We have been consistently critical of the MDL system for encouraging judges presiding over such massive aggregations to manipulate the applicable law to create settlement pressure on defendants. We’ve seen that with federal preemption, willingness to create novel state-law causes of action, choice of law, and trial consolidation of multiple plaintiffs.
We’ve blogged numerous times about the tentative, non-final, and informal status of FDA warning letters (and untitled letters and similar enforcement precursors like Form 483s). We’ve cited precedent, FDA internal manuals, FDA’s own position taken in formal briefing, and learned treatises on FDA law. That an FDA warning letter has no binding legal effect (indeed,…
Today’s guest post, by Luther Munford of Butler Snow, engages in one of our currently favorite activities, that being informed speculation on what might be the consequences of a favorable Supreme Court resolution of its currently pending preemption appeal in Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht. We hope he’s right. As always, our…
It is now 2019, but we are still finding bits of leftover 2018 business on our desk and in our emails. Towards the end of last year, we encountered an avalanche of good rulings from the Southern District of Indiana in the Cook IVC filters litigation. Here is one we found hidden in the toe…
As we demonstrated in a post back in 2013, FDA compliance evidence generally − and the fact of a medical device’s clearance as “substantially equivalent” in safety and effectiveness to a predicate device under §510k of the Medical Device Amendments (now 21 U.S.C. §360c(f)(1)(A)) specifically – had for decades been admissible evidence in product…
Remember how Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470 (1996), dismissed the §510k “substantially equivalence” medical device clearance as non-preemptive because it was supposedly “focused on equivalence, not safety”? Id. at 493. In the same vein:
“[S]ubstantial equivalence determinations provide little protection to the public. These determinations simply compare a post − 1976 device to a pre − 1976 device to ascertain whether the later device is no more dangerous and no less effective than the earlier device. If the earlier device poses a severe risk or is ineffective, then the later device may also be risky or ineffective.”
Id. (quoting from pro-plaintiff law review article).
Most of our readers know that this characterization, assuming it was true for the 1980s-era (implanted 1987) device that the Court considered in Lohr, was no longer true, even at the time Lohr was decided, and certainly hasn’t been the case since the FDAAA was passed a year after Lohr was decided. Still, this anachronistic view of §510k has flourished for twenty years, affecting first preemption and now (thanks mostly to Mesh MDL rulings) admissibility of evidence.
That’s why we were interested in what the FDA had to say about today’s §510k clearance process in its recent memorandum entitled “Public Health Interests and First Amendment Considerations Related to Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products,” which is available here. One of our guest bloggers, Liz Minerd, recently discussed the First Amendment aspects of that document, here.
This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.
We’ve put it off long enough – time to deal with the awful decision in C.R. Bard v. Cisson, __ F.3d __, 2016 WL 158814 (4th Cir. Jan. 14, 2016). When we posted our 2015 Top Ten, we noted that we were watching Cisson because it had the potential to be among our top or bottom 10 of 2016. Well, the top is definitely off the table and while it’s still early, the bottom is certainly in the running.
A quick background of the case. Cisson is an appeal from the first trial in the massive Pelvic Mesh MDL. Plaintiff underwent implantation of defendant’s pelvic mesh device and began experiencing pain. Two years later, she had surgery to remove the device, but the “arms” of the device could not be removed. Id. at *1. In 2013, defendant won summary judgment on many of plaintiff’s claims leaving only design defect and failure to warn to proceed to trial. Id. at *2. The trial resulted in a plaintiff verdict, including a sizeable punitive damages award. Id. at *1.
This post comes from the non-Reed Smith side of this blog.
With some courts, the § 510(k) clearance of a medical device is not only insufficient to support preemption. It’s not probative enough to be discussed at trial. The MDL court in the Boston Scientific Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation is one such court, consistently excluding from trial evidence of 510(k) clearance of the pelvic mesh device. According to a recent decision by one of the courts overseeing a trial on remand from the MDL, the MDL court read Medtronic v. Lohr to hold that § 510(k) clearance addresses only the device’s equivalence with an already marketed device, not safety. Winebarger v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126616, at *13-14 (W.D.N.C. Sept. 22, 2015) (describing the basis for the MDL court’s decision).
We’re not so convinced. The 510(k) process is not a complete abandonment of safety considerations. And it certainly provides evidence of whether the manufacturer behaved reasonably. Congress enacted the 510(k) process, in part, to enable quicker clearance for new devices that are equivalent to devices that have already been on the market and have accumulated some sort of safety and efficacy record. Moreover, the 510(k) process is an inescapable reality for device manufacturers. A discussion of the process, how it was followed, and the safety information that was provided or available through the marketing of equivalent devices is relevant to assessing the reasonableness of the manufacturer’s actions. If plaintiffs want to minimize its importance, establish that it says nothing about safety, or show what the manufacturer failed to do, they are free to present such evidence. The jury can then decide the relevance of this evidence.
Fortunately, the remand court, applying North Carolina law, got this right – sort of. In North Carolina, a jury may consider the “extent to which the design or formulation [of the device] conformed to any applicable government standard.” Winebarger, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, at *19 (quoting North Carolina’s Product Liability Act). And so, unlike the MDL court, the remand court determined that evidence of § 510(k) clearance is admissible. But introduction of that evidence will likely come with a fairly severe limiting instruction:
The fact that BSC followed the requisite 510(k) protocol – limited as it is – prior to marketing its Uphold device has minimal probative value regarding BSC’s efforts to adhere to FDA processes and procedure generally. . . . Admissibility might depend upon a limiting instruction that 510(k) clearance is not to be considered as evidence that the FDA authorized the Uphold as safe and approved its intended use as such; that 510(k) clearance is not evidence that BSC satisfied any standard of care in designing the Uphold device. For these reasons, the Court’s preliminary ruling on Plaintiff’s motion is that the 510(k) clearance process is admissible subject to a limiting instruction consistent with the terms of the instant Order.
Id. at *22-23.
“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.