Preemption Torpedoes State Law Claims against Generics Makers in Zantac MDL

A judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida presiding over the In Re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Products Liability Litigation multidistrict litigation, MDL No. 2924, has held that state labeling and design defect claims against the makers, re-packagers, retailers, and distributors of generic forms for the popular heartburn medication Zantac were preempted by federal law.  The court subsequently dismissed these claims against 32 such Zantac generics makers and distributors.

The Zantac MDL was created by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on February 6, 2020.  The plaintiffs allege that ranitidine, the active ingredient in Zantac and its generic forms, breaks down into N-nitrosodimethylamine (“NDMA”), which is part of a group of compounds that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. The plaintiffs allege a variety of product liability and related claims against the makers and distributors of Zantac and its generic forms under federal and state laws.

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Plaintiff’s Firm Pays the Price for Dismissing Bellwether Cases

On August 25, 2020, Judge Richard L. Young, S.D. Indiana, granted Cook Medical Inc.’s motion for sanctions against the plaintiff’s law firm in Burrage v. Cook Medical Inc. et al.

This case was one of many “no-injury” claims in the Cook IVC Filter MDL, meaning that the plaintiff did not claim any symptomatic injuries related to his IVC filter. It was selected as a bellwether case in August 2019 following a selection process that required substantial time and effort from the parties and the court. In June 2020, plaintiff’s counsel moved to voluntarily dismiss his claims with prejudice on the grounds that they have a “negative value” (meaning that the costs of litigating the case exceed the anticipated recovery), and Burrage never anticipated that the case would go to trial.

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Potential Embarrassment Insufficient to Enable Plaintiffs to Litigate Anonymously in Breast Implant MDL

A New Jersey federal court has held that potential embarrassment is not enough to permit plaintiffs to litigate anonymously in a fight over breast implants.

In an August 13, 2020 letter order, the Hon. Joseph A. Dickson, U.S.M.J., ruled that the plaintiffs alleging that defendant Allergan Inc. hid health risks associated with its textured breast implants must reveal their identifies in court filings in the MDL litigation captioned In re: Allergan BIOCELL Textured Breast Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 19-MD-2121.

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The Trend Toward MDLs in Products Cases

A review of multidistrict litigation (MDL) statistics confirms the increasing percentages of federal cases being consolidated into MDLs. According to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) website, as of June 2019, 202 MDLs were pending in 46 different federal districts, in 32 different states, before 160 different transferee judges. California boasts the largest number of MDLs, with 30. New York State is close behind with 26. The 141,721 cases included in these MDLs represent more than 50 percent of the federal civil docket. More than 30 percent (or 70 MDLs) of the pending MDLs are products liability cases, a significant increase from 16 percent in 2005. And, of the 70 MDLs, more than 50 are litigations involving pharmaceutical products and/or medical devices. These numbers highlight the increase in the frequency with which products liability cases are being coordinated in MDL proceedings.

The MDL statute enacted in 1968 allows for the transfer of cases “involving one or more common questions of fact … pending in different districts” to “any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.” 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). After an MDL is established, later-filed cases involving the same questions of fact are seamlessly transferred to the MDL as tagalong cases. The efficiencies seen in MDL proceedings since 1968 have caused the MDL docket to grow dramatically. In the early years, the “caseload was relatively flat—in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Panel averaged only around 40 [consolidation] motions per year.” Emery G. Lee III et al., “Multidistrict Centralization: An Empirical Examination,” 12 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies,  211, 221 (2015). By the 1990s, the MDL caseload was growing rapidly. Today, the JPML reports that it considers more than 55 motions per year on average, and as of the end of 2018, MDLs accounted for 52 percent of all civil cases pending in federal court.
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Think Through Representation in MDLs: Plaintiff’s Failure to Opt-In to Settlement Not Grounds for Plaintiff Counsel’s Withdrawal From Representation

It is well-established that lawyers seeking to withdraw from representation on the eve of trial face an uphill battle, if not guaranteed defeat.  This was recently reaffirmed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in HM Compounding Services, LLC, et al. v. Express Scripts, Inc.  Plaintiffs’ counsel filed a motion to withdraw citing “irreconcilable differences” two weeks before the breach of contract matter was set for trial, and not surprisingly, the court required counsel to proceed with the representation.

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