Private plaintiffs love to scream “fraud on the FDA”! Agency fraud is their magic potion for dissolving any FDA action that they don’t like. Just assert that the FDA was bamboozled and invite some jury somewhere to ignore what the FDA actually did. Unfortunately for the other side, Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Committee,
Today’s post is an update to our post from just a few weeks ago regarding McWilliams v. Novartis AG, No. 2:17-CV-14302 (S.D. Fla.). At that time, the court denied summary judgment on plaintiff’s failure to warn claims, but applying New Jersey law dismissed plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. Since the case involves an FDA-approved…
With Bexis having originally conceived the preemption argument that became Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), we are always on the lookout for ways in which plaintiffs attempt to circumvent Buckman’s result and thus to pursue private litigation over fraud on the FDA.
Plaintiffs love to claim fraud on…
Ever since Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), held that state-law claims alleging fraud on the FDA are preempted, plaintiffs have been attempting to find some other way of bringing claims that attribute FDA actions to a defendant’s false pretenses. Since preemption is based on the Supremacy Clause, and the constitutional relationship between the federal and state legal systems, the doctrine doesn’t apply where recovery is sought under a federal statute. Since the False Claims Act (“FCA”) is a federal statute, sporadic attempts have been made to bring private fraud-on-the FDA-claims under that statute. Bexis, who invented what became the Buckman fraud-on-the-FDA/implied-preemption defense in the Bone Screw litigation, even worked on an amicus brief in one such case, United States ex rel. Gilligan v. Medtronic, Inc., 403 F.3d 386 (6th Cir. 2005), that was ultimately decided (favorably to the defense) on other grounds.
A little less than a year ago we reported on an excellent FCA result in United States ex rel. D’Agostino v. EV3, Inc., 153 F. Supp.3d 519 (D. Mass. 2015). Ever since we’ve been holding our breath, because the First Circuit has been known for pro-plaintiff rulings in cases against our drug and medical device clients. Indeed, the First Circuit once led our list the worst drug/medical device cases of the year for two years running – in 2012 and 2013. Whether something’s changed since then in the First Circuit, we can’t say. But we can report that the district court’s dismissal of fraud-on-the-FDA-based FCA claims in D’Agostino has just been affirmed with an excellently reasoned decision. See D’Agostino v. EV3, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 7422943 (1st Cir. Dec. 23, 2016).
The facts in D’Agostino were thoroughly explained in our prior post. Briefly, the relator (a fired sales rep) alleged that the defendants pulled fast ones on the FDA with respect to the approvals/supplemental approvals of two medical devices, one called “Onyx” and the other “Axium” (these defendants evidently like “x” as much as did the former Standard Oil of New Jersey). The relator-plaintiff claimed that the defendants: (1) sought approval of Onyx for a narrow indication, but intended to promote it more broadly off-label (exactly the claim in Buckman); (2) failed to live up to promises made to the FDA concerning extensive surgeon training in using Onyx (also a form of fraud on the FDA); (3) concealed the failure of Onyx’s active ingredient in a different device (ditto); and (4) failed to recall earlier versions of Axium after obtaining FDA approval (not fraud on the FDA, but a theory that could dangerously penalize innovation). See D’Agostino, 2016 WL 7422943, at ??? (for some reason WL has omitted star paging, so we’ll also cite to the slip opinion), slip op. at 4-8. Critically, although the FDA was informed of all of these claims, the Agency never instituted any enforcement action, nor did the government elect to join the D’Agostino FCA action. Id. at 9, 15. As discussed in the prior post, the district court dismissed all of these claims with prejudice as futile.
It wasn’t a complete win, but the summary judgment outcome in Rheinfrank v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2015 WL 4743056 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 10, 2015), has to put a spring in the step of the defendants as they approach trial. What’s left doesn’t strike us as a very good warnings case. Rheinfrank involved claims that the antiepileptic drug Depakote caused the minor plaintiff’s birth defects. Make no mistake about it, Depakote has a known association with such injuries. First approved in 1983, it’s been a Pregnancy Category D drug since 1988, meaning, according to FDA regulations, that:
there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience or studies in humans, but the potential benefits from the use of the drug in pregnant women may be acceptable despite its potential risks.
21 C.F.R. §201.57(c)(9)(i)(A)(4). Not only that, since 2003, this drug has carried a black box “teratogenicity” warning, as well as other quite explicit, and all-caps, language to the same effect. For details, see 2015 WL 4743056, at *2-3.
Plaintiff-mother had used Depakote for years, through four previous uneventful pregnancies. Id. at *1. On her fifth pregnancy, even though Depakote came with all these warnings, she continued to take it. Id. Her allegations did try to change the subject, however. In addition to claiming that the black box warning (more about that later) and all the other teratogenicity language were inadequate, she asserted that the defendants failed to warn altogether about “developmental delay.” Id. at *5.
Reed Smith won two separate decisions in New Jersey yesterday. One of them, In re NuvaRing Litigation, No. Ber-L-3081-09, slip op. (N.J. Super. L.D. April 19, 2013), we’re not at liberty to discuss, but if you’re on our side, you won’t be disappointed reading it – in all its 91-page splendor.
The other, decision,…
In a pair of cases, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) rumbled through more than $1 billion in verdicts in a gasoline spill case, reducing them to nothing (although one plaintiff managed a new trial on one issue unrelated to this post). See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Albright, ___ A.3d ___, 2013 WL 673738 (Md. Feb. 26, 2013); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Ford, ___ A.3d ___, 2013 WL 673710 (Md. Feb. 26, 2013). While a lot of the analysis in these opinions is devoted to property damage issues (purportedly from groundwater contamination) that we don’t see much in our drug/device sandbox, they also dealt with a couple of issues that are near and dear to our hearts – medical monitoring and fraud on the FDA.
A Tough Medical Monitoring Standard
First, we’re sorry to report, Albright (the lead opinion) did recognize a cause of action for medical monitoring by presently uninjured plaintiffs. 2013 WL
673738, at *26, 31. That being said, we’re pleased to report that the court attached rigorous requirements to the monitoring cause of action – a “proven necessary medical costs” requirement as tough as any state we’ve seen.
What do we mean? Well, first, medical monitoring is a “remedy”; thus plaintiffs must first prove some underlying cause of action. Albright, 2013 WL 673738, at *26-27. Second, medical monitoring costs must be both “necessary and reasonable.” Id. at *27 (emphasis original). “Necessity for medical monitoring . . . must be reasonably certain, rather than merely possible.” Id. Third, a plaintiff must “experience direct and hence discrete exposure.” Id. at *28 (emphasis original). Fourth, the condition for which monitoring is allegedly needed must be “related specifically and tangibly to that exposure.” Id. Fifth and finally, the risk must be “a direct and proximate result of th[at] exposure.” Id. (emphasis original).
The court in Albright was determined that medical monitoring not become an excuse for crappy, unsupported claims:
[W]e are wary of damages for speculative claims resting on tenuous proof of risk of disease attributable to the type of exposure. . . . [W]e believe that . . . recovery for a latent disease due to toxic exposure involves necessarily somewhat nebulous forecasts of a potential risk to develop a disease in the future. . . . Requiring quantifiable and reliable proof, however, will assist courts in determining whether causation and significant risk are present in a plaintiff’s prima facie case.
Id. at *28 (emphasis original). The medical monitoring standards that the court adopted are expressly intended to “inhibit damages awards for speculative, and thus unreliable, opinions as to a plaintiff’s potential risk of developing a future disease.” Id. at *29.
The following is a guest post by Laura Mastrangelo at Reed Smith, who gets all the credit, and takes all the blame, for its contents. Take it away Laura….
There was a fair amount of preemption action on punitive damage statutes last week, at least with respect to those states that limit punitive damages for FDA approved drugs and devices. John Sullivan provided excellent coverage of Zimmerman v. Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, 2012 WL 3848545 (D. Md. Sept. 5, 2012), yesterday here, so I won’t belabor that discussion further. Flying more under the radar, though, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion in Marsh v. Genentech, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2012 WL 3854780 (6th Cir. Sept. 6, 2012), which dovetails nicely with the District of Maryland’s analysis in Zimmerman. In Marsh, the Sixth Circuit affirmed its previous holding in Garcia v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, 385 F.3d 961 (6th Cir. 2004), that the fraud exception to Michigan’s bar on products liability suits against drug manufacturers is preempted, even where Plaintiffs haven’t alleged fraud-on-the-FDA in the classical sense.
Plaintiffs brought consolidated products-liability actions against drug manufacturers Genentech, Inc. and Xoma (U.S.) LLC (collectively, “Genentech”) to recover for injuries allegedly sustained from use of the psoriasis medication Raptiva, alleging strict products liability under design-defect and failure-to-warn theories, negligence, breach of warranty, and fraud. Id. at *1. The action consolidated four different plaintiffs, but apart from their dates of use and alleged injuries, the allegations for the four were identical. Id., n.2.
The scope of Mensing is one of the hotter issues in drug and device law these days. (The Bartlett appeal is one example.) To our defense-hack eyes, Mensing seems perfectly straightforward: a claim is preempted to the extent it alleges that the risks of a generic drug were not adequately disclosed. But the doctrinal landscape…
Does Buckman v. Plaintiff’s Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), apply any time that a plaintiff raises a fraud on the FDA allegation in litigation, or is it limited to causes of action denominated “fraud on the FDA? Most courts have agreed with the Sixth Circuit that Buckman applies across the board. See , 385 F.3d 961 (6th Cir. 2004). A persistent minority, however, has limited Buckman to complete “fraud on the FDA” causes of action. See Desiano v. Warner-Lambert & Co., 467 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2006). The Supreme Court attempted, but failed, to close the split in Desiano, but failed – splitting 4-4. See Warner Lambert LLC v. Kent, 552 U.S. 440 (2008). Garcia v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories
Both Garcia and Desiano involved the “fraud on the FDA” exception to a Michigan tort reform statute that imposes a presumption of adequacy on warnings that are FDA approved – that is, just about every warning. The Michigan statute was essentially dispositive.
Then Texas passed a similar presumption statute that is almost as dispositive in the ordinary case as Michigan’s. It was only a matter of time before the Fifth Circuit would be called upon to decide the same question as in Garcia/Desiano.
Also in the mix is the Supreme Court’s later, extremely anti-preemption, decision in Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S 555 (2008).