As we ring in the new year, it is time once again to reflect on some of the most significant legal developments for drug and device companies this year. The list below is by no means exhaustive (who could forget the Rule 702 updates that took place this year, which will carry over into 2023?), but provides a brief recap and assessment of five of the most interesting and consequential developments affecting drug and device law in 2022.
On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest after the expiration of the product’s warranty unless the defect poses an unreasonable safety risk. Taleshpour v. Apple, Inc., 2022 WL 1577802 (9th Cir. May 19, 2022). The court affirmed dismissal of a proposed class action against Apple Inc., holding that California consumer protection laws were not violated as a matter of law because the alleged defect in MacBook Pro laptop computers arose after the expiration of the warranty and the complaint did not allege any safety issue. The court followed existing Circuit precedent, even though there is some conflicting authority in the California courts of appeal.
Plaintiffs alleged that in certain MacBook Pro models, the backlight ribbon cables used to connect the display screen to the display control tear because the cables do not provide enough slack when the laptops open and close. Apple agreed to replace the display of all 13-inch MacBook Pros that suffer from the alleged defect, but not the 15-inch model or any model released after 2016. Plaintiffs alleged on behalf of the class that the excluded models suffered from the same backlight defect as the pre-2016 13-inch version. Plaintiffs conceded the backlight ribbon issues arose after the expiration of Apple’s one-year warranty.
On March 14, 2022, a bipartisan trio of U.S. Senators introduced a bill (S.3830) that would require manufacturers to provide the tools and documentation necessary for consumers and third parties to repair electronic equipment. Dubbed the Fair Repair Act of 2022, the bill is the Senate version of a similar bill (H.R.4006) introduced in the House last June. The proposed legislation covers products ranging from agricultural equipment to consumer electronics and is the latest in a series of federal and state proposed laws seeking to codify the “right to repair.” If the bill becomes law, manufacturers will not only have to comply with the Act’s requirements, but they will also need to prepare for potential liability implications.
Attempts at codifying a right to repair are not new in the United States. Calls for automotive right-to-repair legislation go back to the 1970s. But the movement has hit its stride in the last decade. In 2013, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a right-to-repair law requiring vehicle manufacturers to sell their proprietary diagnostic tools and software to third-party repair shops, spurring a flurry of similar bills across the nation and bringing attention to the right-to-repair movement. Though the movement has had little success in codifying a right to repair so far, the tides may be shifting. Indeed, in July 2021, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order that, among other things, encourages the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to enact regulations prohibiting manufacturers from barring the repair of equipment and devices by consumers and independent repair shops.
Centralization of claims in multidistrict litigation has become the new normal—so much so, that MDL proceedings now comprise more than 50 percent of the federal civil caseload. But has MDL practice in the United States peaked? Only time will tell. While the total number of MDL cases remains high (424,720 cases as of mid-February), the vast majority of these cases are concentrated in just a few of the more crowded MDL dockets. And as the annual MDL statistics in recent years show, the total number of new MDL petitions submitted, and granted, has been in decline. In 2021, for example, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation received 33 total MDL petitions, granting only 19—compared with 44 petitions (26 granted) the year before.
The Tenth Circuit recently affirmed dismissal of a proposed class action against a dog food manufacturer, finding that the putative class claims were nonactionable puffery and overly subjective.
In Renfro, et al. v. Champion Petfoods USA, Inc., et al., No. 20-1274, pet owner plaintiffs brought a proposed class action against Champion Petfoods alleging that the packaging for some of its dog food brands were false and misleading. Specifically, plaintiffs asserted claims for violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, breach of express and implied warranty, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment, and negligence.
In June 2021, we published Cosmetics Companies: Beware of PFAS, highlighting the recently introduced No PFAS In Cosmetics Act and recommending that cosmetics and personal-care product companies examine their products and supply chains to determine if, when, and where PFAS may affect their businesses. As anticipated, PFAS in cosmetics has continued to draw attention, with the filing of at least two lawsuits and the anticipated enactment of PFAS legislation in several states.
The No PFAS In Cosmetics Act, which seeks to ban the use of intentionally added per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) in cosmetics, was introduced in the House on June 17, 2021. The bill has been assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, but no hearing has been scheduled. Ultimately, the bill will require the Department of Health and Human Services to issue and finalize a rule banning the use of intentionally added PFAS in cosmetics. In the meantime, on February 2, 2022, over 30 senators sent a letter to President Biden requesting funding for Fiscal Year 2023 for PFAS research, regulatory efforts, and testing.