Gather round brothers and sisters, and hear the word of the Texas Court of Appeals. Today’s sermon addresses the intersection of religion and regulation. Take out your hymnal, and turn to Hawkins v. State, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 7863 (Texas Ct. App., 14th Dist. Sept. 27, 2018). Consider the case of Mr. Hawkins, hereinafter
It’s not as if the standard for amending pleadings is a particularly hot DDL topic, but here we go for the second time this week discussing a case where precisely that was at issue. This time the case was U.S. ex rel. D’Agostino v. EV3, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173025 (D.Mass. Dec. 30, 2015), and, again, the motion to amend was denied. The reasons for the denial were futility and undue delay. The reasons for those reasons are fairly interesting.
But first, permit us to vent about qui tam cases. That “ex rel” in the caption of today’s case tells you that it is a qui tam case. The D’Agostino case was brought by a former employee of one of the defendants. Some might call him a whistle-blower. Some, as we shall see, might not. He was a medical device sales rep and he alleged that the defendants violated the federal False Claims Act and the False Claims Acts of twenty-six states and the District of Columbia. A False Claims qui tam action is brought on behalf of the government. It is a relic from the Civil War era and arose to address sellers of war goods who were cheating the government. A do-gooder who knew about the cheating would file an action and get moneys returned to the treasury, with the do-gooder taking a cut. Everybody wins, right? By the way, the do-gooder is not actually called a do-gooder; instead, the term “relator” is used. After the relator files a qui tam action, the government then decides whether it wants to intervene in the case.
In D’Agostino, the governments did not intervene. By the light of any sentient onlooker, that decision not to intervene suggests that the case is not especially strong. It also appears that some of the whistle-blowing was no big deal, because some of the allegations were already matters of public disclosure. That is not at all atypical of these cases. While the qui tam plaintiffs bar likes to brag about how it is doing a public service, more often the cases are merely opportunistic lunges for bounties. That qui tam plaintiffs bar is also indignant that not every state has seen fit to pass its own False Claims Act. Multiple false claims acts multiply bounties without actually increasing any worthwhile enforcement. And we have not yet even gotten to the bit about how the allegations of false claims are specious because there is no actual false claim.
“Jurisfiction” is a word coined by Jasper Fforde, author of the Tuesday Next series, one of the more sophisticated set of children’s works that has come to populate this post-Harry Potter era. To be very brief, Jurisfiction is the fictional police force for BookWorld, one of Fforde’s fictional universes. Tuesday is a Jurisfiction agent (sometimes rather more than that).
“Jurisfiction,” unfortunately, is also something we see in our line of work, sometimes making us wonder whether the likes of Emperor Zhark, the Red Queen, and Pinky Perkins may have aliases who serve in the all-too-real judicial branches here in the States. Jurisfiction is shorthand for a decision that gets a legal issue totally bollixed – perhaps applying the UltraWord to the issue – allowing the user to control the plot, garbling it, and ultimately making all precedent useless.
We recently ran across a shining example of jurisfiction in the discussion of FDA warning letters found in Mihok v. Medtronic, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2015 WL 4722847 (D. Conn. Aug. 10, 2015). Here’s what Mihok held on that subject:
The Complaint is rooted in FDA Warning Letters which state that [defendant] failed to comply with the CGMP regulations. . . . While perhaps not dispositive on the issue, the FDA’s conclusions and interpretations of its own regulations are likely to receive a considerable degree of deference. See, e.g., Conroy v. Dannon Co., Inc., No. 12 CV 6901(VB), 2013 WL 4799164, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. May 9, 2013) (stating that the FDA’s interpretations of its own regulations promulgated under title 21 “are ‘controlling unless plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulations’ or there is any other reason to doubt that they reflect the FDA’s fair and considered judgment”) (citing and quoting PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2567, 2575, 180 L.Ed.2d 580 (2011)); Dorsey v. Housing Auth. of Baltimore City, 984 F.2d 622, 632 (4th Cir. 1993) (finding district court abused its discretion in refusing to consider regulatory agency’s assessment of defendant’s compliance with agency regulations and noting that the district “court should welcome [the agency’s] appraisal of [the defendant’s] compliance with regulations, given its concern for deference to agency interpretations of its own regulations”). Indeed, it is precisely when a court is called upon to interpret the regulations, i.e., when they are ambiguous, and where their application to facts raises complex issues, that the court is most likely to defer to the FDA’s prior determinations. See Wilson v. Frito-Lay N. Am., Inc., 961 F. Supp.2d 1134, 1142 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (noting that “an agency’s informal interpretation of its own ambiguous regulation is [typically] controlling” but declining to give “deference to two warning letters that the FDA sent” because neither party to the case “contended that the FDA regulations . . . [w]ere ambiguous, and the Court d[id] not find that they [we]re”); James T. O’Reilly, et al., 1 Food & Drug Admin. §4:56 (4th Ed. 2015) (“The FDA is allowed great deference in the interpretations of its own regulations…. The more complex the issue, the more scope is likely to be given for the FDA to draw the interpretations.”).
As to deference, Defendants cite a non-binding case, Schering-Plough Healthcare Prods., Inc. v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc., 547 F. Supp.2d 939 (E.D. Wisc. 2008), for the proposition that “a warning letter from the FDA is not considered a final agency action,” and contend that, as a result, “Plaintiffs’ allegations … raise legal questions as to the potential effects of various actions by a federal agency … [which] should be decided in a federal forum.” The Second Circuit has not taken a position on whether an FDA Warning Letter is considered a final agency action. Even if it is not, such letters may still be entitled to deference. See Cmty. Health Ctr. v. Wilson-Coker, 311 F.3d 132, 138 (2d Cir. 2002) (“[E]ven relatively informal [agency] interpretations, such as letters from regional administrators, warrant respectful consideration” where the statute at issue is complex and the regulatory agency possesses “considerable expertise”) (citations and quotations omitted). Regardless, they may serve as evidence of regulatory violations. Gelber v. Stryker Corp., 788 F. Supp.2d 145, 155–56 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (finding plaintiffs who provided FDA Warning Letters as evidence of violations of FDA regulations stated claims for manufacturing defects).
Mihok, 2015 WL 4722847, at *5-6 (citations not omitted, for once). Under this analysis, there being no undecided FDA-related issue, Mihok was remanded to state court.
Without pulling back the curtain all the way on how we find out about new decisions worth a pithy post, we occasionally re-learn about decisions when they are published or added to an electronic reporting service a few months later. When there is a slow week, this dynamic may prompt us to talk about an older decision, even if has already been the subject of a breaking news post. The summary judgment decision in In re Accutane Litigation, No. 271 (MCL), 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1216 (N.J. Super. Law Div. Apr. 2, 2015) was the subject of a breaking news post two months ago, but deserves another look, more for the story it tells about drug litigation than for its direct precedential value.
We have posted through the years about the tortured course of Accutane litigation over the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (“IBD”). (There have also been cases about birth defect and suicidality, but we are not focusing on those here.) In general, the news out of the MDL proceeding has been good for years, both on expert issues and the substance of plaintiffs’ claims. For years, the news from the coordinated proceeding in New Jersey has been very bad, including a few large plaintiff verdicts. Issues with the judge who had overseen the New Jersey proceedings were highly publicized (but not by us), and it is easy to say that her assignment to a new post explained the sea change.
We can guess that the new judge’s look at old issues has been more balanced (from our view), as has the Appellate Division’s review of old decisions. There has also, though, been development in the case law on the New Jersey Product Liability Act (NJPLA) that undercut the legal basis for old (bad) decisions. The persistence of the defendant and willingness of the new judge to consider broad issues late in the life of the litigation bring us to the decision finding the IBD warnings since April 2002 to be adequate as a matter of law under the NJPLA, which sets up a potential adoption for cases where other state law may control.
The history of Accutane’s IBD warnings from the approval of the drug in 1984 through the discontinuation of its sale in 2009 is so extensive that we wonder how warnings claims—the only claims we think should be typically available for a prescription drug—ever could have had legs. As discussed below, we also wonder about other reasons why warnings claims should not have been viable. The court provides detailed findings of fact about the warnings for IBD, which included mechanisms for providing warnings not seen with most prescription drugs. Id. at **15-26. We assume the extra measures were driven by concerns about suicidality in teenage patients and birth defects in their offspring, but IBD was also described in the warnings accompanying blister packs (the only means of distribution since 1990), a guide that physicians had to acknowledge receiving in order to prescribe the drug, a guide that pharmacists had to provide to patients while filling their prescriptions, and brochure that physicians were encouraged to give to patients. Combined with a paragraph in the Warnings section of the package insert, the information provided to physicians warned them up, down, and side to side about the risk of IBD. That sounds a lot like an adequate IBD warning as a matter of law under any state’s law on prescription drug warnings.…
Continue Reading Deeper Dive on New Jersey Accutane Summary Judgment Decision
Today’s post comes from the non-Dechert side of the DDL blog.
This week is the anniversary of the beginning of Facebook. The question of whether Zuckerberg et al. could successfully “monetize” that platform has apparently been answered. There are almost as many ads and push notifications as there are things that we actually care about, such as pictures and updates from friends and family. Even worse than the ads are the political rants, stalker high school classmates, and suggestions to join stupid games. After a nephew invited us to play Farmville for the fifth time, we unfriended him. It was an easy call, especially since most of his entries involved home-made backyard mixed martial arts films and his f-bomb quotient would have made the makers of Scarface and Midnight Run blush. Why isn’t there a “Dislike” button we can click?
But today we will “Like” a pair of decisions out of the Southern District of Texas. The cases are Jackson v. Wyeth LLC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9286 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 27, 2015), and Garza v. Wyeth LLC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9292 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 27, 2015). The cases involve the same judge, the same defendants, and the same claim that ingestion of Reglan/metoclopramide caused tardive dyskinesia. They were issued on the same date. Both opinions are short, well-reasoned, and follow settled Fifth Circuit law.
Some states have statutes that we find very helpful. Louisiana has the Louisiana Product Liability Act, with its strong exclusivity clause; New Jersey’s PLA provides some very helpful presumptions, including a presumption of adequacy for FDA-compliant drug labeling. We have often cited the Texas statute that creates a presumption that pharmaceutical manufacturers and sellers are…
In our day job, we generally rely on final decisions of FDA about things like drug approvals, device clearances, and rules and guidances. We also rely on the general integrity of the FDA’s processes. Even when there are things we do not like on the merits, like observations in form 483s or warnings letters—each is not a final determination of anything according to FDA—we often look to the process itself, which can include a number of steps after the offending statement or action is final.
We also find ourselves calling to the Congressional charge of FDA to protect public health and its various powers of enforcement as counters to the plaintiff charges that FDA’s actions or actions do not amount to condoning our client’s conduct. Even when we read reports like IOM’s panning aspects of FDA, we still find ourselves looking at the process for the product in our case, with (we hope) thorough evaluation of evidence, layers of review, and consistency in reasoning.
The underlying facts in Ivy Sports Medicine, LLC v. Sebelius, No. 11-cv-1006 (RLW), 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51763 (D.D.C. April 10, 2013), test even our somewhat slanted view of things. The case came up on dueling summary judgment motions on an Administrative Procedures Act (APA) review of an FDA decision on a medical device. We have posted on cases in a similar posture before and noted the tension we, as a drug and device products defense lawyers, feel when FDA screws up. In Ivy, the court is asked to decide whether FDA has inherent authority to correct what it considered a massive screw-up and whether it behaved rationally—as opposed to arbitrarily and capriciously—in its correction. In other words, as a big-boned Colorado kid would demand respect for his authority in any situation, is FDA’s inherent authority to be respected when it takes unusual steps to correct a prior abuse of its authority?
out of California. It was a food case, but we wondered whether primary
jurisdiction could be a more active, robust line of defense in drug and device
cases now that Wyeth v. Levine has curtailed the preemption defense. Just last week we showered praise
There was much gnashing of teeth among members of the defense bar in the wake of Wyeth v. Levine‘s curtailment of FDA preemption. It felt like a missed opportunity. But some of our more persistent and creative colleagues insisted that a lot of the facts and factors we typically seized upon to argue for…
We’ve blogged a lot about implied preemption under Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), and in particular how the FDCA expressly bars private enforcement of purported violations of the Act. That’s good – very good indeed – as far as it goes. But what’s the point as a practical matter?
We think the point is how preemption protects Congress’ additional decision in the FDCA to grant the FDA almost unlimited discretion to prosecute, resolve, or excuse violations as the Agency sees fit. Basically, the FDA’s exclusive enforcement authority reinforces those parts of the FDCA that confer upon the FDA the ability to select which violations of the FDCA to prosecute and which to settle administratively. As the Court observed in Buckman, FDA has “complete discretion” in deciding “how and when [its enforcement tools] should be exercised” and must exercise that discretion “to achieve a somewhat delicate balance of statutory objectives.” 531 U.S. at 348. Preemption and prosecutorial discretion go hand in hand.
The Supreme Court looked at this interplay some years earlier in Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985), in which death row inmates tried to throw a monkey wrench into their sentences by seeking to force the FDA to prevent the use of certain drugs use in executions. The FDA had exercised prosecutorial discretion to refuse to enforce the statute in this manner. The Supreme Court affirmed the FDA’s right to determine for itself how to enforce the Act:
[A]n agency decision not to enforce often involves a complicated balancing of a number of factors which are peculiarly within its expertise. Thus, the agency must not only assess whether a violation has occurred, but whether agency resources are best spent on this violation or another, whether the agency is likely to succeed if it acts, whether the particular enforcement action requested best fits the agency’s overall policies, and, indeed, whether the agency has enough resources to undertake the action at all. An agency generally cannot act against each technical violation of the statute it is charged with enforcing. The agency is far better equipped than the courts to deal with the many variables involved in the proper ordering of its priorities.
Id. at 831-32.