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WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) More than 92 federal lawsuits alleging birth defects caused by the antidepressant Zoloft and its generic version sertraline were centralized April 17 before Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPMDL) (In Re: Zoloft [Sertraline Hydrochloride] Products Liability Litigation, MDL Docket No. 2342, JPMDL).
The centralization came despite the objections of plaintiffs in about 45 actions; the JPMDL said that all the federal court cases involved common questions of fact and that centralization will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses. It said centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings and conserve the resources of the parties and the judiciary.
The order affects 57 federal lawsuits in six district courts, along with more than 35 related actions in various other federal courts, the JPMDL said.
In Utero Claims
The plaintiffs allege that Zoloft - which is made by Pfizer Inc. - and sertraline - which is made by Greenstone LLC - cause birth defects in children when their mothers take the drugs during pregnancy.
The claims are similar to those made about Paxil, another antidepressant. That litigation has largely settled.
Pfizer moved for creation of an MDL.
Opposition By Plaintiffs
Plaintiffs in 45 cases, most of which were removed by Pfizer to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, opposed centralization. Alternatively, they suggested excluding cases in which there are pending remand motions to state court or motions to dismiss.
The opposing plaintiffs said that if an MDL is created, cases should go to one of several district courts.
The opposing plaintiffs argued that Pfizer created the appearance of the need for an MDL by improperly removing more than 40 actions and said the removed cases should not be included because of unique jurisdictional issues.
Likely To Increase
"We respectfully disagree with these arguments," the JPMDL wrote. "Almost 40 actions are now pending that were filed in federal court and it appears likely that additional actions will be filed in the future. Furthermore, the Panel has long held that jurisdictional objections do not overcome the efficiencies that can be realized by centralized proceedings."
Amicus curiae Michael A. London of Douglas & London in New York argued that centralization is unnecessary because the litigation will involve hundreds of claims, as opposed to thousands of claims. He also argued that the cases do not share sufficient common questions of fact and that the injuries and alleged causation vary considerably.
"We appreciate these arguments, but do not agree that these circumstances make centralization unnecessary or unwarranted," the panel wrote. "Centralized proceedings have helped to efficiently resolve dockets involving far fewer than 'thousands' of claims, even in cases involving drug-related products liability claims."
"Moreover, while the specific birth defects alleged vary somewhat among the plaintiffs, all actions will share discovery relating to general medical causation; factual discovery will overlap concerning Pfizer's research, testing, and warnings; and expert discovery and Daubert motions will overlap to some degree," the panel said.
The panel said it picked the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because more than half of the cases are pending there, including the first one filed. In addition, it said that if cases are remanded to Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia, the state/federal litigation can be coordinated.
Judge Rufe also presides over the Avandia MDL, which is in the process of settling.
In February, Judge Sandra Mazer Moss of the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court said during a conference that she expects that state court Zoloft cases will be centralized in the state's complex litigation center in Philadelphia.
Pfizer is represented by Mark S. Cheffo and Katherine Armstrong of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York.
The plaintiffs are represented by Richard A. Freese of Freese & Goss in Birmingham, Ala.; Tim K. Goss of Freese & Goss in Dallas; Christopher Cueto and Michael Gras of the Law Office of Christopher Cueto in Belleview, Ill.; Joseph J. Zonies of Reilly Pozner in Denver; Dianne M. Nast of RodaNast in Lancaster, Pa.; Thomas P. Cartmell and Christopher L. Schneiders of Wagstaff & Cartmell in Kansas City, Mo.; James R. Dugan, Douglas R. Plymale, David Franco and Kevin Oufnac of the Dugan Law Firm in New Orleans; Trent B. Miracle of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd in Alton, Ill.; Paul Hanly and Jayne Conroy of Hanly, Conroy, Bierstein, Sheridan, Fisher & Hayes in New York; Ricky L. Boren of Hill Boren in Jackson, Tenn.; Perry R. Sanders Jr. and Joi G. Kush of the Sanders Law Firm in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Justin A. Day and Denise Vinet of Vinet & Day Injury Lawyers in Baton Rouge, La.; Peyton Murphy of the Murphy Law Firm in Baton Rouge; David P. Matthews and Julie L. Rhoades of Matthews & Associates in Houston; Clayton A. Clark and Scott A. Love of Clark, Burnett, Love & Lee in Houston; Rebecca B. King and J. Scott Nabers of Blizzard, McCarthy & Nabers in Houston; and Rosemary Pinto of Feldman & Pinto in Philadelphia.
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