The federal judge in the Medtronic Sprint Fidelis Leads MDL has ruled that all claims in the plaintiffs’ master consolidated complaint are preempted. In Re: Medtronic, Inc. Sprint Fidelis Leads Products Liability Litigation, 2009 WL 35467 (D.Minn. 2009).
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred related cases involving Medtronic Inc.’s recalled Sprint Fidelis defibrillator leads to the District of Minnesota last February. The leads were recalled in late 2007, because of the potential for fracture, which can potentially cause unnecessary shocks or failure, possibly resulting in injury.
Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 999 (2008), the MDL court noted that Congress has decided to limit medical-device manufacturers’ liability in order to spur innovation. Plaintiffs’ remedy, therefore, lies with Congress, and not with the courts.
Every medical device intended for human use is placed into one of three categories by the FDA, based on the risks of injury or illness the device presents; each category is subjected to a different level of FDA scrutiny. Devices that either support or sustain human life or present a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury” are categorized as “Class III” devices. Class III devices are subject to the greatest level of FDA scrutiny and “must complete a thorough review process with the FDA before they may be marketed.” Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 341, 344 (2001). Through this process, known as pre-market approval (“PMA”), a device maker must provide the FDA with “reasonable assurance” that its device is both safe and effective.
The PMA process is “a rigorous one.” Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 477 (1996). Manufacturers must submit detailed information regarding the safety and efficacy of their devices, which the FDA then reviews, spending an average of 1,200 hours on each submission. When analyzing that information, the FDA weighs the probable benefit to health from the use of the device against any probable risk of injury or illness from such use. Accordingly, the FDA sometimes grants PMA to potentially life-threatening devices, if they offer great benefits in light of available alternatives. Riegel, 128 S.Ct. at 1004.
Here, the MDL court rejected arguments that a recall of the leads invalidated their premarket approval. Medtronic correctly noted that the PMA process is governed by a completely separate statutory and regulatory regime than that governing withdrawal of a PMA. Also, the PMA for the leads was in place at the time they were implanted, a crucial fact because liability under plaintiffs’ various legal theories hinges upon whether the leads were defective at that time. More fundamentally, the federal interest that preemption is designed to protect is the PMA process, and preemption necessarily looks backward (to the time of PMA) rather than forward.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that they have asserted “parallel” claims and therefore preemption does not apply. For example, plaintiffs purported reliance on Good Manufacturing Practice or Quality Control guidance did not save the claims. In the absence of any specific requirement in the CGMPs/QSR that Medtronic weld the Sprint Fidelis leads in a certain fashion [that was plaintiffs’ beef], holding Medtronic liable for such a welding “defect” would have imposed requirements “different from, or in addition to” those under federal law. This is equally true of plaintiffs’ allegation that Medtronic used inadequate testing and quality-assurance methods. Plaintiffs simply could not identify any specific requirements in the CGMPs/QSR that were purportedly violated by Medtronic.
It is noteworthy that the court found dismissal with prejudice was appropriate. This complaint was filed after extensive preparation by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, which is made up of lawyers who are experienced in federal preemption litigation. In the MDL Court’s estimation, if plaintiffs were aware of sufficient facts in order to avoid preemption, they would have already pleaded them.