PIRELLI ARMSTRONG TIRE CORPORATION RETIREE MEDICAL BENEFITS TRUST v. WALGREEN COMPANY (January 21, 2011)
Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corporation Retiree Medical Benefits Trust uses a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) to administer its relationships with pharmacies that the Trust's members use to fill prescriptions and that the Trust then reimburses for amounts in excess of the members’ co-pays. The PBM sets the maximum reimbursable price for the most frequently used prescriptions. Reimbursement for less popular medications is the average wholesale price, set by the manufacturers. The average wholesale price is almost always more than if the price had been set by a PBM. In the case of two particular drugs, Ranitidine and Fluoxetine, one form of the drug (i.e., capsule versus tablet) was on the controlled price list and the other was governed by the average wholesale price. It is illegal in Illinois for a pharmacy to dispense a drug in a form other than that which was prescribed. The Trust brought suit against Walgreens, alleging that the pharmacy filled members' prescriptions for those two drugs in the form that provided them the greatest reimbursement, regardless of which form was prescribed. The complaint cited several grounds for the Trust's belief that Walgreens committed this fraud: a) a preliminary review of its own reimbursement data that showed 12 members had prescriptions filled at Walgreens with the more expensive form of one of the drugs, and that three of those 12 members had apparently the same prescriptions filled at other pharmacies with the less expensive form of the drug, b) the allegations of a 2003 whistleblower suit that alleged that Walgreens filled prescriptions for the drugs with the more expensive form, and c) the data collected by a different PBM that compared Walgreens’ choice of drug form with other pharmacies and concluded that Walgreens’ rate of filling prescriptions with the higher priced drugs was overwhelmingly greater. The suit was originally brought as a class action and encompassed prescriptions in 35 states. It scope was narrowed, however to Illinois only and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The Trust also included an unjust enrichment claim under Illinois law. Judge Kendall (N.D. Ill.) granted Walgreens' motion to dismiss on the grounds that the Trust failed to adequately plead fraud and that it failed to allege that it had been injured. The Trust appeals.
In their opinion, Judges Flaum, Manion, and Tinder affirmed. The Illinois Act does make it unlawful to use fraud in trade or commerce. But it also is governed by the heightened fraud pleading requirements of the federal rules. The general rule is that a plaintiff cannot satisfy that heightened standard with allegations "on information and belief." Although the plaintiff does not use those words, the allegations fit the concept. There is an exception to that general rule where the plaintiff has no access to the facts constituting the fraud and where he adequately provides the grounds for his suspicions. The Court considered the support cited in the complaint in that light. First, it gave little weight to the allegations of the whistleblower suit. Allegations in other lawsuits are typically given little weight, particularly here, when those allegations themselves, for the most part, are made on information and belief. Second, the Court afforded little weight to the data set collected by the other PBM. Although that data does support a belief that a third party payor was injured, it does little to support the Trust, particularly since it is based on a different set of reimbursement data. The Trust had available its own reimbursement data. Third, the Court turned to that reimbursement data and found it wanting as well. There is not much data to begin with and the Court wondered why the Trust's pre-filing inquiry could not have resulted in a more robust data set. The suspicious examples themselves were few. In a universe of thousands of members and thousands of pharmacies nationwide, 12 erroneous prescriptions is not evidence of fraud. The Trust simply did not provide enough data and context to meet the heightened standard. Although the Trust may be correct that the small subset of members who had their prescriptions filled differently at Walgreens and other pharmacies is "suspiciously consistent" with fraud, it is not enough to satisfy the fraud pleading requirement. The district court was correct in dismissing the statutory count. Finally, the Court concluded that the district court was correct in dismissing the unjust enrichment claim. In Illinois, an unjust enrichment claim is not a separate cause of action but an equitable remedy. The Trust pleads its unjust enrichment claim on the same facts as it pleads its statutory claim. Those allegations of fraud are governed by the same pleading standard and must be dismissed for the same reason.