Pfizer Wins Zoloft Battle, Plaintiffs Win War

imPaneled has long bemoaned the relative brevity of Panel opinions in recent years.  Yes, Panel opinions tend to ostensibly turn on a small set of factors, which have not changed in ages.  But cookie-cutter opinions provide little grist for imPaneled, and providing grist for imPaneled should be a higher priority for the Panel.

Fortunately, certain plaintiffs in In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2342, left the Panel no choice but to explore new territory when they repeatedly insisted that the Panel should deny Pfizer’s motion for centralization because of its allegedly improper removal of several cases on the eve of its filing the motion.  The Panel dismissed that argument:

 [T]he Panel has long held that jurisdictional objections do not overcome the efficiencies that can be realized by centralized proceedings.  The Panel also has held that centralization “does not require a complete identity or even a majority of common factual issues as a prerequisite to centralization”; nor does it “require a complete identity of parties.”

Order, at 2 (citations omitted).

So Pfizer wins.  Right?  Wrong!  Pfizer sought centralization anywhere but the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which has in the past remanded similar cases.  The rebellious plaintiffs had accused Pfizer of seeking to evade those precedents.  If that claim is in fact true–and imPaneled would never accuse a Panel litigant of doing something so underhanded–Pfizer’s effort failed.  But Pfizer did succeed in establishing new Panel precedent, so they have that going for them.

Will the Panel be disapproving removing followed by moving?

As fascinating as they are, even imPaneled has to admit that most Panel proceedings proceed in a similar fashion, and that there is minimal variety in either the substance or the style of the written submissions.  MDL 2342–In re: Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation–is decidedly an exception to the rule.  Defendant Pfizer started the ball rolling blandly enough, seeking the consolidation of 59 pending cases on its home turf in New York City (albeit with three alternative districts, including two in the anti-NYC, Mississippi).  Several plaintiffs followed with the usual requests for alternative forums (E.D. Pa., S.D. Ill., E.D. La.), but were generally–and strangely–silent as to the merits of consolidation generally.

That silence was shattered–nay, disintegrated–by a series of last-minute filings by plaintiffs who excoriated Pfizer for procedural gamesmanship above and beyond the usual Panel shenanigans.  Those plaintiffs claim that Pfizer “wrongfully removed” over 40 of the 59 cases to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania the day it filed its Panel motion, and demanded that those cases be excluded from the proceeding.  They further accused Pfizer of seeking to “evade unfavorable precedent” by requesting consolidation anywhere but that district, as that district’s judges have twice remanded cases naming a Pennsylvania-based defendant common to the Pennsylvania cases.  Most unusually, the plaintiffs made those charges in four substantially identical briefs filed over the course of several days, rather than in a single brief–just to make sure the Panel gets the point.

All of this is apparently another chapter in a long-running battle between the plaintiffs’ bar and the defense bar over the latter’s claim that the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court has become a plaintiff-friendly magnet for claims bearing no relation to the city.  imPaneled takes no side in the battle, but appreciates any opportunity to see “friendly” and “Philadelphia” in the same sentence.

  • About the blogmaster

    Bart Cohen is the principal of the Law Office of Bart D. Cohen, where he represents his clients in class actions and other complex litigation, and Winning Briefs, where he polishes, edits and drafts written work product for overextended lawyers.

    His unnatural appetites for rules and research of all kinds have made him an expert on proceedings before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. He feeds those appetites and chronicles the battles to land lead counsel appointments that are fought in part before the Panel on imPaneled.

    You can contact Bart here or connect with him here.

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