MDL Court Denies Class Certification in Device Litigation

The court overseeing the MDL concerning panacryl sutures declined last week to certify a proposed national class action. In re Panacryl Sutures Products Liability Cases, 2009 WL 3874347 (E.D.N.C. 11/13/09).

Panacryl Sutures are synthetic, braided, un-dyed, absorbable surgical sutures, designed to remain in the body for 24-36 months after surgery to provide wound support. Various plaintiffs alleged that Panacryl Sutures were defective in that they allegedly caused a high rate of foreign body reactions when used as directed. Plaintiffs alleged also that defendants failed to provide adequate warning of the dangers associated with the devices. Plaintiffs eventually filed a Motion to Certify a National Class Action.

The court first addressed the difficult choice of law issue -- a central, overarching issue in a proposed national class.  The court analyzed the choice of law factors -- interests of interstate comity, the interests underlying the field of tort law, the interests of the parties, the interests of judicial administration, and the competing interests of the various states, and concluded that under New Jersey's choice of law rules it should apply the substantive laws of each class member's home jurisdiction to his or her claims.  Again, a not unusual result, and is one which directly impacts the class certification elements.

Turning to the Rule 23(a) requirements, the court first focused on Rule 23(a)(3), commonly referred to as the “typicality” requirement, which states that the claims and defenses of the class representatives must be typical of the claims of the other class members.  Here, because plaintiffs had not shown that the prospective class representatives' claims can encompass or would take into account the varying substantive laws governing every class member, this element was not met.

Similarly, although the named plaintiffs interests are in some ways similar to the interests of class, the “adequate representation requirement overlaps with the typicality requirement because in the absence of typical claims, the class representative has no incentive to pursue the claims of the other class members.” In re American Med. Sys., 75 F.3d 1069, 1083 (6th Cir., 1996). Plaintiffs here did not meet their burden of showing that the claims of the prospective class representatives would take into account the variations in state law. The court found that therefore the prospective class representatives here did not satisfy Rule 23(a)(4).

Turning to Rule 23(b), the court observed that in class actions governed by the laws of several states, variations in state law will often overwhelm any common issues. See Ward v. Dixie Nat'l. Life Ins. Co., 257 F. App'x 620, 628-29 (4th Cir. 2007), cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 82 (2008), Castano v. Am. Tobacco, 84 F.3d 741 (5th Cir.1996).  To have any shot here, plaintiffs must provide an “extensive analysis” of the laws of the interested jurisdictions showing that variations among the applicable state laws do not pose “insuperable obstacles” to class certification. Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 807 F.2d 1000, 1017 (D.C.Cir.1986); Gariety v. Grant Thornton, LLP, 368 F.3d 356, 370 (4th Cir.2004). Plaintiffs did not carry this burden.

Moreover, courts have generally founds that common questions of fact do not predominate in medical products liability cases. See In re American Med. Sys., 75 F.3d at 1074 (decertifying class of users of penile implants because “complications ... may be due to a variety of factors, including surgical error, improper use of the device, anatomical incompatibility, infection, device malfunction, or psychological problems.”); Zinser v. Accufix Research Inst., Inc., 253 F.3d 1180 (9th Cir.2001) (affirming denial of class certification in an action involving allegedly defective pacemakers). Here, plaintiffs alleged a variety of complications from the product, each of which has potential other causes. And Panacryl Sutures were used in a variety of surgical procedures which require different skills and techniques on the part of the surgeon and present different risks of post-surgical complications. These individual facts would have to be weighed against the alleged defects of Panacryl Sutures in light of the normal background rate of the various post-surgical complications identified by plaintiffs.  So no predominance of common issues.

This in turn led the court to conclude that the difficulties in managing the class proposed here would undermine the theoretical efficiencies that might be obtained through class certification.

Perhaps most importantly to readers of MassTortDefense, plaintiffs' last-ditch effort turned to the "issue class." But, noted the court, Rule 23(c)(4) may not be used to manufacture predominance for the purposes of Rule 23(b)(3). See Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 745 n.21 (5th Cir.1996) (“A district court cannot manufacture predominance through the nimble use of subdivision (c)(4).”); Peoples v. Wendover Funding, Inc., 179 F.R.D. 492, 501 n.4 (D.Md.1998) (“Rule 23(c)(4) does not permit a federal district court to certify a class under Rule 23(b)(3) by splitting a class action to create predominance.”). Plaintiffs' proposed issues trial plan did not eliminate the necessity of applying the laws of several jurisdictions or the individualized inquiry into whether Panacryl Sutures caused each plaintiff's injuries. And even under plaintiffs' proposed c4 trial plan, the difficulty of applying the laws of several states to the issues of liability and general causation would remain.  Lots of reasons to deny class certification.

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