California [Again] Confronts the High Cost of Litigation Uncertainty

The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.

Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.

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Deceptive Labeling Claims Based on Trace Amounts Sent to the Dog House

In dismissing a plaintiff’s claims regarding dog food ingredients, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin confirmed the common-sense principle that manufacturers need not list anything and everything that could have possibly made it into a product as an “ingredient.”

In Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc., et al., case no. 18-cv-1996-JPS, a Wisconsin resident claimed that Champion Petfoods USA Inc. and Champion Petfoods LP deceptively marketed their dog food products. The plaintiff took issue with multiple characteristics of defendants’ products, including that the product packaging stated the dog foods adhered to a “biologically appropriate nutritional philosophy,” were made with “fresh” and “regional” ingredients, and were “never outsourced.” The plaintiff asserted claims for fraud by omission, negligence and violation of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The defendants moved for summary judgment.

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Whether Asbestos-Containing Components Were Manufactured by Third Parties No Longer Matters in New Jersey

Aligning with neighboring New York, and clearing up conflict within the Appellate Division, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled equipment manufacturers can be held strictly liable on the basis of failure to warn for asbestos-containing component parts made or supplied by third parties. Whelan v. Armstrong Int’l, Inc., (N.J. 6/3/20).

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Northern District of California Excludes Expert Testimony and Grants Summary Judgment in Abilify Case

Applying basic scientific principles to exclude an expert’s unfounded and unsupported opinions, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has granted summary judgment to the maker of the antipsychotic medication Abilify on the plaintiff’s failure to warn and negligent design defect claims. Rodman v. Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., 2020 WL 2525032 (N.D. Cal. May 18, 2020).

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Circuit Does Not Quite Clarify the Supreme Court’s Not-Quite-Clarification of “Clear Evidence” in Albrecht

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme, Inc. v. Albrecht, 139 S.Ct. 1668 (2019), discussed here and here addressed impossibility preemption in label change lawsuits. In Albrecht, the Supreme Court purported to clarify the standard arising from Wyeth v. Levine, 555 US 555 (2009) that a labeling claim against a manufacturer is preempted for “impossibility” if there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would have rejected a manufacturer’s proposed label change. Albrecht explained that impossibility preemption requires the “manufacturer to show that it fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning required by state law and that the FDA, in turn, informed the drug manufacturer that the FDA would not approve changing the drug’s label to include that warning.” But Albrecht left unclear what the “clear evidence” showing entails and left open several important questions about how it is to be applied.

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