Class Action Complaint Alleging Deceptive Marketing Practices in Sale of Vioxx not Entitled to Class Action Treatment because Individual Issues will Predominate over Common Questions of Law or Fact California State Trial Court Holds
Various class action lawsuits against Merck were consolidated in the Los Angeles Superior Court under the title In re Vioxx Consolidated Cases; the class action lawsuits alleged that Merck knew of the cardiovascular dangers associated with Vioxx long before it voluntarily pulled it from the market. In re Vioxx Conxolidated Cases, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. JCCP4247 (April 30, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. The consolidated class action complaint alleged that “Merck’s deceptive marketing practices violate the unfair competition law [(UCL)]…and false advertising law…, constitute deceptive trade practices under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act [(CLRA)]…, and resulted in unjust enrichment.” Id., at 2. Interestingly, the class action “[did] not allege that Vioxx itself harmed anyone or was ineffective, only that consumers lost money in purchasing it because it was more expensive than, but not better than less expensive [alternatives].” Id. Plaintiffs’ lawyers moved the trial court to certify the litigation as a class action; defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, arguing that “individual issues of causation and reliance predominate over any common issues because Merck knew different things about Vioxx at different times and class members, physicians and TPPs [third party payors] were exposed to different representations at different times and were influenced by representations to varying extents.” Id., at 3. Additionally, defense attorneys argued that individual issues will predominate as to economic injury, and that the named representatives’ claims are not typical of the claims of the class. Id. The trial court denied the motion for class action certification.
After summarizing the standards governing class action certification of UCL and CLRA claims, see In re Vioxx, at 3-4, and after readily determining that the numerosity and ascertainability requirements for class action treatment had been met, id., at 5, the trial court turned its attention to the question of typicality – that is, “whether a sufficient relationship exists between the injury to the named plaintiff and the conduct affecting the class.” Id., at 5 (citation omitted). The trial court found that the claims of the individual plaintiffs were not typical of the TPPs based on Merck’s evidence that “the decisionmaking that goes into purchasing Vioxx on an individual basis is entirely distinct from the process of putting it into a group formulary.” Id. The trial court found further that plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of providing “substantial evidence” that common questions of law or fact will predominate over individual issues affecting the various class members. Id., at 6. The court did agree with plaintiffs that Merck engaged in a “uniform marketing scheme that was likely to deceive patients and physicians,” id., at 6-7, and that the information available to physicians was susceptible to common proof, id., at 8, but plaintiffs must additionally prove “damage suffered ‘as a result of’ a deceptive practice,” and this element was not subject to common proof, id., at 8-11. As the trial court explained at page 9, “Under all of plaintiffs’ causes of action, a central issue will be whether defendant’s alleged misrepresentations or nondisclosures were material to those who purchased Vioxx.” This means that plaintiffs will have to prove reliance, id., at 10, and the evidence presented in opposition to the motion for class certification demonstrates that class-wide proof of reliance will not exist. Id., at 10-11. And under the circumstances of this case, the necessary proof of reliance cannot be inferred. Id., at 11-12. Nor are the claims of the TPPs subject to common proof, id., at 11.
The trial court next concluded that while the injuries allegedly suffered by the class may be susceptible to classwide proof, In re Vioxx, at 12, the damages suffered by the class will not be, id., at 13. And based on its conclusion that substantial individual issues exist, the trial court “[was] not satisfied substantial benefits would accrue to the litigants or the court from class treatment,” id., at 14. Accordingly, the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, id.
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