We just returned from four days of depositions in Roswell and Carlsbad, New Mexico. We were pleased to cross this state off of the “not yet visited” list on our bulletin board. But it seems that we found the least picturesque cities in the entire state. At this time of year, the 75-mile drive from
We sometimes start our posts with disclaimers about how we do not know all the details of a case, perhaps supplemented by a little digging on the internet, or that we are not experts in some substantive area. We start this post with disclaimers that we (and our respective firms) are not involved in the case we are writing about (or the related cases mentioned in it) and we are not specialists in antitrust or patent law (although others at our respective firms are). We do know misjoinder, forum shopping, and judicial smackdowns when we see them, though. We typically encounter misjoinder when a bunch of individual plaintiffs from various places are listed on a single caption because they each are pursuing individual claims over injuries allegedly caused by the same or similar products. As long as at least one plaintiff is from where they have sued and at least one plaintiff is from the defendant’s home state, they all get to stay where their lawyers chose to sue, at least if they get their way. (Set aside CAFA for now.) When confronted with a motion to sever—or another motion that implicates the issue—they argue that joinder is perfectly appropriate because all cases against the manufacturer of product(s) are really about the same set of facts—i.e., the company designed a dangerous product and marketed it without adequate warnings of its risks.
Forum shopping is the other half of litigation tourism, as we often call it—like picking the campground for the family reunion. The lawyer’s reason for picking the court is typically not revealed, just that a plaintiff gets to pick and their choice should be afforded deference. We have yet to see a lawyer say they picked the venue where they felt they had the most influence with the bench and/or juries apt to put extra zeros on the damages in a case against an out-of-state defendant. That the plaintiff lawyers, rightly or wrongly, consider where to file and how to package their clients as part of their desire to maximize the total recovery by verdict or settlement—and their fees—should not be a shock to anyone. But we might suppose that the government lawyers trying to enforce the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Act might be above such base considerations.
This is a guest post, by Jaimee Farrer, an associate at Reed Smith. We’re always looking for new twists that can help in efforts to remove cases to federal court, and the case Jaimee describes does that, relying on an MDL standing severance order to short circuit what might have been lengthy and complex joinder arguments. As always, our guest posters should get full credit (and any blame) for their analyses. With that said, take it away Jaimee.
We’re used to seeing judges split the baby when it comes to ruling on Daubert motions, for example. Courts frequently allow an expert to testify about some of his/her opinions while excluding his/her other opinions, thereby giving both sides a little of what they want. But remand decisions are usually black and white with a clear winner and a clear loser. Either a case gets to remain in federal court and the defendants are the happy victors or the case gets remanded to state court, leaving the defendants to sulk and bemoan their fate. But in today’s opinion, In Re Benicar (Olmesartan) Products Liability Litigation, 2016 WL 4059650 (D.N.J. July 27, 2016), which comes courtesy of the Benicar MDL Court, both scenarios happened simultaneously . . . well at least sort of.
Seventy-nine plaintiffs joined in filing a Complaint in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri, against five defendants, two Daiichi Sankyo affiliates and three Forest Laboratories affiliates. 2016 WL 4059650 at *1-2. In their Complaint, the plaintiffs alleged generally that they were injured by drugs developed and marketed by the defendants. Id. at *1. The defendants removed the action to the Eastern District of Missouri, claiming diversity jurisdiction. Id. The defendants concurrently moved to stay the case pending MDL transfer, which was granted. Id. Plaintiffs predictably moved to remand, arguing lack of complete diversity. Id. There things stood for several months while MDL transfer occurred. Id. at 2. After the transfer, the stay was lifted, allowing the District of New Jersey to rule on the plaintiffs’ remand motion. Id.
At this point, in a multi-plaintiff case, we usually see arguments about fraudulent joinder, fraudulent misjoinder, or alternatively about personal jurisdiction. See here and here, for examples. Not this time. In ruling on remand, the Court conducted a cursory analysis of the citizenship of the parties and determined that thirty-five of the seventy-nine plaintiffs were citizens of the same state where at least one of the defendants has its principal place of business or is incorporated. Id. at *2. That’s usually bad news for defendants.
In this post we happily bring to your attention three more favorable resolutions where pharmaceutical defendants faced with multi-plaintiff misjoined complaints utilized the limits on general personal jurisdiction imposed by Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014). The misjoined complaints were sliced, diced, and ultimately dismissed in federal court. We’ve discussed this technique before, here, here, and here, but it bears repeating – this is a way for defendants to defeat CAFA-skirting plaintiff misjoinders while avoiding the morass of “fraudulent joinder.”
We haven’t rated Oklahoma particularly highly as one of the other sides’ favored jurisdictions, but apparently parts of it are – at least in propoxyphene-related litigation. The three substantively identical decisions, Guillette v. PD-RX Pharmaceuticals. Inc., 2016 WL 3094073 (W.D. Okla. June 1, 2016); Manning v. PD-RX Pharmaceuticals Inc., 2016 WL 3094075 (W.D. Okla. June 1, 2016); and Nauman v. PD-RX Pharmaceuticals Inc., 2016 WL 3094081 (W.D. Okla. June 1, 2016), all involved complaints filed by multiple plaintiffs with nothing in common except allegations of injury due to products containing this drug. Multiple defendants that made multiple products were also involved.
Usually, complaints of this nature are structured so that at least one plaintiff is a resident of the forum state, but not here. “Admittedly, no Plaintiff is an Oklahoma resident.” E.g., Guillette, 2016 WL 3094073, at *1 (since the three opinions are substantively identical, we’ll cite only this one). That fact makes things a little easier for defendants (no need to sever and possibly remand the in-state plaintiff), but, as we’ve discussed in our prior posts, is in no way dispositive.
Spring seems to be finally here in the mid-Atlantic region and we could think of nothing better to usher in spring than some personal jurisdiction and procedural wrangling. Every year, we see new cases with multiple plaintiffs thrown together filed in places the plaintiff lawyers want to litigate. Laws are enacted and big cases are decided that should curtail this practice, yet the cases keep popping up like longer-lasting and worse-smelling crocuses. The options available to defendants to break up, remove, transfer, or dismiss some or all of these multi-plaintiff state court actions have grown, but the plaintiff lawyers keep coming up with arguments for why their cases should stay put in the form and forum of their choosing. The case we are discussing today rejects one of the major recent arguments from the plaintiff lawyers to try to impose personal jurisdiction where it should not exist—“pendent jurisdiction.” Combined with the recent defense win on “jurisdiction by consent,” 2016 is starting out pretty well on this front.
A recent pelvic mesh case in the District of Maryland, Sullivan v. Calvert Memorial Hospital, No. PJM 14-118, Memorandum Opinion (D. Md. July 30, 2015), offers an interesting and useful take on federal jurisdiction when plaintiffs name local doctors as co-defendants. You know the drill. In order to manipulate the forum and avoid removal jurisdiction in a case against an out-of-state product manufacturer, plaintiffs will sometimes join a local doctor as a co-defendant. One response could be to remove the case to federal court on the basis that the local doctor was fraudulently joined, a strategy that is legally sound and often successful when dealing with intermediaries in the chain of distribution, such as distributors and pharmacies. Those kinds of defendants do not owe independent duties to plaintiffs and have zero involvement in the design, manufacturing, and labeling of drugs and medical devices (setting aside the potentially vexing issues presented by 3D-printed medical devices, but that is a topic for another day.) Their citizenship therefore should be disregarded.
Fraudulent joinder with doctors is more complicated because doctors obviously do owe duties of care to their patients, so we tend to approach cases involving doctors also from the point of view of fraudulent misjoinder. Under fraudulent misjoinder, the defendant argues that the federal court should disregard the citizenship of the local or non-diverse co-defendant because the claims against that defendant are distinct from the product liability claims against product manufacturer. The case most often cited as the landmark for fraudulent misjoinder is Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1360 (11th Cir. 1996)), and as the argument goes, product liability claims on the one hand are based on facts and law different from medical malpractice claims on the other hand. It is as though two different lawsuits were improperly joined under one caption, which gives the district court discretion to disregard the citizenship of the non-diverse or local doctors and retain federal diversity jurisdiction. (We discussed severance of malpractice claims from product liability claims here, although not in the context of federal jurisdiction.)
Some courts have been slow to adopt fraudulent misjoinder, sometimes citing Tapscott as a minority rule and often ignoring Tapscott altogether. And that is where Sullivan v. Calvert comes in. In Sullivan, the plaintiff’s surgical team allegedly left a piece of a catheter in the plaintiff’s bladder during a procedure to insert a transvaginal sling. Op. at 2. The Maryland plaintiff therefore sued multiple Maryland healthcare providers alleging medical malpractice for leaving the catheter behind, but she also separately pleaded product liability claims against the transvaginal sling manufacturer. Id. at 3.
This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog only.
We often struggle for a clever title or catchy phrase on which to hang our posts. Hence, the frequent sidebars into pop culture, sports, history, and music. But today, the court handed us our opening on a silver platter – permitted gamesmanship v.…
Not to over-generalize, but older people have been known to break their hips. Based on anecdotal evidence, broken hips hurt more than stepping on a broken bottle or a sea urchin during a tropical vacation. Based on more than anecdotal evidence, product liability plaintiff lawyers prefer state courts over federal courts. This is because of various factors that, they think, make the state courts more likely to impose pain, and impose a lot of pain, on the defendants. We have posted on many cases discussing the strategies used by product liability plaintiffs to stay out of federal court. These cases often come up in the posture of a motion to remand by the plaintiff after the defendant has removed under 28 U.S.C. § 1446. If the case can be transferred to an MDL court—potentially well-versed in the anti-removal strategies—before a ruling on the motion to remand, then the chance of the case staying put tends to go up.
In Millman v. Biomet Ortho., Inc., No. 3:13-CV-77 RLM-CAN (N.D. Ind. Dec. 10, 2013), and Akin v. Stryker Corp., Civ. No. 13-1811 (DWF/FLN) (D. Minn. Dec. 12, 2013), we have decisions on motions to remand from two different MDL courts on two different cases involving two different hip replacement implantable medical devices. We also have two different results, although both are good.
A favorite tactic of plaintiffs’ lawyers is to join together dozens of completely unrelated plaintiffs’ into one complaint. We see it all the time. Counsel lump their clients together in mass complaints that contain general allegations regarding the product, but nary a detail about the individual plaintiffs or their alleged injuries. They also choose fora that more often than not bear no relation to the parties or the controversy and are chosen by counsel for strategic purposes.
We can see why plaintiffs’ attorneys do this, but it does not make it right. By massing plaintiffs together, they give their cases an impression of gravitas, even if few (or none) of the plaintiffs have valid claims. Mass complaints also save them money because they pay one filing fee instead of many, preserving their war chests while simultaneously depriving the courts of funding they need to provide access to justice.
But the most invidious aspect of the mass complaint is the blatant forum manipulation in which plaintiffs’ counsel engage. Where complete diversity exists, it is a non-forum defendant’s statutory right to remove cases to federal court, so long as other requirements for removal jurisdiction are met. But if plaintiffs’ counsel can find just one plaintiff whose citizenship is the same as one defendant, he or she can combine that one plaintiff’s claims with the claims of others into one complaint, purportedly destroying complete diversity and making the complaint appear to be non-removable. Never mind that every other plaintiff’s citizenship is diverse from the defendant’s and that removal jurisdiction can and should exist over all their claims. Also never mind that keeping claims in state court means that they will not be transferred to federal multidistrict litigation. When MDLs exist, they usually have been requested by plaintiffs, and manipulating the forum to avoid MDL transfer is both hypocritical and wasteful of resources that parties and courts invest in those proceedings.