We found the decision in Mills v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2011 WL 4708850 (D. Ariz. Oct. 7, 2011), interesting for at least three reasons.  First of all, it’s another TwIqbal dismissal, so it goes on our TwIqbal cheat sheet.

But what’s even more interesting is precisely what the plaintiff wasn’t able to plead. 

We’re talking about the Restatement (Third) of Torts, Products Liability §2, to be precise.  Being in Pennsylvania, for quite some time we’ve had more than a passing interest in this section  of the Third Restatement and its essentially negligence (“reasonableness”)-based theory of product liability.   For decades, Pennsylvania followed a “ne’er the twain shall meet” rule that strictly separated strict liability from “negligence concepts.”  That approach was exemplified by Azzarello v. Black Brothers Co., 391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978).  But in Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 841 A.2d 1000 (Pa. 2003), three justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opined that a quarter century had proven wanting the “strict liability” of the Azzarello sort, and that Pennsylvania law should move to the negligence-based standard of §2. 841 A.2d at 1015-16.  Full disclosure – Bexis filed a brief for PLAC in Phillips on the Restatement Third issue.

While three justices aren’t a majority of Pennsylvania’s seven-member Supreme Court, in Phillips they outnumbered the court’s Azzarello supporters 3-2 (there was a vacancy and an obscure concurrence in the result).  In almost seven intervening years, the court has failed to address the issue squarely, although not for want of trying.  The court thought it was going to decide the issue in Straub v. Cherne Industries, 880 A.2d 561 (Pa. 2005), but instead found there had been a waiver.  The court tried again in Bugosh v. I.U. North America, Inc., 971 A.2d 1228 (Pa. 2009), but dismissed the appeal as improvidently granted after it turned out that the defendant was an intermediate seller, not a true manufacturer (that makes a difference in the Third Restatement, but it’s not important here).

Finally, the Third Circuit got fed up with the issue remaining undecided, and after trying unsuccessfully to get the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to accept a certified question, took the metaphorical bull by the horns and predicted that the court would eventually adopt the Third Restatement in Berrier v. Simplicity Manufacturing, 563 F.3d 38, 57 (3d Cir. 2009).  As we discussed in an earlier post, that’s led to still more squabbling among the federal district courts.

Full disclosure – Bexis filed amicus briefs for PLAC in all of those other cases on the Third Restatement issue.

So the Third Restatement question has vexed Pennsylvania product liability law for quite a few years.  Well, not too long ago we (well, Bexis, obviously) was expressing his frustration with this indeterminate state of affairs with regular blog reader whom we ‘re not sure wants to be publicly identified, so we won’t, and said reader mentioned that his/her home state of Wisconsin was in somewhat of the same boat.


Continue Reading What’s Up With The Third Restatement?