The federal judge overseeing the MDL for Celebrex and Bextra has sided with defendants’ view that a “Lone Pine” order is appropriate for managing the claims of the remaining, non-settling plaintiffs. In re: Bextra and Celebrex Marketing Sales Practices and Product Liability Litigation, No. M:05-cv-01699 (N.D. Cal.) (Pretrial Order No. 29, Aug. 1, 2008).

“Lone Pine” orders take their name from a 1986 New Jersey Superior Court case involving toxic tort claims; they refer to case management orders that require the plaintiffs to make a showing regarding causation, injury, and/or damages to demonstrate, typically at an early stage, some minimal level of evidentiary support for the key components of their claims which will be in dispute.

Defendants had first asked the court for a Lone Pine order in late June, arguing that each plaintiff should be required to submit a case-specific expert report on the issue of medical causation. The motion also sought to compel each plaintiff to turn over medical records that documented an injury, prescription records that showed medication history and dosages prescribed, and proof of dosage in relation to the confirmed injury. The benefits to the court of requiring plaintiffs to supply this information is that the parties would not have to engage in protracted discovery in thousands of cases just to see whether each one has some threshold evidence of medical causation. The production of such basic and threshold evidence was argued to be simply a part of a good-faith investigation that should precede the filing of a lawsuit.

Plaintiffs argued that the proposed order would be overly burdensome, was not needed, and was a retaliation for not settling. Plaintiffs also suggested that Lone Pine orders are generally issued as sanctions against plaintiffs who provide no other information to the defendants about the filed case. But the court disagreed with plaintiffs.

The court appeared mindful of what had happened on the eve of the first trial in the MDL, as the scheduled cases began to disappear. Thus, under the Order, plaintiffs will have 45 days to have a physician or other medical expert offer a case-specific expert report for each plaintiff including a review of the plaintiffs’ medical records, the dates they used Celebrex and/or Bextra, and whether they experienced a myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, sudden death, or any other injury while taking the medications.

The court observed that all of this information should be already readily available to plaintiffs through the plaintiff fact sheets process. The court apparently expects that cases in which plaintiffs cannot show drug usage, injury, or causation, will drop from the docket before being scheduled for trial. Without threshold proof of Celebrex or Bextra usage, a compensable injury, and a link between usage and an injury, there could have been no good-faith basis for a lawsuit in the first place.

Moreover, requiring plaintiffs to identify basic information about injuries and causation is not unreasonable given the costs that mass tort claims have on the legal system, and on defendants. Lone Pine orders allow courts to weed out the frivolous suits where there is insufficient exposure, or no sufficient scientific connection between injury and exposure. Accordingly, Lone Pine orders can be effective when entered early in the game. Early disposal of frivolous claims allows the parties to focus their attention on the serious cases. Ideally, the order will actually phase discovery, and motions practice as well, with the Lone Pine issues pushed up front.

With their focus on causation, Lone Pine orders are especially useful when multiple plaintiffs claim a variety of different injuries, allege injuries incurred over a long period of time, and/or when plaintiffs allege diverse exposures.