We have written extensively on the travesty of the Neurontin trilogy (like here and here) and noted how the plaintiffs’ efforts to fit cases based on alleged off-label promotion of the prescription SSRIs Celexa and Lexapro into the same rubric have not been as successful. Today’s case addresses what we understand to be some
If you want to insult and annoy someone, consider suing them under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. section 1964. That law is charmingly known as RICO, in an allusion to the big bad in the great 1931 gangster film Little Caesar, played by Edward G. Robinson at his most …
Imagine a conspiracy so vast that it includes not only your usual plaintiff-side fantasy of the FDA conspiring with a drug company, but also high FDA officials, President Obama, Robert Mercer (noted Trump supporter and reputed Breitbart financier), a number of other investors, and just for good measure President and Hillary Clinton.
July in D.C. is hot and sticky. When scorching day follows scorching day, area residents look forward to evening thunderstorms, not just to water otherwise thirsty lawns and gardens but to cool things down. Lightning can be frightening—that the words almost rhyme is no accident—but it seems to always accompany our rain during the swampiest part of our summers.
The decision in Sidney Hillman Health Ctr. v. Abbott Labs., No. 13 C 5865, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84662 (N.D. Ill. June 29, 2016), is not as dramatic as a flash of lightning or as stirring as a thunderclap. To us, though, it provides some welcome relief and suggests that a larger storm is coming for cases like this. (Like awkward cocktail party banter, we will keep our discussion of weather brief.) Hillman is one of many third payor cases based on alleged off-label promotion of a prescription drug. It is of the variant where benefit plans principally used RICO as the vehicle to try to get damages for past payments for members’ prescriptions for unapproved indications. We sometimes lump such cases together with those using the False Claims Act or various state fraud statutes to try to recover for amounts paid as a result of allegedly improper marketing, often with large fines or a damages multiplier in the mix. Sometimes these cases are class actions on behalf of lots of payors around the country. Sometimes they are pursued by governmental entities, which occasionally outsource the work to contingency fee lawyers. In their various forms, these TPP cases have caught our attention. We have been particular perturbed by some courts’ blithe acceptance of collective proof of causation in these cases, the point of which is to lump together as many purported actionable claims or implicated payments as possible without having to generate proof as to why each prescription was written or paid. We have also questioned whether statutes like RICO (enacted to combat organized crime) or the False Claims Act (enacted to combat war profiteering) are being stretched beyond their legitimate bounds to accommodate these cases, simply because the defendants are unpopular or the coffers of the governmental or benefit plan plaintiffs need an infusion of cash.
Many of these cases have also been predicated on the idea that promotion of off-label use is inherently wrong. Over the last year or so, largely because of Amarin, the underpinnings of that idea have been eroding fast. The First Amendment’s prohibition on laws “abridging the freedom of speech” applies to commercial speech, including commercial speech by and on behalf of drug companies about uses of their products that are off-label. If truthful statements about unapproved uses of the drug—like those that accurately represent the information on risks and benefits and make clear what the label says—are protected, then civil liability should not be based on them. That would go for cases under the FCA, RICO, or various state laws—with the Fourteenth Amendment making the First Amendment applicable to states. To our eyes, some of the notorious cases imposing massive liability for alleged off-label promotion of prescription drugs seem to have relied in large part on vilifying truthful off-label promotion. (Keep in mind that even pre-Amarin FDA regs allowed drug companies to provide information about off-label uses under certain circumstances without it being considered “promotion.”) So, a First Amendment storm is brewing for these cases, both in terms of the precedential value of decisions in cases that did not differentiate between truthful and false statements about off-label uses and the viability of complaints drafted with the expectation that no such differentiation would be necessary.
This brings us back to Hillman, which had an interesting litigation history of its own. It followed FCA and related actions based on alleged off-label promotion by the manufacturer of a prescription seizure and migraine medication. A large settlement of civil and criminal claims, with attendant press coverage, followed. The Hillman plaintiffs filed a putative class action over a year later, alleging overpayments for off-label prescriptions between 1998 and 2012. The trial court dismissed on statute of limitations and the Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs amended and the defendants moved to dismiss. Along the way, there have been a number of product liability claims with the same drug, complete with off-label promotion allegations and preemption of some warnings claims. (As an aside, it would be interesting if some of the alleged misrepresentations about safety in the Hillman complaint were about the same issues about which it would have been impossible for the defendants to warn. There is no preemption for RICO claims, because preemption only applies to state law, but it should be hard to misrepresent a drug’s safety by accurately repeating the contents of a label that could not have been changed as to a particular risk.)Continue Reading Another Off-Label Promotion Third Party Payor Case Lacks Causation
Is there a more misused statute than RICO? Or one that more convincingly shows the weakness of the textualist position, which wads up any evidence of legislative intent and tosses it into the trash bin? RICO was clearly intended to address organized crime, but its broad and vague language has been held to reach all sorts of commercial disputes and garden variety litigations where no hit-men, shake-down schemes, or cement shoes are in sight. It’s easy to see why plaintiff lawyers love to lob RICO claims into their complaints – getting treble damages for labeling your opponent a racketeer is a good business model. We’ve said all this before, of course.
The godfather of RICO was Notre Dame Law Professor G. Robert Blakey. While in law school, Blakey authored a law review note about the inability of prosecutors to affix criminal liability to the attendees of the notorious Apalachin organized crime meeting in 1957. Later, he worked on a bill that would take care of that problem. President Nixon signed RICO into law in 1970 and, like a lot of what Nixon did, it created more problems than it solved. Another law came into play – the law of unintended consequences. The malleability of RICO didn’t merely suit plaintiff lawyers down to the ground; Blakey also seemed to enjoy the surprising scope and relevance of his baby.
When we were a young litigator we attended an all-day CLE conference in NYC on business litigation. The moderator was a sharp litigator from the Mudge Rose firm named Jed Rakoff. He is now one of the two or three smartest and scariest judges in the country. The star speaker was Blakey, who held forth on how RICO was the cure for whatever ailed any wannabe plaintiff. He probably never envisioned that RICO would result in his occupation of a Waldorf Astoria podium in front of 300 white-shoed lawyers. But there he was. The audience peppered Blakey with questions about the reach of RICO. Would X fall within RICO’s grasp? Yup. Would Y? Of course. We went up to Blakey after the talk and poured into his ear a complex fact scenario we were defending. Is that a RICO violation? Sure.
Blakey must have been ecstatic about what happened in the District of Massachusetts Neurontin litigation, where allegations of off-label promotion and other marketing malfeasances supported RICO claims and, consequently, huge settlements. RICO had been stretched up to (we would say past) its breaking point on issues such as causation, injury, and damages. It was, in our judgment, one of this country’s enormous wrong turns in drug and device litigation. D. Mass. prosecutors showed up at CLE conferences, crowing about their success and ominously hinting at more to come. But their legal theories rang hollow and the showmanship looked cheesy. Having prosecuted federal cases ourselves, we have a knee jerk reflex to assume the good faith and validity of USAO actions and policies. Not so here. It smelled like overreaching. We think history will vindicate our position. It is not as if the history of Mass. litigation is a history of getting things right. Ever heard of the Salem Witch trials? Lizzy Borden? Roberts v. Boston (which invented the separate but equal doctrine later embraced in Plessy v. Ferguson)? Sacco and Vanzetti? A Civil Action? Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson (a Mass. Supreme Court decision that we listed as the single worst drug/device decision of 2015)? Anyway, maybe even the folks in Boston are starting to rethink the use of RICO to police the marketing of medicines.Continue Reading D. Mass. (!) Refuses to Certify Celexa/Lexapro RICO Class Action
This post comes only from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog.
For years, many courts have treated RICO as a sprawling monster, awkwardly extending its civil reach into areas and transactions for which RICO was seemingly never intended, including healthcare litigation. For over fifteen years, the Third Circuit resisted this trend. Until now. With its decision in In re Avandia Marketing, Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 18633 (3d Cir. Oct. 26, 2015), the Third Circuit scuttled its previous good work and stretched RICO’s arms all the way out to reach consumer disputes with pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Fifteen years ago, the Third Circuit looked at things very differently. In Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472 (3d Cir. 2000), it upheld the dismissal of a class action complaint in which HMO members tried to turn allegations that Aetna’s HMO didn’t provide the promised quality of healthcare into RICO claims seeking financial damages. Plaintiffs claimed that Aetna restricted doctors’ ability to provide quality care, in fact offering them financial incentives to withhold quality service, even though Aetna had represented to plaintiff that it would provide high quality care from HMO doctors incentivized to do so. Id. at 475. Plaintiffs made clear, however, that they were not claiming injuries suffered through a denial of benefits or subpar treatment. Id. They were alleging only financial losses—that is, the difference in worth between the plan that they got and the one they were promised. But this created a disconnect. By failing to allege denial of or substandard care, plaintiffs had alleged no concrete financial injury. They got what they paid for. Id. at 483, 490. RICO’s requirement of a concrete financial injury is intended to prevent plaintiffs from converting every ordinary tort claim into a RICO claim for the purpose of trying to win treble damages. The Third Circuit focused on that requirement and upheld dismissal of plaintiffs’ RICO claim.Continue Reading The Third Circuit Does an About-Face on RICO Claims
This being the week of Thanksgiving, we would be remiss to fail to weave in something about the great American (or ‘merican) holiday of giving thanks, eating turkey, watching football, and pondering the influence of the Pilgrims on our culture (beyond the obvious lasting fashion impact). In the past, we offered our readers a “fun” word search for food and drink terms in a post on express preemption. (Yes, the terms “fun” and “express preemption” are rarely linked in a single sentence, although “Today was no fun because I had to write a brief on express preemption” has probably been uttered.) We have offered other posts at this time of year that featured food to different degrees, like this and this. We have talked about reasons for being thankful, how football analogizes to law, and even how shopping has become a big part of this particular holiday. Surely, we have given our readers many reasons to ponder deeply on important issues in their lives. Why is stuffing called dressing in the South? Why did some combination of the Civil War, Restoration, and carpetbaggers not force a gastro-linguistic solidarity? Do elementary school depictions of Native Americans (f/k/a Indians; a/k/a indigenous peoples of North America, pre-Colombians, Amerinds, descendants of those who migrated across Beringia) send the right message? Should second graders learn about smallpox blankets? Was the choking risk with that third plate of food, after more than a few adult beverages, an acceptable one? We would like to think that we have contributed to such meaningful introspection with our purportedly clever posts during this week every year since the blog started being purportedly clever.
This year, we highlight a truly American tradition: trying to make as much money as possible by suing a deep pocket defendant with as little proof as possible. Recently, this has often involved combining three things. First, use remedial federal or state statutes that are really for another purpose entirely, but allow for big damages and even fines (e.g., the False Claims Act was enacted against war profiteering, RICO was enacted to combat organized crime). Second, seek to proceed on behalf of a class and/or some subset of the “public” to maximize the claims at issue. Third, use only generalized proof of injury, causation, and damages, which is required for a class but does not require a class. We could add in piggybacking on an issue with a product that has gotten attention because of other litigation or regulatory actions and outsource the work to contingency lawyers. Such cases have been the subject of many posts, often addressing how generalized proof of causation makes no sense in the context of drugs prescribed to specific patients by specific doctors based on, hopefully, individualized clinical judgment. High on the list of opinions that got it wrong are Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. v. Pfizer, Inc., 712 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2013), and the rest of the First Circuit’s Neurontin trilogy, which took the top spot in our list of worst decisions of 2013. High on the list of opinions that got it right is the Second Circuit’s Zyprexa decision, UFCW Local 1776 & Participating Health & Welfare Fund v. Eli Lilly & Co., 620 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2010), which took home best decision in 2010 by reversing the second worst decision of 2008. The Second Circuit’s in Sergeants Benevolent Assoc. Health & Welfare Fund v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLP, No. 14-2319-cv, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 19797 (2d Cir. Nov. 13, 2015), adds to the weight of the good cases rejecting the misuse of generalized proof of causation by affirming class certification denial and summary judgment in a RICO (and state consumer protection) case over the antibiotic Ketek.Continue Reading Largely Thankful For The Second Circuit Striking A Blow Against Generalized Proof of Causation
The short answer is “no.” We are just borrowing a line from one of the original gangster movies, “Little Caesar,” which readers other than McConnell would most likely know from references in “The Sopranos,” if they know it at all. (Or from here.) The titular character in that flick was known as “Rico.” RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), on the other hand, was an anti-gangster law, enacted in 1970 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act. In a number of posts (like here), we have decried the gangster tactics used by plaintiffs—particularly quasi-public plaintiffs—to use the threat of RICO’s treble damages and cost-shifting provisions to extort settlements from drug and device manufacturers. Particularly for prescription medical products, RICO seems like an inappropriate vehicle for addressing alleged harms allegedly caused by such standard product liability allegations as inadequate disclosure of risks or off-label promotion. A small blow to curtail the expansion of RICO was struck in Short v. Janssen Pharms., Inc., No. 1:14-CV-1025, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61123 (W.D. Mich. May 11, 2015).
Short is yet another case stemming from pediatric use of Risperdal. We have posted many times on various Risperdal cases with various theories of recovery, usually tied to the idea that the drug was improperly promoted for off-label use without disclosing the true risk of gynecomastia and other prolactin disorders, like here, here, here and here. In Short, the plaintiff allegedly took Risperdal as a minor, developed gynecomastia, and sued in his own behalf under RICO and state consumer protection and product liability acts. His problems were that he never paid a cent for the drug and that he was from Michigan. We suspect the latter may be why RICO was at issue at all.Continue Reading Is This The End of RICO?
We start June with a fabulous two-fer: yes, that is two cases discussed in the same post. But wait, there’s more. The two cases each discuss civil RICO claims against drug companies and state law claims. For an unknown, but surely exorbitant, cost to the defendants, the courts, and maybe even the third party payors…
This post discusses an Infuse case and therefore, is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog only.
“Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?” Those are the last words uttered by the gangster in Little Caesar. That villain was played by Edward G. Robinson, who became well-known for playing tough-talking hoodlums,…