Subject: Appellate Procedure

Ninth Circuit Adheres to Precedent and Finds That Subverting Express Warranties Simply Does Not Compute

On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest after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.

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Ninth Circuit Asks California Supreme Court to Clarify the Causation Standard Applicable When the Learned Intermediary Doctrine Applies

How demanding is the causation standard in a California failure to warn claim when a learned intermediary testifies that he would have read and incorporated more stringent warnings if they had been available? Is the plaintiff required to show that the stronger warning would have altered the physician’s decision to prescribe the product? Or may the plaintiff establish causation by showing that the physician would have communicated the stronger warnings to the patient and that a prudent person in the patient’s position would have declined the treatment as a result?

The Ninth Circuit isolated this undefined causation standard in Himes v. Somatics, LLC, and certified the question to the California Supreme Court. After confirming that the learned intermediary doctrine is alive and well in California and that a failure to warn claim cannot survive when the learned intermediary does not read the warnings at all, the Ninth Circuit stopped short of defining the causation standard that applies when a learned intermediary does read the warnings.

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Florida Rule Change Permits Immediate Appeals on Punitive Damages

The Florida Supreme Court has accepted a proposed rule amendment to permit interlocutory appeals of court orders on punitive damages claims. On January 6, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court approved by 6-1 an amendment to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130 to allow interlocutory appeals of nonfinal orders granting or denying leave to amend a complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. Prior to this amendment, a party could only appeal such an order by petitioning for a writ of certiorari. And in that posture, the appellate court’s review was limited only to whether the trial court complied with the procedural requirements for making such a claim.

Practically, this means Florida appellate courts will be able to immediately review trial court orders regarding punitive damages claims on both procedural and substantive grounds. With this amendment, the merits of a plaintiff’s punitive damages claim can now be appealed prior to any discovery of a defendant’s financial information. The new rule takes effect April 1, 2022.

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Itemize Damages or Waive Appeal? Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Failure to Request an Itemized Verdict Waives the Right to Challenge an Award on Appeal

In many personal injury cases, including products cases, the most significant exposure is pain and suffering or similar damages that cannot readily be measured in dollars. Juries are usually constrained by specific testimony or documentary evidence in awarding lost income, medical expenses, or other losses that can be measured specifically, but awards for pain and suffering and similar damages are constrained only by jurors’ subjective views (and usually permissive standards of legal review such as whether the award “shocks the conscience”).

Not surprisingly, when large verdicts are appealed, the damages arguments often focus on the excessive amounts of pain and suffering or similar awards. But a recent order from Pennsylvania’s highest court carries a warning for defendants, as the Court agreed to consider whether a failure to demand an itemized list of each category of damages on the verdict sheet waives defendant’s right to challenge the award.

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The Rule 702 Toolbox: How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Ninth Circuit?

There has been much discussion recently about how Rule 702 is in need of a tune-up to better guide district courts’ gatekeeping.  More about that soon.

But a case now pending before the Supreme Court, Monsanto Company v. Hardeman, No. 21-241, demonstrates that it’s not always the fault of the district courts.  (Disclaimer:  This firm (and this author) filed an amicus brief supporting certiorari.)  Sometimes it’s about a lack of stewardship at the circuit level.  Absent direct and unequivocal guidance from the Supreme Court, appellate courts call the tune, and the district courts are required to follow it.  And in the interstices, district judges read the tea leaves and try to follow the circuit court’s leads and signals.  No one likes to get reversed.  Even if the district judges think the circuit has gotten it wrong, they honor the hierarchy and follow the commands of stare decisis, human nature and common sense.

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Pennsylvania Medical Device Strict Liability Claims: Relentless Repetition, Clamoring for Review

A Pennsylvania federal court has again asked that the state’s Supreme Court clarify whether, and to what extent, medical device manufacturers are immune from strict liability claims by virtue of the “unavoidably unsafe products” exemption recognized in Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 402A cmt. k (“Comment k”)—only this time with a direct certification.

On Thursday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified that question to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, along with a question about which negligent design defect theory—or theories—a Pennsylvania plaintiff may assert against a medical device manufacturer.  Pet. for Certification of Questions of State Law, ECF No. 50, Ebert v. C.R. Bard, Inc., et al., No. 20-2139 (3d Cir. June 24, 2021) (“Ebert Pet.”).   Last spring, Judge Pappert of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed Ms. Ebert’s strict liability claim, finding her IVC filter “an ‘unavoidably unsafe product’” under Hahn v. Richter, 673 A.3d 888 (Pa. 1996), and she appealed that order granting summary judgment to the Third Circuit.

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