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In re Bendectin Litig. - 857 F.2d 290 (6th Cir. 1988)

Rule:

A substantial federal question is presented as long as the pleadings invoking federal question jurisdiction are not so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, plainly unsubstantial, or no longer open to discussion. The standard is easily met--an arguably plausible claim must be allowed to proceed. The test is whether there is any legal substance to the position the plaintiff is presenting.

Facts:

Plaintiffs, Ohio citizen representatives of children with birth defects and all other representatives of children with birth defects, brought an action against defendant Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., alleging that their birth defects were caused by their mothers' ingestion during pregnancy of defendant's anti-nausea drug called Bendectin. The complaints requested relief on the grounds of negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability, fraud, and gross negligence, and asserting a rebuttable presumption of negligence per se for defendant's alleged violation of the misbranding provisions of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C.S. § 301 et seq. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio entered judgment in favor of Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. On appeal, plaintiffs (all other representatives of children with birth defects not from Ohio) argued that the federal district court did not have jurisdiction over actions brought by Ohio plaintiffs, actions originally filed in state courts, or actions originally filed in the federal district courts in any of the 50 states and later transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. 

Issue:

In a case involving the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), does the federal district court have jurisdiction over negligence and products liability actions brought by Ohio plaintiffs, actions originally filed in state courts, or actions originally filed in the federal district courts in any of the 50 states and later transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio?

Answer:

No, as to actions brought by Ohio plaintiffs. Yes, as to the remaining plaintiffs.

Conclusion:

The United States Court of Appeals held that as to plaintiff Ohio citizen representatives of children with birth defects, the trial court was without jurisdiction as to Ohio citizens because no federal question jurisdiction was invoked. Accordingly, the Court dismissed that part of the negligence and products liability class action suit judgment entered for defendant drug manufacturer. The Court affirmed the judgment for to defendants as to the plaintiffs who were all other representatives of children with birth defects. The Court held that the court had jurisdiction over the remaining plaintiffs because they intended to allege an implied cause of action under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, thereby invoking federal question jurisdiction. The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in trifurcating the trial by initially only submitting a causation question as no prejudice in doing so was shown by plaintiffs.

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