Partial Summary Judgment Granted in Aredia MDL

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. has prevailed in a motion to end certain failure-to-warn claims in cases in the MDL relating to its bone cancer drugs Aredia and Zometa. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment, dismissing claims of eight Texas-based plaintiffs. In Re: Aredia and Zometa Products Liability Litigation, No. 06-md-01760 (M.D. Tenn.) Opinion found here.

The motion was based upon a Texas statute which protects a defendant from any products liability claims involving failure to provide adequate warnings if the drug at issue and accompanying warnings were approved by the FDA. The statute creates the presumption such warnings were adequate, and then specifically explains how a claimant can rebut this presumption:

(b) The claimant may rebut the presumption in Subsection (a) as to each defendant by establishing that: (1) the defendant, before or after pre-market approval or licensing of the product, withheld from or misrepresented to the United States Food and Drug Administration required information that was material and relevant to the performance of the product and was causally related to the claimant’s injury. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 82.007(b)(1).

The court noted that plaintiffs were correct that the language of the Texas statute specifically creates a rebuttable presumption that a defendant is not liable for failure-to-warn claims if the warnings provided with the product were approved by the FDA. The Texas Legislature, however, went on to establish certain evidentiary standards for rebutting this presumption. The presumption of adequate warnings, therefore, is unrebuttable unless one of the specific statutory provisions applies.  Here, the only possible exception was the so-called fraud-on-the-FDA exception. However, in Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm., 121 S.Ct. 1012 (2001), the Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs’ state law fraud-on-the-FDA claims conflicted with and were therefore impliedly preempted by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Noting that policing fraud against federal agencies is hardly a “field which the States have traditionally occupied,” the Court held that it is the FDA’s exclusive responsibility to police fraud or wrongdoing in connection with approval of products before the FDA. Id. at 1017.   The Court stated that fraud-on-the-FDA claims would “inevitably conflict with the FDA’s responsibility to police fraud consistently with the Administration’s judgment and objectives.” Id. at 1018. In sum, the Court opined, this sort of litigation would exert an extraneous pull on the scheme established by Congress, and it is therefore preempted by that scheme. Id. at 1020.

Under the Texas law, in order to rebut the presumption plaintiffs must establish that defendant withheld or misrepresented “required information” to the FDA. The Court found that the task of determining whether certain information was “required” by the FDA would raise the federalism concerns expressed in Buckman.

Second, the Texas statute also requires that the information which was withheld or misrepresented be “material and relevant” to the performance of the product. Because subsection (b) concerns misrepresentations to the FDA, it is reasonable to infer that the information must be “material and relevant” to the FDA. Determining what information would have been important to the FDA would also create the federalism concerns noted by the Court in Buckman.

Finally, the information which was allegedly withheld or misrepresented must, under the Texas statute, be causally related to plaintiffs’ injuries. Unless the withheld information would have resulted in some definite change by the FDA, such as either non-approval of the drug or a labeling change, such withheld information could not be causally related to a plaintiff’s injury. Again, in order to establish that the FDA would have acted differently if defendant had submitted accurate information, plaintiffs would have to “go behind” the FDA processes, raising the concerns sought to be avoided in Buckman.

The Court thus found that the requisite showing under the Texas statute is analogous to and sufficiently equivalent to asserting a claim of fraud on the FDA that the fraud claim/presumption defense/statutory exception is itself preempted under Buckman. For all these reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was granted.

The ruling on the Texas claims follows the MDL court's April ruling dismissing claims by Michigan plaintiffs. The court had relied on Garcia v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, 385 F.3d 961 (6th Cir. 2004), for the proposition that the Michigan fraud exception was also preempted under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Buckman.

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