PHILADELPHIA – On Monday, a federal judge granted summary judgment to Pfizer, Inc., stating a plaintiff who alleged taking the company’s drug Neurontin led him to attempt suicide could not substantiate those claims without expert testimony.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Judge Berle M. Schiller said expert testimony was required to prove causation in this case, and the matter could not move forward without it.
Brent Young and his ex-wife Jodie Young of Lafayette, La., sued Pfizer and several divisions of Warner-Lambert Company in 2006, alleging the defendants “illegally marketed a drug called Neurontin for uses that had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including treatment of neuropathic pain.”
Brent Young took Neurontin for treatment of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), which he developed after an ankle re-injury in 2003 and reconstructive surgery the following year.
Young claims that the drug altered his moods, caused him to experience suicidal ideations and ultimately to attempt suicide on Feb. 7, 2005. The very next day, Young says he stopped taking Neurontin and his suicidal ideations likewise ceased. Though Young’s physician, Dr. Michael Jennings, claimed he had prescribed Neurontin to other patients suffering from nerve pain, and none reported suicidal behavior.
“According to the [Youngs’] complaint, during the relevant time period the FDA had only approved Neurontin for the treatment of epilepsy,” Schiller said. “The [plaintiffs say the] defendants allegedly violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) by marketing Neurontin for various ‘off-label’ uses, including treatment of peripheral neuropathy, RSD, and complex regional pain syndrome.”
The Youngs’ 2006 complaint included charges of “(1) negligence; (2) breach of express and implied warranty; (3) strict products liability for failure-to-warn; (4) fraud; (5) unfair trade practices; and (6) loss of consortium, on behalf of Jodie Young.”
Brent and Jodie Young have since divorced, and all attempts to locate Jodie have been unsuccessful, per court records.
Furthermore, the instant case was part of a multi-district litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, but was remanded to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, following pre-trial proceedings in September 2013.
In February, Pfizer moved for summary judgment – which Schiller granted to the pharmaceutical company this week.
Schiller said, “Although this case was filed in Pennsylvania, all the relevant events occurred in Louisiana, where Young resides. This Court, when exercising its diversity jurisdiction, applies Pennsylvania’s choice-of-law rules.”
According to Schiller, these rules included (1) determining whether a real conflict exists; (2) examining the policies underlying each approach in order to classify the conflict as true, false, or unprovided for; and (3) where a true conflict exists, weighing the contacts each jurisdiction has with the dispute.
“Here, the Court need not proceed beyond the first step,” Schiller said. “The primary issue in this case is causation: Defendants argue that Young has not proffered expert testimony necessary to prove that ingesting Neurontin caused him harm.”
Schiller noted under Louisiana state law, the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) covers the exclusive remedy for product liability suits and precludes other negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and intentional tort claims.
“LPLA claims require proof of causation, as do claims under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Thus, Young’s claims require proof of causation under both Pennsylvania and Louisiana law. Moreover, both states require expert testimony when medical causation is at issue,” Schiller said.
“Young cannot survive summary judgment because he fails to put forward any evidence, short of his own personal observations, that would allow a jury to conclude that Neurontin caused him to attempt suicide,” Schiller stated. “In this situation, where the complexities of a drug’s impact on the human body are at issue, expert testimony is necessary to prove causation.”
Schiller added while the Court is sympathetic to Young’s circumstances, it could not allow the case to proceed without the component of expert perspective to support his lynchpin claim.
The defendants are represented by Catherine B. Stevens, Justine Young and Lincoln D. Wilson of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York, plus A. Elizabeth Balakhani and Margaret O’Neill of Goodell DeVries Leech & Dann, in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:06-cv-01308
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org