For some long-awaited events, a little time and distance can add a measure of clarity. Not always – many still are processing the Game of Thrones finale, with no end in sight. But over the past few weeks pharmaceutical products liability lawyers have had the opportunity to acquire some Zen and enlightenment about the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated preemption decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme, Inc. v. Albrecht, 2019 WL 2166393 (U.S. May 20, 2019). An initial description of the decision is here.
In a trio of recent decisions arising out of cases alleging that an antipsychotic medication, Risperdal, and its generic, risperidone, had caused gynecomastia (breast tissue growth) in men, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware granted motions for summary judgment for defendant Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The three opinions clarify that Delaware law would not impose innovator liability on a branded drug manufacturer when the plaintiff had used only a generic drug, and addressed “but-for” warnings causation and proximate cause in prescription drug products liability cases. [Disclosure: Drinker Biddle & Reath. LLP attorneys were co-counsel of record in these cases for Janssen.]
A judge, and not the jury, is the better-positioned and appropriate decisionmaker to determine whether a failure-to-warn claim is federally preempted, the U.S. Supreme Court held today.
The Court also clarified the “clear evidence” standard governing an impossibility preemption defense to failure-to-warn claims.
In products liability cases involving prescription medicines, defendants sometimes rely on a preemption defense that FDA would not have approved – or in some cases, already rejected – the warnings that plaintiffs argue were required by state law. Where the evidence shows FDA considered and rejected plaintiffs’ proposed warnings, plaintiffs often argue that the Agency would have approved their proposed warnings were it not for some technical issue. For example, that FDA rejected the warning because the manufacturer asked to put it in the wrong section of the label or FDA would have approved it had the manufacturer asked rather than some third party in a Citizen’s Petition. In rejecting such arguments courts often point, explicitly or implicitly, to the presumption of regularity, which “presumes” government agencies have “properly discharged their official duties” unless “clear evidence” shows otherwise. See United States v. Chem. Found., Inc., 272 U.S. 1, 14-15 (1926); see also Nat’l Archives & Recs Admin. v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 174 (2004) (requiring “meaningful evidentiary showing” to rebut presumption of regularity).
Those familiar with his legend know that Hall of famer Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees in their mid-century heyday and, for a short time at their inception, the New York Mets. But he also is remembered as one of baseball’s great characters.
One story about Stengel was told by the great broadcaster Curt Gowdy. He was having a beer with Stengel at a bar in Cleveland. Stengel received his beer and quickly downed it in one long gulp, leading Gowdy to ask why he drank it so fast. Stengel said he drank beer that way ever since “the accident.”
On October 10th, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Air & Liquid Systems Corp., et al. v. Devries, et al., No. 17-1104, over whether the manufacturer of a bare metal product, in this case engines on a Navy ship, may be held liable for injuries suffered from later-added asbestos-containing materials. Under maritime law, the Third Circuit said yes, if the facts show the manufacturer reasonably could have known that asbestos is hazardous and its product will be used with an asbestos-containing part, because (a) the product was originally equipped with the asbestos part, which needs to be replaced, (b) the manufacturer specifically directed that the product be used with the asbestos-containing part, or (c) the product required the asbestos-containing part to properly function.
On October 3, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed 532 cases against Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and Roche Laboratories Inc., the manufacturer of the prescription acne medication Accutane, holding that the laws of New Jersey – the location of Roche’s principal place of business– and not the respective laws of plaintiffs’ home states governed the adequacy of the warnings underlying plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims. The Court held that because the medication’s warnings were FDA-approved, “they enjoy a ‘rebuttable presumption’ of adequacy under New Jersey’s Products Liability Act ([NJ]PLA).”
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently published an opinion significantly affecting asbestos litigation and defenses available to certain product manufacturers. In Whelan v. Armstrong International Inc., No. A-3520-13T4 (Aug. 6, 2018) the court changed the landscape related to the “bare metal defense,” breaking from prior law regarding the scope of a manufacturer’s liability for injuries caused by exposure to asbestos-containing components or replacement parts in their products supplied by third parties.