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WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 rejected Pfizer Inc.'s petition for a writ of certiorari involving the claims of Nigerians allegedly injured during a 1996 Trovan clinical trial in their country, allowing the claims to go to trial in the United States (Pfizer Inc. v. Rabi Abdullahi, et al., No. 09-34, U.S. Sup.).
The high court issued the ruling in a miscellaneous order.
In 2001 and 2002, Rabi Abdullahi and other Nigerians sued Pfizer in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Both cases were eventually consolidated into the Southern District Court of New York.
The Nigerians allege that during a 1996 bacterial meningitis outbreak in Kano, Nigeria, Pfizer conducted a clinical trial for Trovan, a then-unapproved antibiotic. They allege that in cooperation with the Nigerian government, Pfizer clinicians gave some patients Trovan while giving others one-third the recommended dose of ceftriaxone, the standard treatment for bacterial meningitis.
The plaintiffs allege that they were not told that Trovan was experimental or that ceftriaxone was given at low doses and that as a result, some children died, went blind or were otherwise injured. They brought their claims in part under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
The Southern District of New York said it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the ATS because the international law on which the claims are based does not support a federal common-law cause of action. The court also dismissed on the grounds of forum non conveniens, finding that there was an adequate alternative forum in Nigerian courts.
The plaintiffs appealed, and the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals remanded, finding that the claims could be plausible under the ATS. It also remanded the issue of forum non conveniens, noting that in the interim, the Nigerian federal and state governments filed criminal charges against Pfizer for the Trovan trial.
On remand, the District Court found that the plaintiffs could sue in U.S. courts. Pfizer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. In November, seven justices invited the solicitor general to brief the issue.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Sonia Sotomayor took no part in the court's consideration.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the July 8 issue of Mealey's Emerging Drugs & Devices. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
For more information, call editor Thomas Moylan at 610-205-1120, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.