Class Action Defense Cases–In re Neurontin: Massachusetts Federal Court Denies Class Action Certification In Class Action Complaint Arising Out Of Manufacture And Sale Of Prescription Drug Neurontin

Jul 14, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Plaintiffs’ Renewed Motion for Class Action Treatment Adequately Addressed District Court’s Concerns Regarding Rule 23(a)’s Requirements for Class Action Certification but Failed to Satisfy Predominance Prong of Rule 23(b)(3) Massachusetts Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs – consisting of consumers and third-party payors (TPPs) – filed a putative nationwide class action against Warner-Lambert and Pfizer arising out of defendants’ manufacture and distribution of the drug Neurontin; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants “systematically and knowingly engaged in a fraudulent campaign to market and sell Neurontin for treatment of ‘off-label’ indications – conditions for which the Federal Drug Administration (‘FDA’) had not approved Neurontin – even though defendants knew Neurontin was not effective for those conditions.” In re Neurontin Marketing, Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., ___ F.R.D. ___ (D.Mass. May 13, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations in the class action complaint, defendants’ conduct violated federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA), as well as claims for common law fraud and unjust enrichment, id., at 1-2. Thus, despite its caption, the class action was not a products liability case, id., at 2. Plaintiffs’ moved the district court to certify the litigation as a nationwide class action, but the court denied the motion finding that plaintiffs “failed to satisfy the commonality, numerosity, typicality, and predominance requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” See In re Neurontin Mktg. & Sale Practices Litig., 244 F.R.D. 89, 105-107 and 114-16. (D. Mass. 2007). But the federal court denied class action certification without prejudice to the filing of a new motion for class action treatment “that addressed the Court’s concerns.” In re Neurontin, at 2 (citing 244 F.R.D. at 115). Plaintiffs filed a new motion for class certification, but the district court denied the motion finding that “common questions will not predominate over issues affecting individual plaintiffs, in accordance with Rule 23(b)(3),” id., at 2-3.

We do not here summarize the factual history set forth in the district court’s opinion, see In re Neurontin, at 3-6, or the court’s analysis of the commonality, numerosity and typicality requirements of Rule 23(a) for class action treatment, which the court concluded were satisfied by plaintiffs’ renewed motion for class certification, see id., at 6-17. But the district court spent more than 30 pages analyzing whether the predominance prong of Rule 23(b)(3) had been met, and concluded that it had not. See id., at 17 et seq. We do not discuss the lengthy order in detail. We note that with respect to the first class certification motion, “the Court’s concerns [with predominance] with respect to both groups emanated from their ability to demonstrate by common proof that defendants’ fraudulent marketing of Neurontin caused financial injury to all plaintiffs.” Id., at 18. More specifically, on the facts of this case “the Court could not simply presume that defendants’ fraudulent conduct caused all the off-label Neurontin prescriptions.” Id., at 23. Based on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s subsequent opinion concerning Vioxx in International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 68 Welfare Fund v. Merck & Co., Inc., 192 N.J. 372 (2007), referred to as Vioxx by the district court, the federal court refused to grant class action treatment to the litigation because “Vioxx precludes NJCFA plaintiffs from establishing causation through a report from a single expert, and the instant plaintiffs seek to do exactly that,” id., at 25.

Similarly, with respect to the TPPs class action claims, the federal court again concluded that plaintiffs’ failed to “demonstrate that common issues predominate with respect to the claims of the TPPs.” In re Neurontin, at 44. The district court explained at page 44 that in order to win at trial “the TPPs must prove that defendants’ fraud caused the off-label Neurontin prescriptions for which the TPPs paid.” And based on the court’s analysis, individualized issues would prevail over common questions with respect to establishing causation. See id., at 44-49. Accordingly, the court denied plaintiffs’ renewed motion for class action treatment, id., at 50.

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