Do you remember way back yesterday when we posted on Daubert rulings from an OTC pediatric ibuprofen SJS case? The rulings were in March but just popped up on Lexis last week. We led in with a discussion of video games as a clever segue to the games some experts play. Really, no glimmer of recognition? Well, the same case had summary judgment rulings that have now been “published,” so we are giving you a double dose. See Newman v. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, No. 10 C 1541, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113440 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 2013). As with the expert rulings, there is a mix of good and bad, but the bad gets stuck in our throat. Dispensing with the lame medication jokes, on to the rulings, the good ones first.
Plaintiffs asserted a claim under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act premised on “standby statements” from 2003 and 2005 concerning separate reports of SJS/TEN in children using defendants’ ibuprofen products. This claim failed both because the statements were not deceptive—an obvious element of the claim—and because the defendants established the applicability of the Act’s regulatory compliance defense. (The Act did not require that the plaintiff rely on the deceptive statement, only that the defendants intended that there be reliance, or there would have been another obvious basis where plaintiffs and their parents surely never saw the statements before using the product.) As anyone who has ever participated in drafting any statements on adverse events knows, the line between saying something that will later be called an admission of causation and saying something that will later be called minimizing is a fine one. The statements at issue described the particular cases as “allegedly associated” with the defendants’ product and noted that SJS and/or TEN, in general, “are associated” or “reported to be associated” with ibuprofen and other medications. The FDA-approved label from 2009, when the plaintiffs used the product, included the warning that “[i]buprofen may cause a severe allergic reaction . . . .” Under these circumstances, the statements were held consistent with the label and not “so misleading or deceptive in the context that federal law itself might not regard [it] as adequate.” Id. at *19 (quoting Bober v. Glaxo Wellcome PLC, 246 F.ed 934, 941 (7th Cir. 2001)). It was very sensible to not read “associated with” as deceptive simply because the label later said “may cause.”
The sensible approach continued in the evaluation of the evidence offered on the regulatory compliance defense—an unnecessary analysis given the lack of an otherwise actionable deceptive statement. Without rehashing the discussion, which overlaps with the Daubert analysis at issue in yesterday’s post, the part that interested us was the use of statements from FDA in light of the inevitable allegations that defendants had underreported adverse events and generally kept FDA in the dark about the SJS risk of ibuprofen. Defendants here were able to rely both on a 2006 denial of a citizen’s petition call for withdrawal of all OTC ibuprofen products—for once, not made by Public Citizen, at least openly—and deposition testimony of an FDA official. The denial included the statement that “we have no evidence that there is additional undisclosed safety information that was withheld by ibuprofen manufacturers” and the FDA official did not suggest that defendants failed to perform any required analysis of adverse events. Id. at **23-26. With this back drop, the plaintiffs’ “slight, at best,” evidence of noncompliance could not be assumed to have “affected . . . FDA’s decision making.” Id. at **26-27. Placing the burden on plaintiffs to come forward with evidence that alleged noncompliance with regulatory requirements somehow invalidated FDA’s authorization of defendants’ statements was predictably fatal to plaintiff’s claim.