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.