Plaintiffs Denied Discovery In Class Certification Phase

The certification decision in a proposed class action may be the most important aspect of such litigation. Few certified class actions go to jury verdict (they settle), and, frequently, cases in which class certification is denied are dismissed without even named plaintiffs’ claims being adjudicated. Accordingly, the preparation for the class certification hearing/briefing is crucial. Both sides have important tactical decisions to make about the amount and nature of pre-certification discovery they wish to conduct. Discovery of named plaintiffs and absent class members, when available, can show important distinctions among the class members, which in turn demonstrate an absence of commonality, a predominance of individual issues, and manageability problems. Not infrequently, plaintiffs object to defendants’ attempted discovery as allegedly "going to the merits" and thus as inappropriate for the certification stage. In an interesting, recent little decision in the Ketek antibiotic litigation, the show was on the other foot.

Plaintiffs, who alleged the maker of the antibiotic Ketek fraudulently concealed the drug's dangers, were denied the right to depose various non-party witnesses at the certification stage of this litigation. Sergeants Benevolent Association Health and Welfare Fund v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLP, 2009 WL 1181808 (E.D.N.Y., 4/30/09). The plaintiffs are employee benefit plans that paid for Ketek, known generically as telithromycin. The FDA approved Ketek in 2004 for treatment of three medical conditions. Plaintiffs assert that this approval was based in part on data generated in a study that allegedly “was contaminated by fraudulent activity.”

As part of class certification discovery, plaintiffs proposed to take the deposition of nine non-party witnesses, all of whom were involved with the challenged study and the FDA's approval of Ketek. The court found “unconvincing” plaintiffs' assertion that the proposed non-party depositions were necessary to establish common impact through a “loss of value” methodology; the court found that plaintiffs had misunderstood that methodology in the Zyprexa litigation, which they claimed to be mirroring. Second, the proposed non-party depositions were highly unlikely to produce or lead to evidence relevant to numerosity, typicality, or adequacy of representation. Evidence relating to the complexity of attempting to prove plaintiffs' civil RICO claim may be relevant to predominance and superiority, but plaintiffs need not actually prove their RICO claim, or conduct the discovery necessary to prove that claim, in order to make this showing. Third, defendants did not dispute that the evidence relating to the study was common to all members of the putative class. Thus, discovery postponed to merits phase.