We usually represent manufacturers, not pharmacies, in personal injury cases, so why should we care whether pharmacies can be on the hook? Well, if the pharmacy’s presence in the case prevents federal diversity jurisdiction, then solid case law shielding the pharmacy from liability will be crucial to our argument that the pharmacy was fraudulently/improperly joined.

It’s been a few years since we talked about the conundrum facing pharmacies if they suspect prescriptions are medically unnecessary or improper. Back in 2015, two cases were decided within days of each other that allowed claims to go forward suggesting that a pharmacy could be potentially liable for both filling suspect prescriptions (see here

What follows is a post authored by Jaclyn Setili, a Reed Smith associate.  She is discussing what we believe is the first extension of Mensing/Bartlett preemption to claims involving pharmacies – something we’ve previously proposed as theoretically possible, but had yet to see.  As always, our guest posters are entitled to 100% of the credit (and any blame) for their blogposts.

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As a Mitten native (that’s Michigan for the uninitiated), this guest blogger is regularly on the lookout for good news connected with her home state.  Typically this involves events of the sporting championship variety, but cause for celebration has been scarce of late on that front (see, e.g., Michigan football, an impressive early season dominance culminating in two close late season losses and a devastating defeat in the Orange Bowl; the Red Wings, currently sitting in last place in their division and slipping progressively further away from a Stanley Cup title since their last championship win in 2008; and the Lions, every year, forever). Even reports of Detroit’s flourishing restaurant scene and a slot in the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2017 fail to inspire much collective awe from this guest blogger’s big-coastal-city friends and colleagues.

As it turns out, however, we need only look a few months back to the In re Lipitor MDL (which we have blogged about before, most recently here, and in which all but one of the cases have now been dismissed) for such news.  In In re Lipitor (Atorvastatin Calcium) Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 2016 WL 7368203 (D.S.C. Nov. 1, 2016), the district court ultimately granted plaintiffs’ motions to remand, but in the process became the first court ever (as far as we know) to apply impossibility preemption to bar warning claims against a pharmacist selling a branded drug.

The details: The two actions at issue were originally filed in Michigan state court; each plaintiff alleged that Lipitor caused her to develop Type II diabetes, and that the manufacturer failed to properly disclose the risks associated with the drug.  That defendant removed both cases to the Eastern District of Michigan based on diversity jurisdiction; from there the cases were transferred to the MDL court.  Plaintiffs named a local pharmacy in order to destroy diversity.  While the parties agreed that the pharmacy and at least one named plaintiff in each case were residents of Michigan, defendants claimed that the pharmacy was fraudulently joined and that the non-Michigan plaintiffs were fraudulently misjoined.  Plaintiffs moved to remand.

As we and the MDL court know all too well, to establish that a nondiverse defendant has been fraudulently joined, a removing party in the Fourth Circuit must show either:  (1) “outright fraud” in plaintiff’s pleading of jurisdictional facts, or (2) that there is no possibility that plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court.  2016 WL 7368203, at *1 (emphasis added).  That is always an uphill battle.  Here, defendants argued that there was no possibility that plaintiffs could state a claim against the pharmacy where plaintiffs allegedly purchased the drug under Michigan law for four reasons:  (a) their claims were preempted by federal law, (b) Michigan’s seller immunity statute bars pharmacy claims, (c) the pharmacy had no duty to warn plaintiffs, and (d) the learned intermediary theory further barred plaintiffs’ claims.

Of primary importance for our purposes is the court’s analysis of the first ground, preemption.  The court first noted plaintiffs’ admission that they “may not have a claim regarding labeling with respect to . . . a pharmacy.”  Id. at *2.  The court swiftly concluded that even if it were possible to state such a claim, it would be preempted by federal law because, under the Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act, “a pharmacy has no authority to unilaterally change a drug’s label.”  Id.  Thus, any claims based on labeling were preempted under PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 131 S. Ct. 2567, 2571 (2011).  In other words, the court concluded that there was no possibility that plaintiffs could establish a cause of action against a pharmacist based on labeling.  That result is a first, and could be a big deal.

Continue Reading Guest Post – MDL Court: Preemption Leaves No “Glimmer of Hope” for Labeling Claims Against a Pharmacy

Our learned intermediary rule “head count” lists Oklahoma as solidly in support of the doctrine:

Oklahoma: Edwards v. Basel Pharmaceuticals, 933 P.2d 298, 300-01 (Okla. 1997); Tansy v. Dacomed Corp., 890 P.2d 881, 886 (Okla. 1994); McKee v. Moore, 648 P.2d 21, 24 (Okla. 1982); Cunningham v. Charles Pfizer & Co., 532 P.2d 1377, 1381 (Okla. 1974).

The “head count” lists every state supreme court decision to follow the learned intermediary rule, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s four decisions applying the doctrine are exceeded only by Ohio’s six (plus a statute) and Kansas’ five opinions.

Oklahoma courts had never applied the rule to pharmacists, however. As we’ve discussed before, the learned intermediary rule helps pharmacy defendants by precluding claims that pharmacies, as intermediate sellers of prescription drugs, should have some sort of independent duty to warn patients. Just as the rule recognizes physicians as learned intermediaries in passing along relevant warnings from prescription medical product manufacturers to their patients, learned intermediary principles also preserve the physician-patient relationship by precluding imposition of independent warning duties on other possible interlopers – such as pharmacies – who otherwise might be legally required to confuse patients by providing information that conflicts with what prescribing physicians tell their patients. Back in 2011, on occasion of the Arkansas decision Kowalski v. Rose Drugs, Inc., 378 S.W.3d 109 (Ark. 2011), we did a 50-state survey post on this issue, and Oklahoma was missing in action.

Not any longer. In Carista v. Valuck, ___ P.3d ___, 2016 WL 6237855 (Okla. App. Oct. 20, 2016), the court applied the learned intermediary rule to pharmacy-related claims in essentially the same fashion as the previous cases in our survey post. Carista involved a plaintiff (or more precisely, a plaintiff’s decedent) who took too many painkillers – it appears, from the opinion, illegally − overdosed, and then attempted to blame someone else, in this case the pharmacy where the prescriptions were allegedly filled. The case was dismissed, and the plaintiff appealed. Recognizing the issue as one of first impression, the court followed what it concluded, rightly, was the majority rule:

Many other states appear, however, to have adopted the [learned intermediary] doctrine, with limited exceptions, to shield pharmacists from being required to “second guess” a physician’s medical decisions embodied in an otherwise authorized and legally made prescription.


Continue Reading Oklahoma Becomes the Latest State To Apply Learned Intermediary Principles To Pharmacies