundry list of over twenty-five federal ‘requirements,’” to which were appended “over twenty alleged breaches” – all “without giving any indication as to what federal requirement was violated by each alleged breach.”  Id. at 820-21.  TwIqbal barred that hot mess:

Most importantly . . . Plaintiffs have failed to allege any identifiable causal connection between the alleged [violations] and Plaintiffs’ resulting injuries. . . . The Complaint then baldly alleges that all identified . . . breaches caused Plaintiffs’ damages. . ., [but] [g]iven the lack of allegations that in any way link [defendant’s] failure to follow procedures . . . with . . . any of Plaintiffs’’ [] devices . . ., we can only conclude that Plaintiffs’ claims are based entirely on speculation.  Indeed, we are unable to discern any plausible and non-speculative causal connection between any of [defendant’s] alleged . . . failings and . . . Plaintiffs’ [] devices.  Accordingly, we conclude that the negligent risk management claim, as currently pled, does not set forth a plausible claim for relief.

172 F. Supp.3d at 821 (citations and quotation marks omitted).  A similar string of regulatory violation allegations got the bum’s rush in Gelber v. Stryker Corp., 788 F. Supp.2d 145 (S.D.N.Y. 2011), because, “[t]o the extent these vague and conclusory allegations are not impliedly preempted . . ., plaintiffs have failed to set forth facts to plausibly allege how defendants violated these provisions or how [injured plaintiff’s] injury is linked to any such violation.”  Id. at 164-65.

Likewise, in Raab v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 150 F. Supp.3d 671 (S.D.W. Va. 2015), plaintiffs’ allegations of “wholesale noncompliance with the requirements of . . . a series of statutory provisions” failed TwIqbal.  Id. at 698.

[P]laintiffs do not allege how any of the defendant’s promotional activities violated federal law because they neither identify any specific conduct on the part of the defendant . . . nor any substantive federal regulation, restriction, or standard . . . actually made applicable to any of the defendant’s devices.  On such allegations, the defendant (and this Court) are left to guess as to the manner in which the defendant was negligent under state law.  More is required of a valid parallel claim.

Id. (citations omitted).  A similar “list[] without any supporting factual allegations eight provisions of the FDCA and corresponding federal regulations which Plaintiff’s allegedly violated” was TwIqballed in Gavin v. Medtronic, Inc., 2013 WL 3791612, at *16 (E.D. La. July 19, 2013), since “Plaintiff has failed to identify violations of federal regulations and provide allegations connecting those violations to Plaintiff’s specific injury.”  Id. at *17.

Parallel violation claims fail where “plaintiff cites generally applicable CGMPs and contends the [PMA device] violated them, without alleging specific facts to support his assertions.”  Gale v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2013 WL 9874422, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2013).  In Shuker, the court denied plaintiff’s attempt to amend the complaint, due to woefully insufficient pleading:

In Count II of their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege Defendants were negligent in that they breached their duty “to comply with the [FDCA] and the regulations promulgated pursuant to the Act” by violating a host of statutory and regulatory provisions.  Although defendants devote twenty pages − approximately one-third of the Second Amended Complaint − to cataloging these alleged violations, they offer no legal support for, or explanation of, most of the theories they seek to advance. . . .  As a result, the Court is left to parse a lengthy laundry list of FDCA provisions and FDA regulations.

2015 WL 1475368, at *13 (factual citations omitted).  The allegations failed because “Plaintiffs have not pleaded facts supporting a plausible inference that Defendants engaged in” the claimed violations, pleaded “conclusory allegation[s]” that were “entirely speculative,” and “provide[d] no explanation of any such deviation[s].”  Id. at *14, 16.

The same result occurred in Paturzo v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2017 WL 8220600 (C.D. Cal. April 21, 2017), where bald allegations of multiple regulatory violations could not save a supposed “parallel” claim from dismissal:

Although Plaintiffs list several federal regulations that Defendants purportedly violated, they fail to allege any facts relating the [device failure] to Defendants’ manufacturing processes and, specifically, the FDA’s requirements for manufacturing. Plaintiffs’ allegations of Defendants’ failure to establish or maintain certain quality control procedures are simply regurgitations of the text of the federal regulations.  Alone, they amount to no more than an allegation that Defendants violated federal standards.

Id. at *5.  The court could “draw no reasonable inference that the [device failure] was the result of a manufacturing defect, let alone that the manufacturing defect arises from Defendants’ failure to comply with FDA requirements. Id. Accord Chester v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2017 WL 751424, at *9 (D.N.J. Feb. 27, 2017) (complaint “provides a laundry list of FDA regulations with which Defendants were obligated to comply” but “is missing . . . any plausible pleading of if, how, or when Defendants violated any of the listed regulations”).

See also Skinner v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., 2016 WL 4054931, at *3 (W.D. La. July 27, 2016) (“it is difficult to discern whether any of [plaintiffs’] claims are parallel claims because the amended complaint contains little more than a laundry list of bare, conclusory allegations”); Nevolas v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2016 WL 1532259, at *3-4 (W.D. Okla. April 15, 2016) (5 paragraphs of violation allegations insufficient; “more is required to make out a parallel claim than conclusory statements that a defendant violated multiple regulations) (quoting Swisher, supra); Ward v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., 2016 WL 1208789, at *2 (S.D. Fla. March 28, 2016) (“Although the amended complaint alleges that the defendants violated various federal statues, it does not present device-specific premarket violations linked to the plaintiffs’ alleged harm.”); Ellis v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2016 WL 7319397, at *4-5 (D.S.C. Feb. 16, 2016) (list of 12 alleged violations “failed to allege how the violations of these federal requirements would give rise to liability under state law for [plaintiff’s] injuries”); Grant, 2016 WL 4447523, at *6 (complaint “is utterly devoid of factual allegations concerning what manufacturing procedures Defendants allegedly violated”); Nevolas v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2016 WL 347721, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 28, 2016) (complaint “simply makes numerous conclusory allegations, devoid of any factual support, that defendant violated in unspecified ways various federal regulations and federal manufacturing requirements”); Thibodeau v. Cochlear Ltd., 2014 WL 3700868, at *4 (D. Ariz. July 25, 2014) (“negligence claims cannot simply put forth a laundry list of PMA or federal law provisions Defendants failed to follow without some factual allegations in support”); Williamston v. Medtronic, Inc., 2014 WL 2042004, at *7 (W.D. La. May 15, 2014) (footnote omitted) (“[t]he simple listing of various federal regulations is insufficient to successfully plead a state law claim predicated on the violation of federal requirements”); McPhee v. DePuy Orthopedics, Inc., 2013 WL 5462762, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2013) (“Plaintiffs merely list the CFR provisions and assert that Defendant was negligent in violating the listed provisions”); Desai v. Sorin CRM USA, Inc., 2013 WL 163298, at *6-7 (D.N.J. Jan. 15, 2013) (list of regulations “fail[s] to assert the facts necessary, or indeed, any facts at all, to establish a claim that would parallel a violation of federal law” and “fail[s] to allege any ‘cognizable link’ between [the] alleged federal violations and [plaintiff’s] injury”); Cohen v. Guidant Corp., 2011 WL 637472, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 15, 2011) (complaint was “flawed . . . because it lists boilerplate FDA regulations without linking any of those regulations to a defect in [plaintiff’s] specific pacemaker that was caused by Defendants violating FDA regulations”); Cenac v. Hubbell, 2010 WL 11537934, at *2-3 (E.D. La. April 16, 2010) (list of four regulatory violations in complaint TwIqballed “because it provides no facts with respect to how [defendant] violated federal regulations”).

In Weaver v. Ethicon, Inc., 2016 WL 7098781 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 6, 2016), plaintiffs tried to cobble together a failure-to-report claim from an allegation that defendant violated no less than fourteen FDA regulations. Id. at *5 (listing regulations).  This “laundry list” failed because “[a] general allegation that Defendant failed to report adverse events to the FDA is not sufficient to demonstrate causation.”  Id. at *6 (citations omitted).  Plaintiffs’ “acts present only conclusory allegations that Defendant failed to report adverse events without specific instances of actual adverse events.”  Id.  For a comprehensive rundown (as of September, 2016) of causation issues in failure-to-report cases, see this prior post.

A fortiori, the minimalist approach the pleading FDCA violations also fails.  Plaintiffs “cannot simply incant the magic words ‘[defendant] violated FDA regulations’ in order to avoid preemption.”  Wolicki-Gables v. Arrow International, Inc., 634 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir. 2011).  “[B]road references to federal regulations in pleadings are insufficient.”  Gross, 858 F. Supp.2d 466, 494 (W.D. Pa. 2012).

Although Plaintiff acknowledges that [defendant] must comply with the specific regulations that apply to the . . . PMA device, he does not outline what these regulations are or how [defendant] allegedly violated same.  Because Plaintiff pled his negligence claim in a very general manner, he has failed to state a claim for negligence that survives preemption.

Id. at 497 (citation omitted).  In Olmstead v. Bayer Corp., 2017 WL 3498696 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2017), the plaintiff alleged generally that the defendant violated the FDA’s CGMPs, citing generally, “21 C.F.R. §820.1 et. seq.”  But “[p]laintiff fail[ed] to explain how Defendants violated the CGMPs.”  Id. at *4.  That attempt resulted in dismissal because:

Plaintiff has failed to identify a single parallel federal statute or regulation related to any of her claims.  Therefore, the Court concludes that, as a matter of law, the MDA expressly preempts Plaintiff’s claims.

Id. (footnote omitted). See also Ali v. Allergan USA, Inc., 2012 WL 3692396, at *7 (E.D. Va. Aug. 23, 2012) (plaintiff’s “Complaint offers a series of conclusory allegations that that [defendant] violated federal law in the manufacture and marketing of the [device].  However, without factual enhancement, these statements are insufficient to plead plausible federal violations”); Parker v. Stryker Corp., 584 F. Supp. 2d 1298, 1302 (D. Colo. 2008) (“nowhere does plaintiff’s complaint provide any factual detail to substantiate that crucial allegation”).

Thus, although on first glance a complaint’s multi-paragraph list of FDA regulations that the defendant allegedly violated may look imposing, chances are that the plaintiff has failed either to plead facts sufficient to establish any violation as to the particular device or to allege how the purported violations caused a product defect that actually caused the injuries being alleged.  In either instance, the plaintiff’s “parallel” claim preemption dodge should properly be TwIqballed.

Today’s post is an update to our post from just a few weeks ago regarding McWilliams v. Novartis AG, No. 2:17-CV-14302 (S.D. Fla.). At that time, the court denied summary judgment on plaintiff’s failure to warn claims, but applying New Jersey law dismissed plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. Since the case involves an FDA-approved prescription drug, having found that New Jersey law applied to the punitive damages claim, the decision to dismiss seems very straightforward to us because according to the New Jersey Products Liability Act (“NJPLA”):

Punitive damages shall not be awarded if a drug or device or food or food additive which caused the claimant’s harm was subject to premarket approval or licensure by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:58C-5. But plaintiff didn’t think that was where the story should end, so she filed a motion for reconsideration. Look before you leap. Be careful what you ask for. You don’t always get what you want. Whatever adage you want to use, the bottom line is still no punitive damages.

Plaintiff’s argument was solely focused on the exception to the NJPLA’s ban on punitive damages for prescription drugs. That exception says that the prohibition on punitive damages does not apply “where the product manufacturer knowingly withheld or misrepresented information required to be submitted under the agency’s regulations, which information was material and relevant to the harm in question.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:58C-5. In its decision last month, the court held that plaintiff had not argued that the exception applies and so the court did not have to address it. McWilliams v. Novartis AG, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113862, *22 n.3 (S.D. Fla. Jul. 9, 2018).

In her motion for reconsideration, plaintiff pointed to a footnote in her opposition to the motion for summary judgment in which she did argue that she had adduced evidence of information withheld from or misrepresented to the FDA that made whether the exception applied a triable issue of fact. McWilliams v. Novartis AG, 2018 WL 3637083, *2 (Jul. 31, 2018). That footnote also stated plaintiff’s belief that “punitive damages under New Jersey law are not preempted.” Id. (citations omitted).

The court agreed that it had not considered plaintiff’s argument regarding the punitive damages exception and so granted plaintiff’s request to consider it. Id. And upon considering it, promptly concluded that it was indeed preempted.

If we’re talking about a misrepresentation to the FDA, we’re talking about fraud-on-the-FDA, so we’re talking about Buckman. It feels like a direct line to us. An express even. No stops, twists, turns, or curves. The exception to the punitive damages ban in the NJPLA is a fraud-on-the-FDA claim and Buckman says those are not allowed.  The federal circuit courts that have considered the issue (in the context of similar provisions of Michigan and Texas law) are split with the Fifth and Sixth Circuits finding the exception preempted and the Second Circuit not. Compare Garcia v. Wyeth-Ayerst Labs., 385 F.3d 961 (6th Cir. 2004) and Lofton v. McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, 672 F.3d 372 (5th Cir. 2012) with Desiano v. Warner-Lambert & Co., 467 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2006), aff’d by equally divided court, 552 U.S. 440 (2008). We discuss the split in more detail here, and we’re guessing we don’t need to tell you on which side of the issue we come down.

Fortunately the court in this case was persuaded that the punitive damages exception is “substantially the same” as fraud-on-the-FDA and therefore preempted by Buckman – noting that that was in fact the position of the majority of courts to have considered the issue. McWilliams, 2018 WL 3637083, *3. Another notch on the Garcia/Lofton side of the divide.

It can sometimes be difficult for us here at the DDL Blog to address “mixed bag” cases. We are quite clear that we are a defense side blog. Love us or hate us – we don’t pull punches. We hoard and covet preemption and learned intermediary wins and treat each one like the gem that it is. We collect and pile up class action denials, no duty cases, and Lone Pine orders. We have scorecards, and cheat sheets and surveys all designed to celebrate defense victories and assist in creating more defense victories. So, when faced with a case that only goes half way, we are left a bit deflated. It’s sort of like seeing a movie where you say the special effects were amazing, but the story – not so much. You can’t trash the movie because there was something decent. But you also aren’t giving it two thumbs up (you know, the standard movie rating before it became based on tomatoes). If a decision is all bad, we trounce it. If a decision is all good, we praise it. If it’s somewhere in the middle, we talk about it.

That about sums up our take on McWilliams v. Novartis AG, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113862 (S.D. Fla. Jul. 9, 2018). It is a failure to warn case concerning a drug used to treat leukemia. Id. at *2. Plaintiff suffered a stroke after using the drug to treat his chronic myeloid leukemia for a little over 2 years. Id. at *3. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds of preemption, adequacy of the warning, lack of proximate causation, and no punitive damages under the law of New Jersey. The court denied the first three and granted the motion on punitive damages.

As to preemption, defendant moved that the case should be dismissed based on impossibility preemption arguing that there was clear evidence that the FDA would have rejected a warning on the risk of stroke if defendant had proposed one. In support of its argument, defendant noted multiple occasions on which the issue of arterial and vascular occlusive events was raised with the FDA before the date of plaintiff’s stroke:

  • In 2011, Defendant proposed adding peripheral artery occlusive disease to the Medication Guide and the Adverse Reaction section of the label and the FDA rejected the proposal.
  • Twice in 2013 before plaintiff’s stroke, Defendant told the FDA of labeling revisions required by Canada regarding cerebrovascular events.
  • Later in 2013, the FDA required another drug in the same class to add a boxed warning that included language that “similar rates of serious vascular events have not been observed in several other drugs of this class.”

Id. at *5-6. We view that as a pretty well-documented history of FDA regulatory rejection or inaction related directly to the risk at issue. Perhaps most compelling to us was the fact that when the FDA added a “serious vascular events” warning to another product it specifically said defendant’s product (as one of the others in the class) didn’t have the same risk profile. That feels like clear evidence that the FDA would have rejected that warning if proposed by defendant. The court reasoned that just because the FDA changed one label doesn’t mean that it would not have change another. Id. at *11-12. But that misses the language the FDA used distinguishing the drug that required the warning and the others that did not.

Unfortunately for the defendant in this case, the court compared its regulatory history to the histories set forth in the cases cited where clear evidence was found and concluded that the others had more extensive histories. But is that the correct analysis? Perhaps the evidence of rejection has been stronger in other cases, but that doesn’t make the evidence in the current case any less clear.

Moving on to the actual warning itself, defendant’s first argument was that the risk of stroke was not known or knowable during the time period that plaintiff took the drug. Defendant argued that there were no article or published reports of patients experiencing strokes while taking the drug until 2 adverse events were noted in 2013. Id. at *16. Plaintiffs on the other hand argue that Canadian regulators provided defendant of information regarding an association between the drug and atherosclerotic disease in 2012. That’s not the same thing as strokes, but it was enough for the court to find a disputed issue of fact. Id. at *16-17.

Defendant also challenged proximate cause arguing that plaintiff could not prove that his prescriber would not have prescribed or would have stopped the prescription if he received a different warning. Id. at *17. As evidence of this, defendant relied on the prescriber’s testimony that he continues to prescribe the drug today. Id. Plaintiff countered with the prescriber’s testimony that when he prescribes today he does so “with careful warning.” The court concluded that because the prescriber has now changed his warning to patients, causation remains in dispute. Id. at *19.

That leaves plaintiff’s punitive damages claim which turned on choice of law. Plaintiff is a Florida resident, was prescribed the drug in Florida, and suffered his stroke in Florida. Defendant is a New Jersey corporation. Florida allows claims for punitive damages in prescription drug cases. New Jersey does not. See N.J.S.A 2A:58C-5 (no punitive damages for drugs and devices that are approved by the FDA). There’s a clear conflict. Florida uses the significant relationship test to resolve conflicts. McWilliams, at *23. Which means the court has to decide which state has the most significant relationship to the particular issue. Id.

We are all familiar with the assumption in most personal injury cases that the law of the place of injury applies. And that used to be the beginning, middle, and end of the inquiry. Until about a decade ago, the argument that defendant’s domicile should control for punitive damages didn’t have much support.  It is in defendant’s home state that the conduct that allegedly serves as the basis for punitive damages takes place. While the drug was marketed to doctors in Florida, “the alleged sales and marketing strategies originated from [defendant’s] New Jersey headquarters, and plaintiffs have not identified any way in which those strategies were implemented differently in Florida than any other state.” Id. at *26. According to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, when the issue under consideration is about deterrence or punishment, the place where the conduct took place may have the dominant interest. Id. at *25. Since punitive damages are “designed to deter and punish” the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff that means New Jersey has the more significant relationship and its law applies.

In this case that means no punitive damages. But as we’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons we don’t spend much time on choice of law is the rulings are double-edged and can easily be turned to apply the law of states we don’t like. As we said at the outset, this is a mixed bag case so we’ll take from it what we can get. Good news for New Jersey drug and device companies sued in other states.

When Justice Gorsuch was first nominated for the Supreme Court, we took a look at his preemption decisions and were favorably impressed.  We’re doing the same thing today with respect to the new nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Our job today won’t be as easy because there isn’t nearly as much state-law-based diversity tort litigation in the DC Circuit.  Heck, there aren’t even any states in the DC Circuit.  So it’s not likely that we’ll find a Caplinger v. Medtronic, Inc., 784 F.3d 1335 (10th Cir. 2015), in Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial resumé.

But we can try.

Our search for Kavanaugh opinions containing some form of the word “preempt!” produced 19 cases.  Over half of them could be eliminated immediately, because “preempt!” appears only in a different opinion, one not written by the possible next Supreme Court justice.

We found only two Kavanaugh opinions concerning preemption that weren’t in the administrative context.  The most significant of those was Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 473 F.3d 345 (D.C. Cir. 2007), where Judge Kavanaugh dissented, in part on preemption grounds, from the court’s decision not to hear an appeal in one of those now (thankfully) eliminated Alien Tort claims involving plaintiffs and conduct that took place entirely overseas.  In dissent, Judge Kavanaugh would have dismissed the Alien Tort claims on non-justiciability grounds due to interference with American foreign policy . Id. at 359-64.  A few remaining state-law tort claims would be preempted  for essentially the same reason:

[T]he possibility that state law (in this case, D.C. tort law) will produce something more than incidental effect in conflict with express foreign policy of the National Government requires preemption of the state law.  Although we need not resolve the issue here, the state-law tort claims are likely preempted as a result of the State Department’s specific statement of harm to foreign policy.

Id. at 365 (dissenting opinion) (citations omitted).  The Doe case rattled around the DC Circuit for quite some time.  Judge Kavanaugh dissented again in Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 654 F.3d 11 (D.C. Cir. 2011), vacated, 527 F. Appx. 7 (D.C. Cir. 2013), but did not reach preemption in that opinion.  Finally, he participated in the ultimate dismissal of the case after Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108 (2013), again not reaching preemption.  See Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 527 F. Appx. 7 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

Another Kavanaugh opinion that wasn’t administrative in nature was Mills v. Giant of Maryland, LLC, 508 F.3d 11 (D.C. Cir. 2007).  It was a garbage class action, filed on behalf of DC residents who allegedly were lactose intolerant but didn’t know that yet.  The district court had dismissed the case on FDCA preemption grounds – that the warning plaintiffs demanded was different from the labeling required by the FDA.  Id. at 13.  Judge Kavanaugh, however, didn’t reach preemption.  Instead, he found that DC “tort-law principles foreclose failure-to-warn liability when the risk that some people might have an adverse reaction to the food is ‘widely known.’”  Id. at 13-14.  Having affirmed dismissal on state-law grounds, there was no need to reach preemption.  Id. at 15-16.  At least that ruling suggests that Judge Kavanaugh is a tort conservative.

Interestingly, both Doe and Mills are from 2007 and were Judge Kavanaugh’s first preemption decisions, since he joined the DC Circuit the year before, in 2006.  He does not appear to have encountered preemption in the common-law tort context since.

A lot of the DC Circuit’s docket is administrative in nature, and in that procedural posture it is often the plaintiffs – various regulated businesses of one sort or another – that seek preemption, specifically additional preemption of state regulations beyond that recognized by the relevant federal agency.  That’s not an easy position to win, as it arrays the government on the side against preemption.  One of the administrative cases is Illinois Public Telecommunications Ass’n v. F.C.C., 752 F.3d 1018 (D.C. Cir. 2014), involving telephone refunds.  Preemption was rejected.  First, since the FCC had issued only a voluntary (“may, but are not required”) order covering the subject at issue.  State decisions not to issue refunds thus were not preempted.  Id. at 1024.  Second, given the statutory scheme, the FCC’s decision not to preempt state decisionmaking was not “arbitrary or capricious.”  Id. at 1025-26.  Another such Kavanaugh decision – indeed, the with opinion the most occurrences of “preempt!” − was a total bust, as the preemption argument in American Road & Transportation Builders Ass’n v. E.P.A., 705 F.3d 453 (D.C. Cir. 2013), was both barred by the statute of limitations and previously adjudicated in a different court.

That’s basically it. In no other opinion has Judge Kavanaugh used “preempt!” in the Supremacy Clause context that interests us.

So our conclusion is that, unlike a lot of areas, Judge Kavanaugh has not left a lot of tort preemption footprints during the course of his judicial career.  What little there is, we like.  And that one administrative preemption opinion?  It doesn’t bother us much.  Shockingly, not all preemption arguments are meritorious, and from the discussion in Illinois Public, we might not even have found preemption.