Once again we find ourselves in the position of creating new defenses to a novel, plaintiff-side cause of action.  This time, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about innovator liability – the theory that would hold branded manufacturers liable for injuries allegedly caused by the ingestion of (preemption-immune) generic drugs on some kind of attenuated inadequate warning theory – since even before the California Supreme Court’s T.H. v. Novartis, Inc., 407 P.3d 18 (Cal. 2017), decision late last year.  If your company or your clients are concerned about being a target of such theories, here are some ideas we’ve come up with that might help.

Direct Preemption

In T.H., the “major, and ultimately most important, consideration under California law is the foreseeability of physical harm.”  407 P.3d at 29 (citations and quotation marks omitted).  What did T.H. have to say about “foreseeability” in deciding to create a new negligence duty on non-manufacturing branded manufacturers?  The manner in which T.H. construed “foreseeability” was much different than in the normal negligence case:

[A branded drug manufacturer] could reasonably have foreseen that deficiencies in its [product’s] label could mislead physicians about the safety of [the drug’s] generic bioequivalent, which was legally required to bear an identical label.

A brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturer has a duty under federal law to draft, update, and maintain the warning label so that it provides adequate warning of the drug’s potentially dangerous effects. . . .  [T]his category of manufacturers may use the “changes being effected” . . . regulation to “add or strengthen a contraindication, warning, precaution, or adverse reaction” immediately upon filing a supplemental application, without waiting for FDA approval.

The duty for a manufacturer of generic drugs, on the other hand, is to ensure that its warning label is identical to the label of the brand-name drug. . . .

What a brand-name manufacturer thus knows to a legal certainty is that any deficiencies in the label for its drug will be perpetuated in the label for its generic bioequivalent.

Id. (numerous regulatory citations omitted) (emphasis added).

T.H. thus grounded its duty (to be distinguished from breach) analysis, not on the likelihood that the defendant would have violated some common-law obligation, which is the usual way foreseeability is analyzed – but on the likelihood that the defendant would be compliant with its federal obligations under the FDCA.  Indeed, T.H. suggests that, but for this federal overlay, it would not have recognized a new duty at all.  Id. at 31 n.2 (were there “parity between NDA [branded] holders and ANDA [generic] holders with respect to submission of . . . safety-related labeling changes based on newly acquired information,” that could “justify reweighing of the [duty] factors and some reconsideration of the brand-name manufacturer’s duty in this category of cases”).

There is a second element to T.H.’s foreseeability analysis, and that also involves compliance (as opposed to violation) with legal obligations:

A brand-name manufacturer will also be aware that although the warnings communicated in its drug label are designed for physicians . . . it is often the pharmacist who actually decides whether the patient receives the brand-name drug or its generic bioequivalent.  Moreover, many insurance companies require the substitution of a generic drug for the brand-name drug as a matter of course. . . .  Accordingly, it is entirely foreseeable that the warnings included (or not included) on the brand-name drug label would influence the dispensing of the generic drug, either because the generic is substituted by the pharmacist or the insurance company after the physician has prescribed the brand-name drug, or because the warning label on the generic drug is legally required to be identical to the label on the brand-name drug.

Id. at 29-30.

The same unusual reliance on compliance with – rather than violation of – federal and other legal requirements governing the marketing of prescription drugs occurred in Rafferty v. Merck & Co., 92 N.E.3d 1205 (Mass. 2018):

[I]n the vast majority of such cases, the duty to warn would be limited to the manufacturer of the product − even if the plaintiff were to bring a general negligence claim − because the risk of harm arising from an inadequate warning would be foreseeable to a manufacturer only with respect to users of its own product, not the users of another product. . . .  Moreover, apart from any duty arising from the risk of foreseeable injury, only in rare cases could a plaintiff contend that his or her injury was caused by the inadequate warning given for another product.

But this case presents an exception to the usual pattern. Because the Hatch–Waxman amendments to the act require that the warning label of a generic drug be identical to the warning label of its brand-name counterpart . . . duty to warn claims involving generic drugs are potentially viable as general negligence claims, although not as products liability claims.  With generic drugs, it is not merely foreseeable but certain that the warning label provided by the brand-name manufacturer will be identical to the warning label provided by the generic manufacturer, and moreover that it will be relied on, not only by users of its own product, but also by users of the generic product.

92 N.E.3d at 1214-15 (once again omitting a passel of regulatory citations) (emphasis original).  And again the branded defendant’s compliance with the FDCA was the basis for this unique extension of duty to a non-manufacturer:

Federal labeling requirements for generic drugs present precisely the kind of “special circumstance” where a consumer would rely on the warnings created by someone other than the manufacturer of the product causing the injury. . . .  Where a brand-name drug manufacturer provides an inadequate warning for its own product, it knows or should know that it puts at risk not only the users of its own product, but also the users of the generic product.  Consequently, this is the rare (perhaps the only) type of case involving a manufactured product where the requirements of general negligence may be satisfied even where the requirements of products liability are not.

Id. at 1215 (emphasis added).

Plainly, innovator liability amounts to the imposition of a singular and burdensome form of non-manufacturing negligence liability predicated on the branded defendant’s compliance with its obligations under the FDCA – specifically the Hatch-Waxman requirement that it allow generic manufacturers to copy its labeling word-for-word.

Basing liability expressly on a branded manufacturer’s compliance with federal law should give rise to impossibility preemption.  This observation goes back to the oldest FDCA preemption case on the books, McDermott v. Wisconsin, 228 U.S. 115 (1913), where a state’s attempt to prohibit a product because its label complied with the FDCA, rather than with state law, was held preempted.  Even in 1913, it was “well settled that the state may not, under the guise of exercising its police power or otherwise, . . . enact legislation in conflict with the statutes of Congress passed for the regulation of the subject, and if it does, to the extent that the state law interferes with or frustrates the operation of the acts of Congress, its provisions must yield to the superior Federal power given to Congress by the Constitution.” Id. at 131-32 (citations omitted) (emphasis added).

The modern way of expressing the proposition recognized in McDermott is that “state and federal law conflict where it is ‘impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements.’” PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604, 618 (2011) (quoting Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 287 (1995)).  “Even in the absence of an express pre-emption provision, the Court has found state law to be impliedly pre-empted where it is ‘impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements.’” Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, 570 U.S. 472 (2013) (quoting English v. General Electric Co., 496 U.S. 72, 79 (1990)).

That’s, frankly, pretty blatant here, since (as just demonstrated) compliance with federal law is the sine qua non of extending a warning-related duty to the non-manufacturing, branded-drug defendant in both T.H. and Rafferty.  Since innovator liability is explicitly based on the fact of the branded manufacturer’s compliance with what Hatch-Waxman requires, it cannot avoid being preempted, because the entire theory flows from the premise that meeting FDCA requirements about allowing generic use of its labels equals foreseeability, indeed “certainty.”

There are undoubtedly numerous other precedents expressing the same concept, but even the most anti-preemption courts recognize that tort law cannot penalize compliance with federal law.  Take the Seventh Circuit in Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546 (7th Cir. 2010), one of the most virulently anti-preemption decisions we can think of.  Bausch was adamant that preemption (express, in that case) precludes “claims that the [product] at issue ‘violated state tort law notwithstanding compliance with the relevant federal requirements.”  Id. at 552 (quoting Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 552 U.S. 312, 330 (2008)) (emphasis original in Bausch).  Innovator liability, which equates “foreseeability” with the branded defendant’s “compliance with the relevant federal requirements,” is worse than even the claims Bausch recognized would be preempted, because state-law innovator liability exists because of, not merely “notwithstanding,” a defendant’s FDCA compliance.

Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Next, we invite you to consider personal jurisdiction in innovator liability cases in light of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) (“BMS”).  In a prescription drug product liability case, BMS held that there was no specific jurisdiction over a plaintiff’s claim just because the same defendant allegedly sold the same drug to other, in-state residents, causing similar injuries:

The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested [the drug] in California − and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents − does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims.  As we have explained, “a defendant’s relationship with a . . . third party, standing alone, is an insufficient basis for jurisdiction.”

BMS, 137 S. Ct. at 1781 (quoting Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1123 (2014)).  Rather, “case-linked” personal jurisdiction requires case-linked conduct by the defendant within the jurisdiction.  “Nor is it sufficient − or even relevant − that [the defendant] conducted [activities] in California on matters unrelated to [its product].  What is needed − and what is missing here − is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.”  Id.  It was dispositive in BMS that “all the conduct giving rise to the [plaintiffs’] claims occurred elsewhere.”  Id.

Now, consider the conduct alleged to give rise to innovator liability.  It is not the sale of any product, let alone sale of the product that allegedly injured the plaintiff in the jurisdiction where the plaintiff brings suit.  Rather:

Plaintiffs further allege that [the branded defendant] knew or should have known that [the drug] was of questionable efficacy . . ., that [the drug] carried serious risks of side effects for [persons such as plaintiff], and that federal law required [defendant] to report this information to the FDA and to update the warning label − something [it] could have done unilaterally.  Instead, [the branded defendant] falsely represented that [the drug] was safe and effective and would not cause serious side effects in newborns, and it intended for pregnant mothers and their physicians to rely on these representations.

T.H., 407 P.3d at 26.  See Rafferty, 92 N.E.3d at 1212 (similar allegations that the branded defendant “not changed its label” to include a relevant risk that it was warning about overseas).

Under BMS, where does the “case-linked” conduct of branded defendant take place in an innovator liability case?  That conduct does not include sale of a product.  The defendant did not sell the allegedly injurious product, but only a different bioequivalent product with the same risks.  Sale of a different product to different people, even if those other people are in-state residents, can’t support specific, “case linked” personal jurisdiction.  That’s what BMS was all about, only BMS involved the same product, not a bioequivalent generic.  Further, since a branded defendant did not sell the injurious product, there’s not even an arguable basis for “stream of commerce” jurisdiction in innovator liability cases.

Rather, the alleged failure to warn, the alleged knowledge of undisclosed risks, and the alleged failure to bring this information to the attention of the FDA (or to consumers) occurred, if at all, at the principal place of business of the defendant.  Unless the branded defendant in an innovator liability case has the misfortune of being “at home” in the state permitting that theory, there is no basis for “case linked” personal jurisdiction under BMS, because no case-linked conduct occurred that also constituted the necessary “purposeful availment” of the jurisdiction where the plaintiff was allegedly injured by ingesting a generic drug resided.  Further, Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014), teaches that there can be no general personal jurisdiction under the same facts, unless the branded defendant was either incorporated or had its principal place of business in the state where suit is brought.

No case-linked jurisdiction due to lack of case-related in-state conduct, combined with the defendant not being “at home” for general jurisdiction purposes, means that there can’t be personal jurisdiction over a branded defendant sued for no reason other than the plaintiff being injured in a state recognizing innovator liability.  Branded defendants should raise personal jurisdiction as a defense – remember, personal jurisdiction is waivable.

This jurisdictional insight is the reason we invited the guest post a few weeks ago by Blank Rome’s Terry Henry.  He was the first person (other than Bexis) whom we saw articulate this argument – and he got around to writing about it before we did.

The second act of the personal jurisdiction defense to innovator liability occurs when the plaintiff is forced to bring suit in the state where the defendant is “at home.”  That sets up choice of law as another hoop for plaintiff to jump through. Historically, almost all states have limited product liability (even under fraud-based theories) to the manufacturer of the product that allegedly produced the plaintiff’s harm.  Fewer, but still quite a few, states have product liability statutes that expressly impose this requirement (sometimes referred to as “product identification”).  Think back to how plaintiffs, during the brief period that West Virginia rejected the learned intermediary rule, attempted (with some success) to claim that West Virginia “public policy” overrode any other choice of law principles and precluded reliance on the differing law of a plaintiff’s home state?   We described that situation here.  Well, that same “public policy” exception to choice of law analysis, see Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §187(2)(b) (1971) (discussing this aspect of the law), can be utilized by branded defendants to argue that allowing innovator liability would offend the law of the defendant’s “home” state, thus rendering the theory entirely unavailable.  If there’s a statutory basis for this home state public policy, then so much the better, but even states without such statutes (Pennsylvania is one of those) probably have long-established precedent saying something like this:

The underlying purpose of [strict liability] is to ensure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturers that put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves. . . .  [T]he burden of injuries caused by defects in such products should fall upon those who make and market the products and the consuming public is entitled to the maximum of protection.

Miller v. Preitz, 221 A.2d 320, 334-35 (Pa. 1966).  That’s a pretty solid iteration of state “public policy” that product liability is intended to be borne by manufacturers of injurious products.

So consider raising personal jurisdiction as an issue against plaintiffs making innovator liability claims. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Setting up a Prophylactic Preemption Defense

The potential scope of innovator liability is so massive that it may require branded companies to reconsider how they carry out certain aspects of their business.  We’re sure most such companies review their warnings in strict compliance with FDA requirements and guidance concerning analysis of signals from medical literature and adverse events, with full recognition that, first, overwarning is a bad thing and, second, voluntarily reported adverse events, by themselves aren’t proof of causation.

If innovator liability catches on, then potential defendants might want to consider changing those time-honored practices at two critical moments:  (1) when entry of generic products into the market is imminent, and (2) when a decision is made to sell the new drug application of a drug having generic counterparts.  When #1 happens, the commercial considerations that reinforce strict compliance with FDA warning standards weaken, because a significant loss of market share is inevitable.  When #2 happens, the potential defendant is about to lose any control over drug labeling, since only NDA holders can file NDA supplements.  Number 2 would, of course, be in addition to any indemnification or similar provisions in the contract selling the NDA.

In those situations, companies that fear being targeted by innovator liability might want to pull every possible “signal” or statistical anomaly they can find in their data and submit these purported “risks” to the FDA for its independent evaluation − even if, objectively, the company does not believe that the data otherwise justify a “changes being effected” labeling change of the sort mentioned in T.H. or Rafferty.  Let the FDA be the one to say “no.”  If the FDA doesn’t like this, let the agency take regulatory steps to prohibit innovator liability.

Why?

The FDA saying “no” – that the scientific data at the time the supplement was submitted was insufficient to justify a warning change – sets up a “clear evidence” preemption defense.  In Cerveny v. Aventis, Inc., 855 F.3d 1091 (10th Cir. 2017), which we discussed here, the court held:

We conclude that the rejection of a [submission to the FDA] may constitute clear evidence that the FDA would have rejected a manufacturer-initiated change to a drug label. Our case provides a perfect example. . . .  Under the standard that would have applied to a change proposed by [the manufacturer], the FDA concluded that warnings were unjustified for risks [at issue in this case].  That conclusion controls here, and the FDA’s denial constitutes clear evidence that the FDA would not have approved the [plaintiffs’] desired warning.

Id. at 1105.  Indeed, the big preemption fight in Cerveny wasn’t even about whether an FDA rejection was preemptive “clear evidence,” but rather focused on whether an FDA citizen’s petition filed by a non-NDA holder should be given the same effect as an FDA rejection of a manufacturer’s NDA supplement.  The scientific standards for both are the same, and Cerveny said that’s enough for preemption.  Id.

Some states disagree, and only give preemptive effect to FDA rejection of manufacturer-filed submissions.  Notably, Massachusetts is in this category.  See Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson, 28 N.E.3d 445, 459-60 (Mass. 2015) (holding that FDA decision rejecting additional warning language proposed by defendant would preempt claims, but not FDA rejection of a third-party citizen’s petition).  California trial court decisions provide a solid basis for a Cerveny-like preemption argument.  See In re Incretin-Based Therapies Products Liability Litigation, 142 F. Supp.3d 1108, 1122-23 (S.D. Cal. 2015), rev’d on other grounds, ___ F. Appx. ___, 2017 WL 6030735 (9th Cir. Dec. 6, 2017) (as to Buckman preemption); Risperdal & Invega Product Liability Cases, 2017 WL 4100102, at *10-11 (Cal. Super. March 16, 2017), reconsideration denied, 2017 WL 4479317 (Cal. Super. July 24, 2017); In re Byetta Cases, 2015 WL 7184655, at *13-14 (Cal. Super. Nov. 13, 2015).  Since the strategy we’re recommending that branded manufacturers consider involves manufacturer-submitted supplements, the distinction drawn in Reckis would be irrelevant.

Thus, if a branded company is staring down the barrel of extensive innovator liability for injuries caused by products it did not make, and thus received no profit from manufacturing, it may be time to reconsider, at certain critical periods, whether to err on side of extreme caution concerning possible emergent risks, and let the FDA decide.  If the FDA says no warning is justified at those times, then the company can assert a “clear evidence” preemption defense against future plaintiffs (innovator liability or otherwise) claiming the opposite.

*          *          *          *

To our in-house readers:

Do these arguments interest you?  Well, Bexis has put together a detailed presentation on these – and several other − ideas for combatting/ameliorating innovator liability.  The dog and pony show takes about an hour, and if you’d like Bexis to pay you a visit and discuss innovator liability with your in-house legal team (invite your outside counsel, too, if you’d like) send an email and we’ll try to set something up.

This post is from the non-Dechert side of the blog.

While the recent Pennsylvania Superior Court Risperdal decision is not a defense victory, it is certainly not as favorable for plaintiffs as they are making it out to be. While several issues were presented for appeal in Stange v. Janssen Pharms., Inc., 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 11 (Pa. Super. Jan. 8, 2018), the most important one was whether the trial court was incorrect in applying New Jersey law to plaintiff’s punitive damages claim. While plaintiffs are characterizing the decision as answering that question in the affirmative, what the court really said was maybe.

In the consolidated In re Risperdal litigation pending in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the coordinating judge granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on punitive damages finding that the law of New Jersey, defendant’s principal place of business, applied and that under the New Jersey Product Liability Act, punitive damages are precluded in cases involving FDA approved products. Id. at *32-33. In opposition to defendants’ motion, plaintiffs argued the law of the case doctrine or in the alternative that the court should apply Pennsylvania law instead. Id. Their law of the case argument was based on the judge’s decision in three prior Risperdal cases to apply the punitive damages law of plaintiff’s home state. Id. at *35n.6. The trial court ruled that those cases were separate cases and therefore law of the case did not apply or if they were considered the same case as In re Risperdal, the same judge made all four rulings and a judge is entitled to revisit his earlier rulings “without running afoul of the law of the case doctrine.” Id. (citation omitted).

With that ruling in place, the Stange case went to trial with no punitive damage claim. Stange is a resident of Wisconsin which is where he was prescribed Risperdal and treated for his alleged injury, gynecomastia. Unlike New Jersey, Wisconsin does not have a bar on punitive damages for FDA approved products. Under Wisconsin law, however, punitives would be capped at twice the amount of any compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater. Id. at *42. So, there is a clear conflict of law.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the trial court’s global ruling on punitive damages was improper because Pennsylvania law on choice of law requires an analysis of which state has the greatest relationship and interests in each individual plaintiff’s case and that that analysis supports applying plaintiff’s home state’s punitive damages law. Id. at *33. Plaintiffs did not argue for application of Pennsylvania punitive damages law on appeal. Id. at *43n.8. Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ choice of law argument had been waived because it was first raised in plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the global punitive damages ruling. Id. at *37. The Superior Court, however, found plaintiffs’ arguments preserved. In the context of their law of the case doctrine argument which urged the court to follow its earlier decision to apply plaintiff’s home state law, plaintiffs “argued more generally that the law of the plaintiffs’ various home states should apply to punitive damages.” Id. at *39.

So, what the Superior Court concluded was that the choice of law analysis was not waived and that a choice of law analysis as between New Jersey and Wisconsin needed to be undertaken:

the trial court only considered whether New Jersey or Pennsylvania law should apply, not the law of the individual plaintiff’s home state. We agree with Stange that it is necessary to remand for the trial court to allow Stange to develop an individual record on choice-of-law as it relates to his unique circumstances and to set out the facts and state interests important to his particular case.

Id. at *45. Nowhere in the decision does the court make any finding with regard to what the outcome of the choice of law analysis should be on remand, only that the analysis needs to be done. There is nothing prohibiting the trial court from reaching the conclusion in Stange that it did in In re Risperdal globally – that New Jersey has the more significant relationship and interests on the punitive damages claim. Indeed, having reached that decision once already we struggle to understand how the facts of any particular case will impact the court’s analysis. For the underlying substantive claims, most choice of law analyses will favor plaintiff’s home state – where he was prescribed, where he suffered his injury, where he was treated. But the alleged corporate misconduct giving rise to the claims for punitive damages occurred in New Jersey. It is there that the company developed the Risperdal labeling and its marketing and sales strategy and from there that it had communications with the FDA. Id. at *44.  So, even on a case-by-case basis, there is ample support for a finding that in a failure to warn case, the proper focus for purposes of a choice of law analysis on punitive damages is the place where the alleged corporate misconduct occurred.

So we think plaintiffs are celebrating a bit prematurely. The Stange decision may have removed the foil and even loosened the wire cage, but the cork remains in place.

As we noted at the outset, punitive damages choice of law was not the only issue on appeal and so we make passing mention of two other noteworthy aspects of the case. First, defendants challenged the trial court’s admission of certain expert testimony on the grounds it did not meet Frye standards. Id. at *8-9.  The Stange, court however erroneously applied the novelty limitation from Trach v. Fellin, 817 A.2d 1102 (Pa. Super. 2003) – that Frye only applies to the most “novel” of scientific testimony. That narrow interpretation was rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Betz v. Pneumo Abex LLC, 44 A.3d 27 (Pa. 2012), a case not cited in Stange.

Second, it was agreed that Wisconsin law governed the substantive claims in the case. While examining the issue of proximate cause on failure to warn, specifically whether plaintiff had carried his burden of proving a different warning would have changed plaintiff’s prescribing physician’s decision to prescribe, the court applied the learned intermediary rule which has never been adopted by any appellate court (only trial courts, which have split) under Wisconsin law. Id. at *22n.4 (no conflict between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin law on the scope of learned intermediary doctrine). We’ll add it to our learned intermediary “head count.”

Interestingly, it’s a case that is almost a year old that has us thinking about litigation tourism post Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017).   We know that plaintiffs’ forum shopping gamesmanship isn’t over. It’s just gotten a lot more difficult now that the Supreme Court has said non-resident plaintiffs can’t go suing non-resident defendants anywhere they want. The most straight forward way for plaintiffs to stay out of federal court, assuming that is their goal, is to sue in defendant’s home state. Per the forum defendant rule, even where diversity exists, a defendant cannot remove a case to federal court if one of defendants (properly joined and served) is a citizen of the state in which the case was filed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). Stuck in state court, which isn’t always a bad thing, defendants then need to carefully consider forum non conveniens and choice of law issues.

Those were both key issues defendant decided to move on in Yocum v. Biogen, Inc., 2016 WL 10517110 (Mass. Super. Dec. 14, 2016). The case only recently popped up in our searches but with the likelihood of seeing more litigation filed in defendant’s backyards, we thought it worth a quick mention. Plaintiff brought a wrongful death suit in Massachusetts alleging that his wife died as a result of side effects from defendant’s drug used to treat her multiple sclerosis. Id. at *1. Plaintiff resides in and decedent received treatment and died in Wisconsin. Defendant’s principal place of business is in Massachusetts. Id. Just because defendant couldn’t remove the case to federal court, it still had some decisions to make. Such as, would it prefer the case to be litigated in Wisconsin. And, if it couldn’t move the case west, should Wisconsin law still apply. Yes and yes were the answers for this defendant.

First up was a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens.   Defendant’s argument was that not only was Wisconsin an available alternative forum, but that both public and private interests favored litigating there as opposed to Massachusetts. Generally speaking, all things being equal, courts don’t disrupt a plaintiff’s choice of forum. So, where case-specific witnesses like treaters and prescribers are in plaintiff’s home state and company witnesses are in defendant’s home state – most courts see that as a wash. See id. at *3. One set of witnesses or another are either traveling or being put on video. That’s not to say that this is always equal. For instance, if significant depositions of company witnesses have already occurred and won’t need to be repeated, maybe that helps tip things toward the plaintiff’s home state. Or, if the relevant company witnesses have changed jobs, retired, or otherwise moved, the defendant home state connection becomes more attenuated. Likewise, depending on the issues, a large company’s principal place of business might not be where the key company witnesses are located. These are likely the types of things a defendant is going to have to address to move the scales on the private interests.

Turning from the private interests to the public interests, defendant raised two arguments – the court would need to apply Wisconsin law and Wisconsin has a significant interest in regulating tortious conduct alleged to have occurred within the state. Taking them in reverse, the court found that Massachusetts has an equally significant interest in regulating the conduct of a resident business. Id. Another push. Left then with only choice of law, that alone is not enough to warrant a forum non dismissal. Defendant’s motion was denied.

That brings us to choice of law. If defendant can’t get to Wisconsin, it wanted to bring Wisconsin to it. Here the court agreed with defendant. We don’t usually take a definitive position on choice of law issues because frankly, our choice is likely to change case to case. So, we’ll just say that defendant did a good job of explaining why Wisconsin has the more meaningful contacts with the issues and the parties and that it is not an unusual conclusion for a court to decide to apply the law of the place where the injury occurred. Id. at *4-6.

Then we get to the substantive issues. Applying Wisconsin law, the court dismissed plaintiff’s breach of warranty and punitive damages claims. Wisconsin does not recognize breach of warranty for products liability suits. Id. at *6. Nor does Wisconsin recognize claims for punitive damages in wrongful death actions. Id. Both categories of claims, however, were dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff was given an opportunity to try to re-plead the breach of warranty allegations as cognizable Wisconsin claims. And, since Wisconsin does recognize punitive damages for survival actions, plaintiff was getting another shot at that one too.

Finally, defendant also sought dismissal of the failure to warn claims as preempted. Defendant argued that the risks of the drug were considered by the FDA at the time of approval and that there was no newly acquired information that would have allowed defendant to change its label under the CBE regulations. Id. at *7. Therefore, it was impossible for defendant to comply with both federal and state requirements. But, this case is still at the pleadings stage and the court found that plaintiff had alleged enough to survive preemption. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that there were factual developments post-approval regarding the risks that would not have been considered at the time the FDA reviewed the drug and its labeling. Id. Further, the court found that defendant had not presented “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved a labeling change. Id. at *8.

It is worth noting, however, that the court did say that if plaintiff was pursuing a fraud-on-the-FDA type claim (failure to disclose risks to the FDA), that claim was preempted. Id. at *8n.12. Given that the court’s preemption decision was based on a very sparse record, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a round 2 on this issue after some discovery.

If defendants are going to see more home state litigation, even if forum non conveniens is a bit of an uphill battle – establishing choice of law early on may have several benefits. Dismissing claims is certainly one of them, but knowing what law is going to apply on issues such as learned intermediary and causation before discovery gets underway can be invaluable.

 

We remember how, shortly after the atrocious decision in Johnson & Johnson v. Karl, 647 S.E.2d 899 (W. Va. 2007), rejecting altogether the learned intermediary rule, litigation tourists visiting West Virginia argued that Karl represented that state’s “public policy” and therefore the learned intermediary rule could not apply even to their out-of-state cases under the “public policy” exception to the ordinary rules for sorting out choice of law issues.  This was also back in the halcyon days (for the other side) of essentially unlimited plaintiff forum shopping pre-Bauman, so the specter existed that, if this argument succeeded, plaintiffs from all over the country, or even the world, would flock to West Virginia, and by the mere fact of their litigation tourism, thereby rid themselves of one of our side’s most significant arguments.

A couple of West Virginia federal courts were sufficiently pro-plaintiff to buy that “public policy” choice-of-law analysis.  Woodcock v. Mylan, Inc., 661 F. Supp.2d 602, 609 (S.D.W. Va. 2009) (“[b]ecause West Virginia has rejected the learned-intermediary doctrine on public-policy grounds and applying Alabama law to the marketing defect claim would violate that public policy, West Virginia law applies to that claim”); Vitatoe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 696 F. Supp.2d 599, 610 (N.D.W. Va. 2010) (“it is impossible to apply the substantive law of Louisiana to [plaintiff’s] inadequate warning claim without violating West Virginia public policy”; following “Woodcock’s helpful public policy analysis”).  For doing this, we trolled Woodcock with eighth place on our 2009 bottom ten decisions list:

This decision invoked “forum public policy” to apply West Virginia’s rejection of the learned intermediary rule to a forum shopping plaintiff from Alabama – a staunch learned intermediary state.  That can’t be right.  Practically all major tort law doctrines are grounded in a court’s sense of “public policy.”  Thus the “forum public policy” exception (previously limited to legislatively set policy) becomes another constitutionally suspect means of applying forum law to cases with no significant ties to the state in question.  Any other forum shopper can presumably make the same argument. We’re sure we haven’t seen the last of this.  We blogged about Woodcock here.

Fortunately, the West Virginia legislature stepped in and did the right thing, making its own declaration of West Virginia public policy in 2011:

Choice of Law in Pharmaceutical Product Liability Actions.

It is public policy of this state that, in determining the law applicable to a product liability claim brought by a nonresident of this state against the manufacturer or distributor of a prescription drug for failure to warn, the duty to warn shall be governed solely by the product liability law of the place of injury (“lex loci delicti”).

W. Va. Code §55-8-16(a).  We cheered that development here.

Of course, the entire Karl learned intermediary brouhaha became moot (or so we thought) several years later when the legislature did themselves one better and directly overruled Karl on the merits.  See W. Va. Code 55-7-30 (restoring the learned intermediary rule).  Even more vigorously, we cheered on that development – after the fact, of course, since we made sure not to breathe a word about this before it was a done deal (we know the other side reads our blog, so there are some things we do keep quiet about).

Given this background, it is with no small degree of schadenfreude that we bring to you M.M. v. Pfizer, Inc., ___ S.E.2d ___, 2017 WL 5077106 (W. Va. Nov. 1, 2017).  M.M. involved the West Virginia sojourn of other litigation tourists, this time from Michigan.  Id. at *2.  Michigan, as anyone involved in the defense of prescription medical product liability litigation knows, has a statute that provides the strongest FDA compliance defense in the country (although Texas is close):

In a product liability action against a manufacturer or seller, a product that is a drug is not defective or unreasonably dangerous, and the manufacturer or seller is not liable, if the drug was approved . . . by the [FDA], and the drug and its labeling were in compliance with the [FDA’s] approval at the time the drug left the control of the manufacturer or seller. . . .

Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §600.2946(5).  As we’ve mentioned before, that statute has produced a “diaspora” of Michigan plaintiffs all running away from the policy judgment made by the legislature of their chosen state of residence.  Those prior plaintiffs didn’t have much luck, and as it turns out, neither did this one.

This time, even if West Virginia courts might have been inclined to cut the Michigan plaintiffs a break, they ran headlong into the West Virginia choice-of-law statute mentioned above.  Even though it was passed to overturn half-baked Karl-based “public policy” determinations, the statute’s literal terms establish West Virginia choice of law “public policy” as to all prescription drug warning cases.  Thus, the M.M. plaintiff – despite having nothing to do with Karl – was entirely out of luck.  “Here, there is no dispute that the injuries alleged by [plaintiffs] all occurred in the State of Michigan.  Thus, [the] failure to warn claim is governed by Michigan law, which forecloses such a claim if the drug was approved by the FDA and the manufacturer complied with the FDA’s labeling requirements.”  2017 WL 5077106, at *3 (also discussing why fraud-on-the-FDA exception to statute doesn’t apply).  Thus, “Michigan law forecloses [plaintiffs’] failure to warn claim.” Id. Interestingly, the court added:

To recognize such a claim under West Virginia law where the same already is foreclosed in the same case by the law of another jurisdiction, however, would contradict the full faith and credit due our sister jurisdictions.

Id. (citations omitted).  “Full faith and credit”?   We confess we haven’t seen that much, indeed ever, before in prescription medical product liability litigation, but anything that keeps a plaintiff from relitigating something they’ve already lost finds favor here.

Unfortunately for these plaintiffs, they were also entirely unable to come up with any defect claim that wasn’t really a statutorily covered warning claim.  “[B]oth the strict liability and negligence claims allege that [defendant] improperly failed to include . . . warnings on its labeling, which, again, constitute allegations that [defendant] failed to warn.”  Id. at *4.  Even if West Virginia law could apply, the choice-of-law statute meant that West Virginia law kicked things back to Michigan, and was “foreclosed thereby.”  Id.  Both their strict liability and negligence claims, although making boilerplate allegations, were “merely a restatement of [plaintiffs’] failure to warn claim,” id. (strict liability), or “merely a reiteration of [plaintiffs’] failure to warn claim.”  Id. at *5 (negligence).  Any way one looked at the case, plaintiffs alleged only a failure to warn, and failure to warn claims had to be determined by Michigan law, where plaintiffs lost.

[B]ecause [plaintiffs’] failure to warn claim is governed by Michigan law, and the governing Michigan statutes provide that a manufacturer cannot be held liable where it has complied with the FDA reporting, disclosure, and labeling requirements, there exists no duty that could have been breached so as to establish a claim for negligence.

Id. at *5.

Now that BMS has pulled the welcome mat away from litigation tourists, we don’t expect much more of a Michigan diaspora, but even if there were, the West Virginia choice-of-law statute, enacted for an entirely different purpose, will preclude any of them from relying on more favorable West Virginia law.  See Id. at *3 n.2 (noting that §55-8-16(a) has since been expanded so that it applies to “all liability claims at issue,” not just warnings).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choice of law doesn’t get too much attention here at the DDL blog. That is due in some part to the fact that there really isn’t a defense-oriented position to take on it. Which state’s law should apply is a very case-specific analysis and in any given case, you might come out differently. It really depends on which state’s law is more favorable to your legal arguments in a particular scenario. The second reason it probably doesn’t get much attention from us is that in most personal injury, products liability cases, plaintiff’s home state’s law governs – the law where the injury occurred.

But what about when a plaintiff lives in one state but seeks medical treatment in another. Not to be considered disparaging of the many excellent healthcare facilities in southern New Jersey (where this blogger resides), but when you live a stone’s throw from some of the leading specialists in the country who happen to be across the state line in Philadelphia, you take that ride across the Ben Franklin Bridge. That’s not an unusual situation, making the choice of law question of interest.

In Finnerty v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123071, *2 (D. Nev. Sep. 12, 2016), plaintiff, a resident of Nevada, sought medical treatment from an orthopedic oncologist located in California. Plaintiff had cancer in his left leg that required either amputation of the leg or a total knee replacement. Plaintiff opted for the replacement and defendant’s modular replacement device was implanted. Id. At the time of surgery, plaintiff was “clinically obese.” Id. The surgery took place in March 2005 and plaintiff had no complications until 2011 – over 6 years later. Id. at *2-3. In August 2011, plaintiff started working as a shuttle driver for a car rental company. The job required him to lift luggage, weighing up to 80 pounds, on a repetitive basis. Id. at *3. In December 2011, while lifting luggage, plaintiff heard a “pop” in his left knee. During revision surgery, it was discovered that the implanted device had fractured. Id. Plaintiff continued to suffer complications and eventually his left leg was amputated.

Plaintiff sued the device manufacturer alleging failure to warn, negligence, strict liability design defect, manufacturing defect, and breach of express and implied warranty. Id. Defendant moved for summary judgment on all counts.

Continue Reading An Interesting Choice of Law Question

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.

It can be difficult to have a completely consistent position on choice of law issues.  That’s because state law varies and sometimes you’ll find you are better served by the law of the forum state, other times by the law of the plaintiff’s home state, and sometimes by the law of the defendant’s home state. The issue, the facts, and the law all drive the parties’ preferences.

Typically, however, we tend to favor the notion that liability issues should be governed by the law of the plaintiff’s residence.  That is where the alleged treatment and injury occurred, and those factors are important in any choice of law analysis.  Such a rule also imposes some limit on blatant forum-shopping by plaintiffs.  But what law should apply to punitive damages?  This is where things can get a little fuzzy.  On punitive damages, the balance of interest between plaintiff’s residence and defendant’s residence is more even – making the analysis trickier and also affording more opportunity to craft an argument for the law of the state that is more defense-friendly.

Continue Reading Role Reversal – Plaintiff Asks for New Jersey Punitive Damages Law

Multidistrict Litigation – the name says it all.  It is an amalgamation of related cases from multiple federal district courts across the country.  Think about the journey a single case in an MDL may take.  Plaintiff files in state court.  Defendants remove the case to federal court based on diversity.  But as soon as the case is assigned a new docket number, defendants file a notice of tag-along with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and the case moves again – this time to whatever district has been assigned the MDL.  Now the case probably gets a little time to rest while pre-trial discovery and motion practice and maybe even a few bellwether trials take place.  But, if that isn’t the end of the litigation, the case may get remanded back to the district court from whence it came.  Now multiply that by a few hundred or a few thousand cases and it’s a whole lot of paperwork (or probably more accurately,
a whole lot of keystrokes).

So, it has become a more common practice for MDL courts to enter orders allowing plaintiffs to file their cases directly into the MDL – an option that would normally be foreclosed to most plaintiffs because venue would be improper.  It is a case management tool.  Once an MDL is established and it is apparent which cases belong in it, the parties and the court recognize that the tag-along process simply adds another unnecessary layer of red tape and delay.   Plaintiffs, however, usually aren’t willing to give up home court advantage and so issues of proper venue and forum convenience are typically reserved until the time of remand.  At that time the parties usually try to agree to which federal district court a directly filed MDL case should be sent for further proceedings and most often it is the district where the plaintiff resided at the time of filing.

In either the tag-along scenario or the direct filing scenario, MDLs are a breeding ground for choice of law questions.  At a minimum, there are at least two different jurisdictions involved and that is just considering where the case itself was filed or transferred.  That doesn’t account for other things like defendant’s state of residence or whether plaintiff’s current state of residence is different than the state where the injury occurred.  And choice of law can be a big issue – like in two recent MDL cases:  Wahl v. General Electric Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8477 (6th Cir. May 22, 2015) and   In re Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Mktg., Sales Prac. and Prods. Liab. Litig., 2015 WL 2417411 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2015) (Terry v. McNeil-PPC, Inc.).

Wahl, at issue was whether Tennessee’s rather unique statute of repose applied and therefore barred plaintiff’s claims.  In that case, the district court had already concluded that it did and we discussed that decision here.  In the Tylenol case, Terry, the question was whether Alabama’s wrongful death statute (which only provides punitive damages) or New Jersey’s punitive damages and wrongful death statutes applied.  With New Jersey’s preclusion of punitive damages for FDA approved drugs, the choice of law could have a significant impact on plaintiff’s potential recovery. Unfortunately, the court held that Alabama law applied.

Terry involved a litigation tourist, a plaintiff-resident of Alabama, who filed suit the “new-fashioned” way in state court in Pennsylvania against Johnson & Johnson, a New Jersey corporation, and McNeil, which plaintiff argued was a Pennsylvania corporation and defendant argued was a New Jersey corporation.  Terry, 2015 WL 2417411 at *2.  Whichever was correct, there was complete diversity and so defendants removed the case to federal court where it was then tagged to the MDL which also happened to be pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Id.  While the general rule is that a federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law rules of the state in which the court sits, MDL courts typically “apply the choice of law rules of the court from which the case was transferred.”  Id.  Here those two are one and the same, so it is hardly controversial that the court applied Pennsylvania’s choice of law rules.

However, it is worth noting the very attenuated relationship Pennsylvania has to the underlying case.  Defendants cited numerous decisions in which courts had held that McNeil was a New Jersey resident for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.  While the Terry court did not have to decide that issue because the plaintiff was from neither New Jersey nor Pennsylvania, maybe it should have.  Maybe the bigger question was whether the case was properly venued in Pennsylvania at all.  And that’s important because the Terry court acknowledged that in an almost identical case, Lyles v. McNeil-PPC, 12-CV-7263 (D.N.J.), that court ruled that New Jersey law rather than Alabama law applied.  Instead, the Pennsylvania judge found that because he was “sitting in a federal court in Pennsylvania applying Pennsylvania choice of law principles, New Jersey’s interests in this case hold less weight that they did in Lyles.”  Id. at *7.  So, if the case had reached the MDL by way of transfer from New Jersey, it seems like defendants might have had a slightly better chance of arguing for application of New Jersey law because the MDL court would not have also been the transferor court.  A bit confusing admittedly, but worth a second thought about venue right before removal.

Wahl presents the choice of law question in a direct filing case.  Plaintiff, a resident of Tennessee, opted to file her complaint directly in the gadolinium MDL in the Northern District of Ohio.  When it came time for remand, the parties agreed that this case should be transferred to the Middle District of Tennessee, “the district court of proper venue.”  Wahl, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8477 at *3.   The Tennessee court applied Tennessee’s choice of law rules and as noted above, concluded that Tennessee law required dismissal of plaintiff’s claims.  On appeal, plaintiff argued that the court should have applied Ohio’s choice of law rules which it contends would have barred application of the Tennessee statute of repose.

Plaintiff’s argument was based on the standard rule that “when a diversity case is transferred from one federal district court to another, substantive law governing the jurisdiction of the transferor court controls.”  Id. at *5-6.  In what appears to be the first
appellate decision on this issue, the Sixth Circuit held that:

This ordinary rule appears strict and inflexible. But it
does not apply to cases of direct-filed, later-transferred MDL suits such as
the present case.

Id. at *6.  After a detailed discussion of the case law that led to the development of the standard rule, the court noted that in those cases, “plaintiff’s choice of initial forum was appropriate as to both jurisdiction and venue.”  Id. at *10.  Plaintiff’s choice in a direct-filed MDL case is based on an “accident of bureaucratic convenience.”  Id. Therefore, there must be an exception to the general rule for direct-filed MDL cases that are then transferred to a more convenient forum, otherwise that “accident” would “elevate the law of the MDL forum.”  Id.  at *11.

The court found two bases for its decision that direct-filed MDL cases warranted an exception.  First, the court looked to the order governing direct filing in the MDL which specifically stated that the “fact that a case was file directly in MDL 1909 pursuant to this order will have no impact on the choice of law to be applied.”  Id. at *16-17.  Further, plaintiffs conceded both in their complaint and in agreeing to the transfer, that the Middle District of Tennessee was the proper venue for this case.  Id. at *17.  Given all those things, the court concluded that plaintiff “did not subject herself to the jurisdiction of the district court where she filed.  Instead, she took advantage of the procedural mechanism the MDL made available to increase efficiency of filings.” Id. at *17-18.

Second, the court found that transfer of a direct-filed MDL case to the district with proper venue was more like a transfer under 28 U.S.C. §1406(a) rather than a §1404(a) transfer.  A §1404(a) transfer is one that is granted for convenience following plaintiff’s choice of an appropriate forum.  It is because plaintiff’s choice was appropriate that the standard rule applying the law of the transferor court was adopted.  A §1406(a) transfer however, applies when plaintiff files suit in an improper venue, and rather
than dismiss the case, the court transfers it to a district in which it could have been brought.  Under Sixth Circuit precedent,

if the law of the transferor forum were applied following
a § 1406(a) transfer, the plaintiff could benefit from having brought the action in an impermissible forum. Reasoning that [s]uch forum-shopping was what the Supreme Court sought to eliminate . . . we concluded that, following a transfer under §1406(a), the transferee district court should apply its own state law rather than the state law of the transferor district court.

Id. at *14.  Plaintiff Wahl’s case was transferred from the Northern District of Ohio “because that district was not a proper venue.”  Id. at *18.   It would be equally improper to apply Ohio law where Ohio’s only connection to the case was its administrative designation as the home for the MDL.  While we find ourselves straddling the fence on choice of law issues on a case by case basis, we do think the Sixth Circuit got this one right.

We should also note that plaintiff’s choice of law arguments were all for naught anyway  because the court also held that even if Ohio choice of law rules were applied, Tennessee substantive law would also still apply.