Mullins et al v. Johnson & Johnson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment re: Rebecca Sprout, et al., No. 2:12-cv-07924) The 1144 MOTION by Ethicon, Inc., Johnson & Johnson for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED with regard to the following claims: manufacturing defect, fraud, fraudulent concealment, constructive fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty for fitness for a particular purpose, violation of consumer protection laws , unjust enrichment, stric-liability - defective product, and failure to warn; the motion is DENIED in all other respects, as more fully set forth herein. Signed by Judge Joseph R. Goodwin on 1/20/2017. (cc: counsel of record; any unrepresented party) (ts)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
TERRESKI MULLINS, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:12-cv-02952
ETHICON, INC., et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
(Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
re: Rebecca Sprout, et al., No. 2:12-cv-07924)
Pending before the court is the defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 1144]. As set forth below, the defendants’ Motion is GRANTED
in part and DENIED in part.
This case represents the consolidation of twenty-six out of nearly 28,000 cases
filed against Ethicon, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, Inc. (collectively “Ethicon”). The
Ethicon MDL is one of seven MDLs assigned to me related to pelvic mesh, collectively
encompassing over 60,000 cases. This action involves twenty-six West Virginia
plaintiffs who were implanted with Tension-free Vaginal Tape (“TVT”), a mesh
product manufactured by Ethicon to treat stress urinary incontinence (“SUI”). These
cases have been consolidated on all claims. See Pretrial Order No. 184 [ECF No. 25]
(“PTO”); Fourth Am. Docket Control Order [ECF No. 258]; Order, Dec. 27, 2016, at 2
[ECF No. 1527] (“The trial will address all triable issues in each case.”).
To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In considering a motion for
summary judgment, the court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth
of the matter.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, the
court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587–88 (1986).
Although the court will view all underlying facts and inferences in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party nonetheless must offer
some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict” in his
or her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is appropriate when the
nonmoving party has the burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case
and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a showing sufficient to establish
that element. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). The nonmoving
party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering more than a mere “scintilla of
evidence” in support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise,
conclusory allegations or unsupported speculation, without more, are insufficient to
preclude the granting of a summary judgment motion. See Dash v. Mayweather, 731
F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir. 2013); Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 191 (4th
Choice of Law
“[B]ecause the plaintiffs are West Virginia residents and had their surgeries
at hospitals in West Virginia, the cases solely implicate West Virginia law.” Pretrial
Order No. 184 at 4 (citing McKinney v. Fairchild Intern., Inc., 487 S.E.2d 913, 922
(W. Va. 1997) (“Traditionally, West Virginia courts apply the lex loci delicti choice-oflaw rule; that is, the substantive rights between the parties are determined by the
law of the place of injury.”)). Accordingly, West Virginia law governs the
Ethicon argues it is entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiffs’ legal
theories are without evidentiary or legal support.
Failure to Warn
The plaintiffs have failed to produce any evidence to show that any other
warning would have altered Ms. Sprout’s implanting physician’s decision to perform
the surgery on her. See generally Dr. Capelle Dep., June 10, 2016 [ECF No. 1144-6].
Based on the evidence, the operation of the learned intermediary doctrine stymies
the plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims against Ethicon. See Tyree v. Bos. Sci. Corp., 56
F. Supp. 3d 826, 833 (S.D. W. Va. 2014) (predicting that the West Virginia Supreme
Court would apply the learned intermediary doctrine in the medical device context).
Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion on this point is GRANTED.
The plaintiffs point to no evidence that the TVT device departed from its
intended design at the time it left Ethicon’s control. Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion on
this point is GRANTED.
Fraud-based Claims and Negligent Misrepresentation
The plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims and negligent misrepresentation claim are
simply repackaged failure-to-warn claims. But the plaintiffs have not identified any
particular statements by Ethicon upon which they relied. This inability to identify
any particular fraudulent statements upon which they relied indicates that the
gravamen of these claims is Ethicon’s failure to warn the plaintiffs about particular
risks or dangers associated with the TVT. If the learned intermediary doctrine “could
be avoided by casting what is essentially a failure to warn claim under a different
cause of action . . . then the doctrine would be rendered meaningless.” In re Norplant
Contraceptive Prods. Liab. Litig., 955 F. Supp. 700, 709 (E.D. Tex. 1997). Accordingly,
I predict with confidence that, if confronted with this issue, the West Virginia
Supreme Court would hold that the learned intermediary doctrine applies to all
claims based on a medical device manufacturer’s failure to warn, including fraud,
fraudulent concealment, constructive fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.
Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion regarding the plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims and
negligent misrepresentation claim is GRANTED.
Breach of Express Warranty
The plaintiffs cannot establish that Ethicon made any express warranty, as
defined by W. Va. Code § 46-2-313(1), because they have not even identified any
statement made by Ethicon to them concerning the TVT. Accordingly, Ethicon’s
Motion on this point is GRANTED.
Breach of Implied Warranty (Fitness for a Particular Purpose)
The plaintiffs have not presented any evidence that Ms. Sprout’s physician
selected her TVT device for anything other than its intended purpose, which is the
treatment of SUI. See W. Va. Code. § 46-2-315; see also Keffer v. Wyeth, 791 F. Supp.
2d 539, 547 (S.D. W. Va. 2011) (Copenhaver, J.) (noting that W. Va. Code § 46-2-315
“requires a particular purpose that differs from the ordinary purpose for which the
goods are generally used”). Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion on this point is GRANTED.
West Virginia does not recognize a claim for “defective product.” Instead, state
law recognizes three categories of claims regarding defective products: design defect,
structural defect, and use defect. See Morningstar v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 253
S.E.2d 666, 682 (W. Va. 1979). Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion as to Count IV (Strict
Liability—Defective Product) is GRANTED.
The plaintiffs have not identified any evidence to support their unjust
enrichment claim. Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion on this point is GRANTED.
Consumer Protection Laws
The plaintiffs’ claim under the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection
Act, W. Va. Code § 46A-6-101 et seq., fails because they have offered no evidence that
they provided Ethicon with the requisite notice and opportunity to cure. See W. Va.
Code § 46A-6-106(c) (“[N]o action, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim may
be brought pursuant to the provisions of this section until the person has informed
the seller or lessor in writing and by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the
alleged violation and provided the seller or lessor twenty days from receipt of the
notice of violation but ten days in the case a cause of action has already been filed to
make a cure offer . . . .”); see also Bennett v. Skyline Corp., 52 F. Supp. 3d 796, 812
(N.D. W. Va. 2014) (Keeley, J.) (“This Court agrees that even if the plaintiff's claims
fell within the purview of Section 46A–6–106(a), the plaintiff's failure to comply with
the mandatory prerequisite set forth in Section 46A–6–106(b) bars her from bringing
a claim.” (quoting Stanley v. Huntington Nat’l Bank, No. 1:11-cv-54, 2012 WL 254135,
at *8 (N.D. W. Va. Jan. 27, 2012) (Stamp, J.))). Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion on this
point is GRANTED.
All Remaining Claims
The court FINDS that genuine disputes of material fact exist regarding the
plaintiffs’ remaining claims challenged by Ethicon. Accordingly, Ethicon’s Motion as
to all remaining claims is DENIED.
For the reasons discussed above, it is ORDERED that Ethicon’s Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment [ECF No. 1144] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in
part. Ethicon’s Motion is GRANTED with regard to the following claims:
manufacturing defect, fraud, fraudulent concealment, constructive fraud, negligent
misrepresentation, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty for fitness
for a particular purpose, violation of consumer protection laws, unjust enrichment,
strict-liability—defective product, and failure to warn. Ethicon’s Motion is DENIED
in all other respects.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record
and any unrepresented party.
January 20, 2017
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