Permit us to recount a recent travel misadventure, though whatever eventual connection we draw to today’s case will be specious at best. Last Friday, we traveled from Philadelphia to Hartford, Connecticut for a deposition. We were fresh off of a long flight home from Europe and were hesitant to take on a couple hundred miles of driving at each end of the day, so we investigated our options. In the morning, direct flights from PHL to BDL abound. But after 6 p.m., when our deposition was scheduled to end, there are no direct flights home. Nor are there Amtrak trains leaving Hartford after that hour. So we threw up our hands and reserved a connecting flight home, reasoning that sleeping, reading, and eating Biscoff cookies would be more relaxing than driving. This even though, to get from Hartford to Philadelphia, we had a totally illogical connection at Dulles, many miles out of the way.
Our originating flight landed at Dulles early. And our 9:30 pm connection was showing “on time” on the board. At 9:15 pm, the following announcement came over the loudspeaker: “We are very sorry, but your first officer is coming in on a flight that is delayed, so we need to delay your 9:30 pm flight until 11:30 pm.” We were not pleased, but the new schedule would still get us home, crucial because we were leaving at noon on Saturday for an overnight trip. At 11:20, the gate agent announced, “Your first officer’s flight has landed. Give us a few minutes and we’ll get you boarded.” At 11:30, we heard the following, dripping with contrition: “We are SO SORRY, but we are unable to put together a crew for your flight tonight, so we are delaying this flight until NOON TOMORROW.” [Emphasis added.] Turns out that the long-awaited first officer had now exceeded his maximum hours for the day.
We did not react politely to this. We asked, “You mean to tell us that nothing in your computer could have told you this before we sat here for two hours and lost all other options??” We did not receive a satisfactory response. Ultimately, we took a 45-minute cab ride to Union Station (cavernous, pitch-black, and empty) and caught a 3:10 a.m. (!!) Amtrak train to Philadelphia. When all was said and done, that was all that was left.
“Not much left” also describes (we warned you) today’s case, an excellent PMA and Buckman preemption decision out of the Northern District of Illinois. In Gravitt v. Mentor Worldwide, 2018 WL 2933609 (N.D. Ill. June 12, 2008), the plaintiff alleged that she was injured by the defendant’s silicone breast implant. Her complaint asserted claims under Illinois law, alleging design and manufacturing defects, failure to warn, and the defendant’s alleged failure to comply with the FDA’s pre-market approval (“PMA”) process for Class III medical devices, including numerous allegations of deficiencies in the defendant’s design and execution of post-PMA studies ordered by the FDA.
In earlier motion practice, the court dismissed most of the plaintiff’s claims without prejudice. (We published a guest post on the first dismissals here.) The plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which the court commented “strongly resemble[d] the original complaint.” Gravitt, 2018 WL 2933609 at *1. The defendant again moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were expressly preempted under the Medical Device Amendments (“MDA”) to the FDCA or impliedly preempted under Buckman.
The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claims were expressly preempted to the extent that they were based on alleged methodological defects in the defendant’s post-PMA studies. The Court explained that under SCOTUS’s Lohr decision, as construed by the Seventh Circuit in Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546 (7th Cir. 2010), as well as SCOTUS’s Riegel decision, state law tort claims related to Class III medical devices granted PMA are allowed to proceed if they: 1) allege violations of common-law duties that parallel federal requirements; or 2) claim violations of federal law. Conversely, state law claims that “would impose on [the defendant] a requirement that is in addition to federal requirements” – in other words, claims that the defendant “violated state tort law notwithstanding compliance with the relevant federal requirements” – are preempted. Gravitt, 2018 WL 2933609 at *4 (internal punctuation and citations omitted).
The court held that, while the complaint alleged numerous deficiencies in the defendant’s post-PMA studies and alleged that each deficiency amounted to an “independent failure to comply with the FDA’s post-approval requirements” and thus a ground for withdrawal of PMA, the plaintiffs “simply assume[d], without legal or other support, that those deficiencies amount[ed] to violations of the FDA’s conditions for PMA.” Id. at *6 (citations omitted). The court concluded that “such an assumption may not ground a viable claim,” id., and held that certain categories of the plaintiff’s allegations were expressly preempted.
But the court held that other categories of the plaintiff’s allegations were not expressly preempted. Specifically, the court held that “the complaint plausibly alleged that [the defendant] violated federal law” by failing to satisfy several categories of requirements related to, inter alia, follow-up of study participants, collecting and reporting of data at required intervals and related updates to labeling, warning of newly-discovered risks of the device, and failing to comply with requirements for manufacturing facilities. Because the plaintiff “plausibly alleged” that these “shortcomings in [the defendant]’s post-PMA testing and manufacturing processes violated federal law,” section 360(a) of the MDA did not preempt those claims. Id. But the court emphasized, “Plaintiffs may proceed with those claims, however, only if they pass through a second legal filter” – the “filter” of implied Buckman preemption of “fraud on the FDA claims.” Id. at *7.
The court explained that, under Buckman, “federal law preempts claims to the extent they seek to deploy state law in the service of policing fraud against federal agencies based on statements that federal law required the defendant to make to the agency, id. (internal punctuation and citation omitted), but doesn’t preempt traditional tort law claims involving breach of a duty to the plaintiff. The court held:
Here, several of the claims that survive express preemption – for example, claims that the defendant reported results of the core study for fewer than the required number of years and recruited fewer than the required number of patients for a large post-approval study – are impliedly preempted under Buckman because those shortcomings breached no . . . [tort duty to the plaintiff]. Rather, as in Buckman, those claims are unconnected to any traditional state tort duty, meaning that the existence of the relevant federal enactments is a critical element of those claims.
Id. (internal punctuation and citation omitted). The court noted that the plaintiff attempted to tie the defendant’s alleged misconduct to her state tort claims, alleging that, if the defendant had more fully complied with the PMA process, its “disclosures would have led to much wider knowledge of the risks associated with its product.” Id. (internal punctuation and citations omitted). But, it emphasized, “the Buckman analysis centers on the nature of the asserted claim and the source of the violation, not on the violation’s effects . . . . A claim arising entirely out of a violation of [the defendant’s] compliance with the FDA’s requirements in granting PMA is . . . . preempted under Buckman. Id.
Two categories of claims remained. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims alleging that the defendant’s manufacturing facilities failed to comply with applicable law and regulations, holding that the complaint had not adequately alleged a true manufacturing defect claim. In addition, the plaintiff had failed to respond to the defendant’s arguments against these claims. The last claim alleged that the defendant learned, but did not disclose, that its device had a higher likelihood of rupture than had been reported. The court acknowledged that these claims were not fully developed in the complaint, but held that Rule 9(b)’s particularity requirement did not apply to the claims. Holding that the plaintiff’s pleading “cross[ed] the line from conceivable to plausible,” satisfying Twiqbal, the court allowed the claims to proceed.
But that was all that was left. The claims that were preempted – expressly and impliedly – were dismissed with prejudice, in an infrequent and laudable turn of events. We would wax on at greater length, but today’s flight is boarding in a few minutes. At least that’s what the board says. We’ll keep you posted.