Statute Of Limitations

We have always had a soft spot for zebras.   They are the equine world’s version of some of our favorite acquaintances — the ones who always dress a little outlandishly and always stand out from the crowd. (Fun facts:   1. Although most zebras have black stripes on a white background, a white-on-black specimen shows up every now and again.   2. All zebras have dark-pigmented skin under their coats, and the stripes are only hair-deep. Compare Dalmatians, whose spots are visible on their skin from the birth, though the spotted fur comes later.)   Zebra fondness aside, we often find ourselves, in our ongoing occupation of the mass tort space, arguing that plaintiffs hearing hoof-beats should have thought “horses,” not “zebras.” Less obtusely, we mean that judges should apply the discovery rule correctly and should hold that suits are time-barred when plaintiffs with adequate information fail to make obvious causal connections within the correct limitations period.

That is why we were so happy to read today’s case. We rarely report on statute-of-limitations decisions, but Adams v. Zimmer, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136707 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2018), is a worthy exception.   In Adams, the plaintiff underwent surgery to replace her right hip joint, and was implanted with the defendant’s prosthetic hip, in January 2011. Eight months after surgery, in September 2012, she began experiencing pain in the region of the artificial hip. When the pain didn’t abate, the plaintiff’s doctor performed blood tests to test her metal ion levels because there had been reports of adverse local tissue reaction to the metals used in the artificial hip. There was no definitive diagnosis at that time, but the plaintiff’s doctor testified that, by February 2013, he informed the plaintiff that the prosthetic hip might be causing her symptoms.

The plaintiff dislocated her right hip in November 2014.   She testified in deposition that she knew that the prosthetic hip had dislocated and that this was “abnormal.” On January 7, 2015, her doctor noted in his records that he recommended “further investigation of the right hip,” and that the plaintiff might require surgery to replace the femoral head. 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136707 at *9. In deposition, the doctor testified repeatedly that he had informed the plaintiff of his recommendation and of the possible need for revision of the artificial hip. Testing performed on January 12, 2015 confirmed a tissue reaction to the artificial hip, and, by January 30, 2015, the plaintiff had decided to proceed with hip revision surgery. In her deposition, she testified that she understood that the surgery would involve replacing the defendant’s device with a new prosthesis. She underwent surgery on February 12, 2015 and filed her complaint on February 10, 2017. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations barred the plaintiff’s claims.

The plaintiff argued that she “did not make the factual connection” between her injury and the defendant’s device until the date of surgery.  Id. at *20. If this were true, then she would have beaten the statute by two days. But the judge wasn’t buying it. Explaining that “as soon as, through the exercise of reasonable diligence, the injured party should be able to link her injury to the conduct of another, the clock begins to run,” id. at *23-24, the court held that the plaintiff “knew or should have known that the [defendant’s device] was a factual cause of her injury by the time she decided to proceed with hip revision surgery on January 30, 2015.” Id. at *26. In other words, “once [the plaintiff] knew for certain that [her doctor] needed to remove the [device], she had received enough facts to make the connection between her injury” and the device, and “no reasonable juror could conclude otherwise.” Id. at *27. Nor was the court swayed by the plaintiff’s argument that, even if she knew that the device was causing her symptoms, she did not know it was “defective” until it was removed. The court emphasized, “This misstates the legal standard,” which required only that the plaintiff connect her injuries to the device to start the clock running on her claims. Id. at 31. Finally, while the court acknowledged that the plaintiff hadn’t missed the running of the statute by much, and that granting summary judgment would deny the plaintiff recourse for serious injuries, it held that it could not “arbitrarily enforce the statute of limitations,” however sympathetic the plaintiff, and that it was “constrained to grant the motion for summary judgment.” Id. at *33-34.

We have been on the receiving end of all of the arguments the plaintiff made in Adams. And we have fought – not always successfully – for decisions that apply the law rigorously and aren’t swayed by sympathy. We are pleased that the Adams court did just that.

This weekend, we are traveling to Nashville, where, decades ago, we lived for a couple of years during a period of wanderlust. Nashville was to be a brief stop-off on a cross-country driving odyssey.  But we never got any farther down the road, leaving Nashville only to reverse course and return to college (to our parents’ great relief).  All these years later, a huge part of our heart still lives at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 65, and we journey back as often as we can to visit friends we’ve treasured for as long as we can remember.  The town has changed, to be sure.  The tiny radio station on the hill, where we sat with a dear and now-departed friend during his late-night country music show, no longer broadcasts.  There is a pro football team now.  Buildings and highways and traffic have multiplied exponentially.  And the old Ryman Auditorium, the “mother church of country music” and original home of the Grand Old Opry, has been reborn as a concert venue.  (From the balcony of the current Opry House, looking down on the stage, patrons can see a large circle of wood that doesn’t match the rest of the floor.  This was taken from the Ryman when the new Opry House was built, to harness some of the sacred energy of that hallowed old place.)

But with all that has changed, going back still feels like going home, and the city still feels sweet and familiar, but with a twist. As does today’s case, a familiar-feeling statute of limitations decision except for the twist created by the very modern context of prescription drug addiction.  In Allen v. Indivior, Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134279 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2018), the plaintiff, a college student and aspiring investment banker, became dependent on a narcotic pain-killing drug after a car accident.  In an attempt to wean him off of the painkiller, his doctor prescribed a drug used as replacement therapy to treat painkiller dependency.  He took the replacement drug daily for twenty months, until, his Complaint alleged, he became “completely addicted” to it.  He tried to stop using the drug and enrolled in an in-patient program to help him deal with his withdrawal symptoms.  After twenty-one days, he went home to his family, where, a short time later, he overdosed on heroin and died.   His parents sued the replacement drug’s manufacturer, asserting the usual product liability causes of action and alleging that, because of his addiction, “the only way” the plaintiff could treat his withdrawal “was with heroin.”  The defendant moved to dismiss, asserting improper venue/lack of personal jurisdiction and statute of limitations arguments.

First, the court held that venue was not proper in the Northern District of New York; instead, the case should have been filed in the District of Connecticut. The court cited 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) for the proposition that it could, in its discretion, either dismiss the case or transfer it to the correct district.  While transfer is generally favored, the court quoted the great Judge Posner for the proposition that, if “a case [will be] a sure loser in [the correct court], then the court in which it is initially filed . . . should dismiss the case rather than waste the time of another court.” Allen, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134279 at *8-9 (citation omitted).   And so the court proceeded to determine whether the case was a “sure loser” on statute of limitations grounds.

The court explained that, under Connecticut’s three-year statute of limitations, the plaintiff was required to serve the Complaint – not just file it – within three years after he could first attribute his injuries to the defendant’s conduct. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s claims were time-barred because the injury at issue was the plaintiff’s addiction to the replacement drug, and that the plaintiff was aware that he was “completely addicted” to the drug – and entered the in-patient program as a result – more than three years before the complaint was even filed.

The plaintiffs argued that that the triggering event was the plaintiff’s death, not his addiction, and, adding facts they had not pled, they argued further that the cause of death was not determined until the autopsy report was issued and the toxicology results were returned, all within the three-year limitations period. The court disagreed, holding that the gravamen of the complaint was the claim that the defendants’ alleged negligence in designing and labeling the drug caused the plaintiff’s “crippling addiction,” and that the plaintiff knew he was addicted — and sought treatment for his addiction – well over three years before the Complaint was filed or served.   Even if the plaintiff’s claims did not accrue until the date of his death, the court pointed out that the defendants had not been served with the complaint three years after that date.  The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that an e-mail purportedly sent to one of the defendants on the three-year anniversary of the plaintiff’s death placed the defendant on “constructive notice” of the impending service of the Complaint.

And so, this “sure loser” of a case was dismissed, not transferred. We expect to see more cases arising in the context of prescription drug addiction and more  “grey areas” related to when claims accrue in that context.   We will keep you posted on this new “twist” in statute of limitations law.  And we’ll have a drink for you this weekend in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, across the alley from the old Ryman, fifty-eight years old and going strong.

We have an adorable, pigtailed, toddler grand-niece. We play a game with her that involves placing one building block on the table and asking her how many blocks there are.  She answers, “One.”  We take that block away and replace it with another.  Again, the answer is “one.”  Then we place both blocks on the table and ask, “How much is one plus one?”  As brilliant as she is beautiful, she answers, “Two!”   Simple, right?  But those of us who practice in the mass tort space are far too accustomed to reading opinions laying out the building blocks of an obvious holding then failing to conclude that one plus one equals two.

Not so the lovely opinion on which we report today. In Young v. Mentor Worldwide LLC, 2018 WL 2054591, — F. Supp. 3d — (E.D. Ark. May 1, 2018), the plaintiff was implanted with the defendant’s sub-urethral sling in 2003 to address her stress urinary incontinence.  In two subsequent surgeries, in 2006 and 2008, portions of the sling were removed.   In 2013, more than five years after the last revision surgery, the plaintiff filed suit, asserting all of the usual claims and alleging permanent injury from the defendant’s product.

Because Arkansas law, which governs the plaintiff’s claims, imposes a three-year statute of limitations on product liability lawsuits, the defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff’s claims were time-barred. The court denied the motion, finding a question of fact as to when the plaintiff’s cause of action accrued under the applicable discovery rule.

Motion to Bifurcate Trial

Flash forward to the eve of trial. Arguing that resolution of the statute of limitations defense would require only a few witnesses and would likely take only two days, the defendant asked the court to bifurcate the proceedings in a novel manner, holding a preliminary trial on the statute of limitations and moving on to a full trial on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims only if necessary.  The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that resolution of the statute of limitations issue would require admission of evidence of the defendant’s alleged fraudulent concealment and that a single jury should resolve all of the issues at the same time.

The court disagreed, holding,

Regardless of whether the [plaintiff is] entitled to pursue a fraudulent concealment claim, [the defendant’s] statute of limitations defense is potentially dispositive, and preliminary trial will not consume the time and expense necessary for a trial on the merits.  The Court finds that a separate, initial trial on the statute of limitations question is especially warranted in this case, as it will promote judicial economy, avoid confusion of the issues, and prevent possible undue prejudice.

Young, 2018 WL 2054591 at *2.

Motions to Exclude Expert Testimony

The defendant also moved to exclude the testimony of two of the plaintiff’s experts, a biomedical engineer and a pathologist.

Biomedical Engineer

The biomedical engineer sought to testify about the mechanical structure of the defendant’s product “and to offer his opinion that the design and testing of [the product] was inadequate, that the product was defective for its intended use, and that [the defendant] failed to warn about the significant risk of complications and adverse events from the use of the product.” Id. at *3.  The defendant moved to exclude the expert’s testimony about the adequacy of the warnings, arguing that the expert was not qualified to offer such opinions.  The court agreed, holding, “The record is void of information indicating that [the expert’s] expertise in the area of biomedical engineering and product design qualifies him to opine as to the adequacy of warnings at issue or that his opinion on this ultimate issue of fact would be helpful to the jury.” Id.

The expert’s report also included statements to the effect that the defendant was “fully aware” of a high rate of complications associated with the product. The defendant moved to exclude these statements on the ground that they were inadmissible expressions of “corporate intent and legal conclusions.”  Again, the court agreed, holding, “The Court finds that a jury is capable of making its own determinations as to [the defendant’s] intent, motive, or state of mind, and that [the expert’s] opinion on these subjects does not meet the helpfulness criteria of Rule 702.” Id. (citation omitted).

Pathologist

The pathologist’s report stated that his general causation opinions were “based on his review of over 300 explanted mesh samples, which include[d] hernia meshes, pelvic organ prolapse meshes, and slings used to treat urinary incontinence.” Id. at *4.  He acknowledged that only ten of the 300 samples he examined were manufactured by the defendant, and those were samples he received from plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The defendant argued that the expert’s opinions about other types of mesh and other manufacturers’ products were irrelevant and unreliable. In deposition, the expert testified that “all of this background” was necessary to “interpret accurately case-specific material.”  The court disagreed, holding, “The Court finds that neither [the expert’s ] explanation nor [the plaintiff’s] arguments demonstrate that information about various types of polypropylene mesh products . . . is relevant in this case, which deals with a specific mesh product, used for a specific purpose.” Id. Further, the expert “admit[ted] that he [had] no knowledge as to how the mesh implants he has examined were selected, thus there is no assurance that they were randomly selected and no way of projecting the potential rate of error.” Id. The court concluded, “After careful review, the Court cannot find that [the expert’s] proposed opinion testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and [the defendant’s] motion to exclude will be granted.

We love this opinion – logical, correct, and elegant in its simplicity. We hope that others follow suit, and we will keep you posted.

We don’t often get to discuss decisions from Maine. In fact, a quick spin through the blog and you’ll see Maine really only comes up in various canvases or surveys of state law. We don’t dislike the state. We love the lobster — that they take very seriously. We can’t say we love the winters there (at least this blogger doesn’t), but the coastline is beautiful in summer. And perhaps our vision of Maine is just ever so slightly skewed by Stephen King having set so many of his horror novels there. While King’s frightening tales are set in fictional towns, avid readers and explorers have suggested that you can visit several real places in Maine that seem to have inspired King’s work. For instance, if you’re looking for Derry, you want to stop in Dexter, Maine (mind the sewers). If you are more of a Cujo or Needful Things fan, Castle Rock is supposedly based on Woodstock, ME. You won’t find a giant dome in Rumford, but you’ll probably notice its otherwise close resemblance to Chester’s Mill (Under the Dome). And finally, there is King’s hometown of Bangor which is rumored to be the inspiration for the town of Haven from The Tommyknockers.

So, we were quite pleased when Dustin Rawlin and Bill Berglund of Tucker Ellis sent us their recent, far from creepy, win from the 23rd state. The case is Novak v. Mentor Worldwide LLC, 2018 WL 893914 (D. Maine Feb. 14, 2018) and the primary issue is statute of limitations. Statute of limitations cases are also not something we spend too much time on here, but this one has a notable ruling specific to prescription medical products liability cases – the discovery rule does not apply.

In 2004, plaintiff underwent surgery during which defendant’s product, a vaginal sling, was implanted to treat stress urinary incontinence. Id. at *1. Around 8 months to 1 year after the surgery, plaintiff started to experience pain during intercourse and by the end of 2006 was experiencing vaginal leaking and bleeding. Id. at *2. Before the end of 2006, plaintiff informed her surgeon of her problems. He ordered tests, the first round of which were inconclusive and plaintiff failed to undergo furthering testing. Id. In 2013, plaintiff attributed her problems to defendant’s product which was partially removed in another surgery in 2014. Id. Plaintiff filed suit in 2016. Id. at *1.

Maine’s statute of limitations for all civil actions is 6 years from when the cause of action accrues. Id. at *3. Further, Maine follows the date-of-injury rule when it comes to accrual. “[M]ere ignorance of a cause of action does not prevent the statute of limitations from running.” Id. In other words, generally Maine does not apply the “discovery rule” to determine when the statute starts to run (in states that do, a claim does not accrue until the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the wrongdoing or misconduct). There are, however, exceptions where Maine has expressly applied the discovery rule: legal malpractice, foreign object and negligent diagnosis medical malpractice; and asbestosis. Id. General products liability claims not included.

Maine has also acknowledged the continuing tort doctrine where the alleged tort occurs over a series or chain of incidents. In such cases, the claim would not accrue until the last act in the chain – such as cases of pollution or contamination. Id. at *4. The continuing tort doctrine does not apply in cases where plaintiff’s alleged injuries, while occurring or perhaps worsening over time, are allegedly caused by a single act of negligence. Id.

Because plaintiff filed suit in 2016, her claims are time-barred if they accrued before 2010. As we noted above, her surgery was in 2004 and her complications appear to have started within the first year thereafter. So, unless the court applied the discovery rule, her claims would be barred.

Plaintiff’s first argument was that the presence of the defendant’s medical device in her body constituted a continuing tort that didn’t end until the product was removed in 2014. Id. at *5. But the continuing tort doctrine isn’t about continuing harm. What plaintiff here, or in almost any drug or device products liability case is alleging is a “finite act or set of acts (manufacture, design, inadequate warning, or misrepresentation) that led to her injuries.” Id. Once the device was implanted, the alleged wrongful act was over.

[Plaintiff] underwent only one, readily-identifiable exposure to the [device] (her surgery), and all of [defendant’s] allegedly tortious conduct took place before that point. . . . [defendant’s] wrongful conduct may have caused the [device] to deteriorate, which in turn may have caused injuries over time. However, once those injuries had manifested, the fact that their full scope remained unknown did not stop the statute of limitations from running.

Id. at *9, n.6.

Plaintiff’s second argument was that there was a genuine dispute regarding whether her earlier symptoms, pre-2006, were caused by the defendant’s medical device. Perhaps plaintiff should have thought of that argument before submitting an expert report tying those early symptoms to the medical device. Id. at *6. Nor could plaintiff rely on her surgeon not identifying a connection between the device and her symptoms when his tests were only inconclusive and plaintiff opted not to do further testing. Id. For a jury to conclude that plaintiff’s early injuries were not caused by defendant’s product would require “complete speculation.” Id. The statute started to run when plaintiff first experienced symptoms, regardless of how minor those symptoms were. Id. at *9, n.7.

While the statute of limitations did away with almost all of plaintiff’s claims, her fraud based claims remained. On those, as well as any other claim based on a failure to warn, defendant argued plaintiff failed to meet her burden to prove causation – plaintiff had no evidence that a different warning or information would have changed her surgeon’s decision to implant the device. Id. at *7. First, it is noteworthy that the court applied the learned intermediary doctrine. Id. at *8. Maine’s high court has never discussed the rule. The court relied on other federal courts interpreting Maine law on the issue.

So, applying the learned intermediary, the court’s focus correctly shifted to plaintiff’s surgeon. Plaintiff did not dispute that her doctor was aware of various risks, including those experienced by plaintiff. Id. Instead, plaintiff’s tried to meet their causation burden by arguing that the doctor “may very well have decided” not to implant the device if he had been provided different warnings. Id. But, that is either an unsupported fact or mere speculation and neither are evidence. Id. Plaintiff next showed the court some medical literature concerning the risks of the medical device and the doctor’s deposition transcript. But offered no connection between the two.

[The doctor’s] deposition transcript reflects that [plaintiff’s] counsel failed to ask him whether additional information would have altered his decision to go ahead with [plaintiff’s medical device] surgery.

Id. at *9. While not discussed directly in the opinion, requiring affirmative evidence that the doctor would have changed his use of the product for plaintiff to survive summary judgment is certainly an implicit rejection of the heeding presumption. Nor was it defendant’s obligation to ask these questions at the doctor’s deposition. Id. at *9, n.14.

So, while Maine may more quickly bring to mind images of butter poached crustaceans or mysterious floating red balloons, it’s not a bad place for prescription medical products cases either.

We thought we understood statutes of limitations and choice-of-law rules in New Jersey.  Until yesterday.  That was when we read the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in McCarrell v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., No. 076524, 2017 WL 344449 (N.J. Jan. 24, 2017), which unhinged that state’s statute of limitations and choice-of-law jurisprudence from its own precedent and placed statutes of limitations in a special class without much explanation.  And the court did all of this for the stated purpose of preserving plaintiffs’ claims and not “discriminating” against an out-of-state plaintiff’s ability to sue a New Jersey company in New Jersey, after the suit would be barred in the plaintiff’s home state.

How did we get here? Well, this is a New Jersey Accutane case, which tells you that it was contentious, as most things seem to be in that multi-county proceeding.  Other than that, the facts in McCarrell are fairly typical—an out-of-state plaintiff (in this case a fellow from Alabama) who was prescribed a drug in his home state, used the drug in his home state, experienced alleged complications in his home state, and received medical treatment in his home state sued the drug’s manufacturer where the company is incorporated—in this case, New Jersey. McCarrell, at *3.

The rub in McCarrell was that the plaintiff’s claim was time barred under Alabama’s statute of limitations, but not under New Jersey’s statute of limitations, which includes a discovery rule.  The choice of law therefore determined the outcome, which led the parties to contest the issue hotly in the trial court, the intermediate appellate court, and eventually the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Each court applied different rules, which is why this case is so interesting and why the Supreme Court’s opinion is so odd. We have long understood that the choice of forum does not determine the applicable substantive law.  Sure, the forum’s procedural law applies, but the substantive law is determined by applying the forum state’s choice-of-law rules.

Continue Reading New Jersey Supreme Court Turns Back The Clock on Statute of Limitations

As we head into December, there is quite a bit of attention being paid to when sales start, when shipping occurs, and when gifts are given.  Were one concerned with such an inquiry, one might imagine a few different points in time when gifting might commence.  For purposes of our space-filling exercise, assume the putative gift is tangible, labeled to identify the intended recipient, wrapped such that it must be opened to reveal its contents, and left in a place where the intended recipient is expected to retrieve it.  Has gifting commenced when the giftor leaves the gift in this place, even if it might be removed before the giftee assumes possession?  Need there be some last clear chance when the gift can no longer be removed or replaced with something else before the giftee claims it?  Must there be a direction like “open it” to signal an exchange?  What if the gift has labeling that states that it cannot be opened for another six weeks or so?  If the “gift” is merely a box containing a note that an actual gift will be forthcoming, then was there a gift at all?  What if we droned on and on?

Goldthrip v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., __ Fed. Appx. __, 2016 WL 6933450 (11th Cir. Dec. 28, 2016), involves these exact same issues if one can consider a product liability lawsuit a gift and an Alabama courthouse a suitable place for receiving such a gift.  In Goldthrip, the plaintiff alleged that her implanted prosthetic hip manufactured by defendants injured her on December 25, 2013.  As this was a day when many Alabamians were exchanging gifts, we can guess that the timing of the injury was easy to identify.  The plaintiff filed her case on December 23, 2015, two days before the statute expired and another day of mass gifting.  Her complaint, however, came with a curious note, indicating that she was “‘withholding service of process’ in an effort to avoid expenses and facilitate settlement discussions.” Id. at *1.  The complaint was served on the defendant (without a summons) a week later, a summons was issued about six weeks after that, and the defendant was served with the summons sometime later.  (If you are wondering, Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c) provides that “A summons must be served with a copy of the complaint. The plaintiff is responsible for having the summons and complaint served within the time allowed by Rule 4(m) and must furnish the necessary copies to the person who makes service.”  Service of the summons and complaint together, absent waiver, is necessary to get things started in federal court.)

Continue Reading Dispensing With Commencing: A Statute of Limitations Gift

As we hurtle into the holiday season, we are reminded that good things often come in small packages. That certainly was the case in a one-and-a-half-page opinion that the Ninth Circuit filed last week in a prescription antidepressant case.  The case is Plumlee v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 14-16924, 2016 WL 6610223 (9th Cir. No. 9, 2016), and the lesson was that the statute of limitations can be a powerful thing.

The facts are pretty simple: The plaintiff alleged that she stopped taking Zoloft in June 2008 because she believed it was ineffective “contrary to [the manufacturer’s] representations.”  But she did not file her class action lawsuit until more than four years later. Id. at *1.  That sounds to us as though the plaintiff filed after the expiration of any applicable statute of limitations, and it sounded that way to the district court too, leading to an order dismissing the case.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that California’s discovery rule did not extend the plaintiff’s time to sue. The core holding is as follows:

Under the discovery rule, [Plaintiff’s] failure to allege any facts that she exercised reasonable diligence between June 2008 and May 2012, or that she was unable to discovery the factual basis for her claims between June 2008 and May 2012 despite exercising reasonable diligence, constitutes a sufficient basis for affirming the district court’s dismissal with prejudice . . . .”

Id.  This may seem like a routine result at first blush, but let’s unpack this a little bit.  First, we find it interesting that the district court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).  We do not often see courts ruling on statutes of limitations on the pleadings, although there is no reason why discovery should be necessary when the defense is evident on the face of the complaint.  Here, the plaintiff alleged that she believed the product was ineffective in June 2008 despite “representations to the contrary.” Id.  In other words, she suspected wrongdoing, which caused her claim to accrue under any application of the discovery rule.  From that point, the clock was ticking.

Continue Reading Don’t Underestimate the Statute of Limitations

Today’s case is also about statute of limitations, but we thought adding that to the title would guarantee nobody read any further. None of these are what we’d call “page-turning” – or maybe in the blog world it should be “scroll-worthy” — topics. But, any one of them can be a game changer.   When they combine to lead to a dismissal in circumstances that our readers may find themselves in, we think they are worth a mention.  But we’ll make it quick.

As is so often the case, plaintiffs’ counsel gathered their clients and filed a single mass action lumping together plaintiffs from all over the country.  Jaeger v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16493 at *7 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 10, 2016).  The defendant, again in a fairly common response, moved to sever the individual misjoined cases and to transfer them to plaintiffs’ home districts. Id. at *8.  Defendant’s motion was granted.  The original misjoined complaint was filed in the Southern District of Illinois. Defendant is a New Jersey corporation. Plaintiff Jaeger resides in California, where she also received the medical treatment at issue in the case.  Id. at *17.  Plaintiff Jaeger’s case was therefore transferred to California.

Continue Reading Personal Jurisdiction and Choice of Law

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

We do have two opinions to talk about, they’re just from the same case.  They are the magistrate’s Report and Recommendation and the district court’s subsequent ruling in Lyles v. Medtronic, Inc.  This is the latest Infuse victory but it’s not all about preemption this time. There’s a little statute of limitations, a little statutory exclusivity, some judicial notice, and of course a bit of preemption.  We’ll break it down for you.

Plaintiff underwent spinal surgery on May 10, 2013.  On February 6, 2014 he began to suffer from complications that necessitated a revision surgery.  Plaintiff alleges that on February 13, 2014 he was told by his doctor that the plate used in his surgery had failed.  Lyles, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175042 at *1-4 (W.D. La. Nov. 23, 2015) (Report and Recommendation (“R&R”).  Then plaintiff started filing complaints.  He first filed on February 10, 2015 alleging products liability claims against Medtronic, Inc.  He amended his complaint with additional knowledge gained on May 8, 2015.  He filed a second amended complaint substituting Medtronic Sofamor Danek USA, Inc. for Medtronic, Inc. on June 11, 2015.  At this point, Medtronic, Inc. is no longer a defendant.  Id. at *4.  Plaintiff still wasn’t done.  He filed a third amended complaint on July 17, 2015 asserting claims for fraud and violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act against both Medtronic Sofamor Danek USA, Inc. and Medtronic, Inc.  Id. at *5.  That’s four complaints and none of them were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

As to Medtronic, Inc. plaintiff’s claims were time-barred.  The allegations in the third amended complaint didn’t related back to the original filing.  Medtronic, Inc. may not have been  an entirely new party, but the allegations against it are.  Fraud and consumer protection violations were not alleged in the original complaint – “they do not arise out of the same occurrence previously set forth as those were all products liability claims and cannot relate back.”  Id. at *7.  Plaintiffs also argued that the Medtronic defendants were solidary obligors and therefore the statute of limitations was stayed from the original filing date.  But without an allegation of conspiracy, this argument was without merit.  Id. at *6-7.

Continue Reading Twofer Tuesday (Sorta)

We spent the past weekend in Cleveland, visiting a dear law school friend of whom we see much too little.  Cleveland deserves more press as a travel destination.  It boasts beautiful architecture, (including spectacular bridges, like the Detroit-Superior Bridge over the Cuyahoga River), reasonable prices, and the Cleveland Clinic.  It is also home to the world-class Cleveland Symphony and the renowned Cleveland Museum of Art.  But (not surprisingly, for regular readers of our posts) our most memorable afternoon was spent in that mecca of popular culture, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We had to be dragged away from the continuous loop of induction ceremony highlights.  We gleefully donned headphones and entered a simulated recording booth, where we “laid down the harmony track” over a melody line sung by a popular artist.  We stared at Elvis’s army uniform and the sheet of paper on which Neil Young first jotted the lyrics for “Heart of Gold.”  But we were most captivated by a room-size exhibit devoted to one of our personal idols, Graham Nash, a two-time Hall inductee (with the Hollies and with Crosby, Stills and Nash), onetime Joni Mitchell cohabitant, and author of a song in serious contention to be our all-time favorite, the folk-y classic “Teach Your Children.”  (In a minute, we will find a way to tie this, however tenuously, to something legal.  We make no such attempt with this link to a lovely moment from the 2007 American Idol finale, on which Nash sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar and performed this song with an Idol finalist.)

Nash is an intelligent, socially-conscious man of diverse talents that include painting and photography.  Among the tidbits revealed in the headphone-accessible interview clips interspersed throughout the exhibit was the fact that he is also a serious collector of memorabilia.  He seeks to acquire items that capture the seminal moments of significant political and musical events.  (For example, his collection includes a piece of the fence that rings the grassy knoll in Dallas.)  In today’s case (see – we told you!), a minor cautionary tale from the Mississippi Supreme Court, the seminal moment in the demise of the plaintiff’s case occurred 120 days after she filed her First Amended Complaint.  While rock-and-rollers can often flout the rules, it’s always a good idea for lawyers to follow them, as this case demonstrates.

In Meeks v. Hologic, Inc., 2015 Miss. LEXIS 610 (Dec. 17, 2015), plaintiff initially sued a physician and a medical center for injuries she had allegedly sustained two years earlier during outpatient gynecologic surgery.   Both defendants answered the Complaint. Two years and 363 days after she discovered her injuries (this becomes important, because Mississippi has a three-year statute of limitations), with leave of court pursuant to the Mississippi rules, plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) adding Hologic, manufacturer of a device used in her surgery, as a defendant, and adding warranty claims against all defendants.  Plaintiff served the doctor and the medical center with the FAC, but never served the FAC upon Hologic.   Neither the doctor nor the medical center answered the FAC.  (This was also important in the plaintiff’s mind, but it wasn’t really.)

Continue Reading Mississippi Plaintiff Defeated By Improper Construction of “Amend As A Matter Of Course” Rule