Every now and then, the Reed Smith powers that be make seats in the firm’s skybox at the Phillies’ (first place – who woulda thunk?) stadium available to folks like us. As a result we attended back-to-back concerts by the Eagles and Billy Joel last weekend. Yes, we know that dates us – that was obvious from crowd demographics – but we don’t mind. Joel (who according to Wikipedia, caught his first big break in Philly back in 1972) played until nearly midnight after the show’s opening was delayed by a cloudburst. He made sure to perform “Allentown” with its Pennsylvania themes, but Joel being Joel, he also played “New York State of Mind.”
Our immediate Philadelphian chip-on-our-shoulder reaction was, “Don’t bring that New York %@#&*! down here. If you have to sing about New York CIty, at least play “Miami 2017” (he didn’t).” But then we got back to work, and we ended up thinking, actually there is at least one good recent reason for us to look to New York.
Over the last few weeks, New York courts have produced two of the best TwIqbal decisions that we’ve ever seen: Quintana v. B. Braun Medical, Inc., 2018 WL 3559091 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2018), and Oden v. Boston Scientific Corp., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2018 WL 3102534 (E.D.N.Y. June 4, 2018). If more courts applied TwIqbal as faithfully as this duo, you know what? Lawyers on the other side might actually have to comply with Rule 11 and actually investigate their cases before filing them.
Both cases involve Class II medical devices (IVC filters), so their TwIqbal application is not related to federal preemption and so-called “parallel” violation claims. They’re just straight-out TwIqbal fundamentalism. So, for those of you who file TwIqbal motions in order to force plaintiffs to plead what the heck their cases are about (most of us D-siders these days), and who use our TwIqbal Cheat Sheet to find good cases in your jurisdiction to cite, here’s a rundown of the relevant rulings.
Given the nature of a warning-based product defect claim, “a claim premised upon a failure to warn theory should be dismissed in the event a plaintiff fails to plead facts establishing how or why the warning provided was inadequate.” Oden, 2018 WL 3102534, at *6. “[C]onclusory” warning allegations that failed TwIqbal are:
- “Defendant failed to provide sufficient warnings and instructions”
- “Defendant knew or should have known, and adequately warned that its product created a risk of serious and dangerous side effects, including but not limited to. . . .”
- “The warnings given did not accurately reflect the risk, incidence, symptoms, scope or severity of such injuries to the consumer”
- Defendant “only provides limited information [concerning] possible complications”
- “Defendant’s warnings page on their website . . . fails to address the full extent of complications [and] magnitude of risks involved”
Id. None of this boilerplate, individually or collectively, survived TwIqbal. “[T]he Complaint fails to provide facts identifying how or why the included warnings were inadequate.” Id. at *7. Given the warnings referenced in the complaint (labeling, broduct brochure, instructions for use, website), the complaint came nowhere near meeting TwIqbal requirements:
[T]he Complaint fails to provide facts identifying how or why the included warnings were inadequate. Although Plaintiff claims that Defendant failed to warn or otherwise provided inadequate warnings of all of the aforementioned risks, the Complaint is silent as to how the warnings that were indisputably provided . . . were inadequate. Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to provide the necessary factual nexus showing how the warnings that were provided were insufficient since merely asserting that warnings were not “adequate” or “sufficient” are nothing more than legal conclusions. Without facts setting forth what the warnings stated and how and/or why the warnings were inadequate, Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim is insufficiently pleaded.
Id. at *7 (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Another pleading deficiency was the complaint’s failure to distinguish between “actual injuries Plaintiff experienced versus those complications which potentially could result from implantation of the [device].” Id. (emphasis original). “Nor does the Complaint contain any nonconclusory allegations that Plaintiff’s treating physician was not adequately informed or apprised of the potential risks.” Id. In a learned intermediary case, “to the extent Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim is premised upon Defendant’s alleged failure to warn ‘consumers’ . . . such a claim is not viable in the first instance.” Id. Thus a plaintiff must plead “facts to suggest that [the] physician did not possess independent knowledge about the risks associated with” the device. Id.
Likewise, in Quintana, “Plaintiff’s allegations of inadequate warnings” were “for the most part, conclusory.” 2018 WL 3559091, at *6. Plaintiff “fails to identify how those warnings were inadequate.” Id. Further, plaintiff failed to plead warning causation under the learned intermediary rule:
To this point, Plaintiff alleges, “as a direct and proximate cause of the wrongful acts and omissions of Defendants, Plaintiff suffered economic damages, severe injuries, and emotional distress.” This conclusion, however, is not sufficient to plausibly show that the failure to warn Plaintiff’s physician caused Plaintiff’s injuries because we know nothing about what caused her [injury] – i.e., what about the device failed or what was Plaintiff’s diagnosis – nor anything about whether Plaintiff would have heeded an appropriate warning.
Oden held that a design defect claim is properly TwIqballed where it “fails to identify a particular problem in the design of [the device] and . . . merely plead[s] that the [device] is ‘defective.’” 2018 WL 3102534, at *4. A mere “list of allegedly unreasonable risks” “does not identify a specific component or particularized issue with the design itself.” Id. Similarly, describing a product as “unreasonably dangerous” when it “left the hands of the Defendant” does not adequately allege a defect. Such descriptions “lack any facts indicating the particular component that was defective or otherwise identifying a specific problem.” Id. “Without such facts, Plaintiff’s design defect claim fails.” Id. Moreover, a design defect claim must allege an alternative design:
Plaintiff’s design defect claim also fails on the independent ground that the Complaint does not plead the existence of a feasible alternative design. . . . [A] plaintiff must plead facts alleging the existence of a feasible alternative design. The only paragraph in the Complaint specifically referring to this element merely states that “safer, reasonable alternative designs existed and could have been utilized,” but fails to identify what feasible alternative designs are available.
Id. at (citations and quotation marks omitted). Pleading the availability of a “different” product (“retrievable,” as opposed to “permanent”) doesn’t hack it, “since the design and purpose of these two products is different.” Id.
In pleading design defect, Quintana required plaintiffs to allege “a specific defect” as well as “facts about the “circumstances of the purported failure of the [device] that would give rise to the inference of proximate cause.” 2018 WL 3559091, at *4. “A boilerplate reference to a design defect” that the product was “unable to withstand . . . normal” conditions failed TwIqbal. Id. As to product “risks,” a complaint must “state  facts to indicate how those risks resulted from a specific design defect” and “how that defect was a substantial factor in causing [plaintiff’s] injuries.” Id. “[T]he assumption that [a] device must have failed because of reports of failures or complications by other consumers is plainly inadequate” to plead a design defect. Id. As in Oden, alleging a product to be “unreasonably dangerous” doesn’t adequately allege a defect. Id. A plaintiff must plead “how [a] problem rendered the product defective, whether it affected his [device], [and] how it caused [the] alleged injuries.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). Further, “res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary principle and does not apply to pleading requirements.” Id. at *5. Even if res ipsa were appropriate, it is insufficient when “Plaintiff fails to provide sufficient factual exposition to account for the possibility that other factors caused [the] injury.” Id. Finally, “[i]t also appears that Plaintiff’s design defect claim fails for failure to allege a feasible design alternative.” Id. at 5 n.5.
The plaintiff’s “conclusory” allegations in Oden failed to plead a manufacturing defect “since they fail to allege a specific manufacturing defect affecting the [device] implanted in Plaintiff as compared to other [devices] that were produced by Defendant.” 2018 WL 3102534, at *5 (emphasis original). “[A] claim devoid of allegations that a particular unit differed when compared to others in the same product line will be dismissed.” Id. “[A]lleg[ing] that some ‘condition or conditions’ existed that ultimately caused Plaintiff’s injuries” is a “vague assertion” that “fails to place Defendant on notice as to what the particular error in the manufacturing process was.” Id.
Quintana did not involve a manufacturing defect claim.
Oden reiterated that, to pursue a claim for breach of express warranty, “plaintiff must allege that there was an affirmation of fact or promise by the seller, the natural tendency of which was to induce the buyer to purchase and that the warranty was relied upon to [Plaintiff’s] detriment.” 2018 WL 3102534, at *8 (citation and quotation marks omitted). An allegation that, somewhere in the defendant’s “literature, advertisements, promotions and . . . representations by their marketing team and sales agents,” a promise was made that the device was “safe, effective and fit for implantation” in various ways didn’t cut the mustard. Id. Even assuming these were “material statements amounting to a warranty,” no reliance was pleaded:
[T]he Complaint merely alleges Plaintiff’s purported “reliance” without providing any underlying factual details concerning when, where and how such reliance arose. Even assuming that Plaintiff was provided with a brochure . . ., the Complaint is devoid of any facts that would permit the inference that Plaintiff actually read these statements and directly relied upon them when making the decision to utilize Defendant’s product. In addition, there are no facts illustrating that Plaintiff’s physicians ever reviewed the statements contained on Defendant’s website or those set forth in the product brochure prior to making the decision to recommend use of the [device]. Without such allegations, any purported claim that such reliance existed is implausible.
Id. at *9 (citations and quotation marks omitted).
In Quintana express warranty claims failed equally miserably. “Plaintiff has failed to adequately plead reliance because her amended complaint lacks details regarding whether and how Plaintiff or her physicians reviewed and relied upon these warranties.” 2018 WL 3559091, at *7 (citations omitted).
Quintana did not involve implied warranty claims, but Oden did – two claims, for both merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. 2018 WL 3102534, at *9-10. Merchantability claims were TwIqballed, for lack of a proper defect claim, as already detailed. Id. at *9. Fitness claims failed because they were “altogether conclusory.” Id. at *10. “Where a plaintiff fails to plead that a defendant knew of the particular purpose for which that plaintiff was buying a product, a complaint will be dismissed.” Id. at *9 (citation and quotation marks omitted). This complaint didn’t so plead. Id. at *10. “[A] product’s intended or ordinary purpose is not necessarily equivalent with a particular purpose for which Plaintiff seeks to purchase a product.” Id. “Moreover, the Complaint does not contain any factual allegations leading to the inference that Defendant was aware that Plaintiff and/or his physicians were directly relying upon Defendant’s skill and judgment when the determination was made to purchase the” device. Id.
Both the Oden and Quintana complaints also contained the usual litany of fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, and consumer fraud claims. These were all dismissed as well. Oden, 2018 WL 3102534, at *10-15; Quintana, 2018 WL 3559091, at *7-10. The fate of these claims was mostly decided under the particularity standards of Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b) rather than TwIqbal. Oden was of the view that the consumer fraud claims were subject only to TwIqbal standards, 2018 WL 3102534, at *14, and dismissed them on that basis:
[T]his cause of action fails because Plaintiff has not sufficiently pleaded causation. Although Plaintiff sets forth certain statements contained on Defendant’s website and in its product brochure, these allegations neither explicitly state nor permit the plausible inference that Plaintiff actually saw these statements prior to making the determination (in conjunction with his physicians) to purchase the [device]. . . . [T]he relevant factual background to support the above [allegations] is simply lacking. As a result, Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead the third element of this claim.
Id. (citations omitted).
Quintana dismissed consumer fraud claims on the same basis, 2018 WL 3559091, at *10, although it is unclear whether the dismissal was under Rule 8 or Rule 9(b). Unlike Oden, Quintana also applied TwIqbal to the plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation claim, out of an abundance of caution, id. at *9 and held the claim inadequately pleaded under the learned intermediary rule.
[E]ven under the more lenient standards of Rule 8(a), Plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation fails because she has not plausibly alleged reliance. . . . [Plaintiff’s] allegation indicates only that Plaintiff relied on her physician’s advice and leaves open the question whether the physician relied on Defendants’ representations when giving Plaintiff that advice. Because Plaintiff fails to plausibly allege what misrepresentation her physician relied on, her negligent misrepresentation claim is dismissed.
Finally, remember that we’re very picky on our TwIqbal Cheat Sheet. We only include cases where a motion to dismiss was granted in its entirety. In none of our 200+ drug/device TwIqbal cases did a single claim survive dismissal (sometimes on grounds other than TwIqbal). New York has always been a productive source for TwIqbal Cheat Sheet cases:
Black v. Covidien, PLC, 2018 WL 573569 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 2018); Rincon v. Covidien, 2017 WL 2242969 (S.D.N.Y. May 22, 2017); Teixeria v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc., 193 F. Supp.3d 218 (W.D.N.Y. 2016); Morrison v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., 2016 WL 5678546 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2016); Adams v. Stryker Orthopaedics, 2016 WL 2993213 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2016); Ortiz v. Allergan, Inc., 2015 WL 5178402 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 4, 2015); Rodman v. Stryker Sales Corp., 2014 WL 5002095 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 7, 2014), aff’d, 604 F. Appx. 81 (2d Cir. 2015); Cordova v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2014 WL 3749421 (E.D.N.Y. July 30, 2014); Burkett v. Smith & Nephew GMBH, 2014 WL 1315315 (E.D.N.Y. March 31, 2014); Simon v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 990 F. Supp.2d 395 (S.D.N.Y. 2013); Bertini v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2013 WL 6332684 (E.D.N.Y. July 15, 2013); Goldin v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2013 WL 1759575 (S.D.N.Y. April 24, 2013); In re Pamidronate Products Liability Litigation, 842 F. Supp.2d 479 (E.D.N.Y. 2012); Reed v. Pfizer Inc., 839 F. Supp.2d 571 (E.D.N.Y. 2012); Bowdrie v. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., 2012 WL 5465994, (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2012); Desabio v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp., 817 F. Supp.2d 197 (W.D.N.Y. 2011); Gelber v. Stryker Corp., 752 F. Supp.2d 328 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 14, 2010); In re Fosamax Products Liability Litigation, 2010 WL 1654156 (S.D.N.Y. April 9, 2010); Ilarraza v. Medtronic, Inc., 677 F. Supp.2d 582 (E.D.N.Y. 2009); Horowitz v. Stryker Corp., 613 F. Supp.2d 271 (E.D.N.Y. 2009); Lewis v. Abbott Laboratories, 2009 WL 2231701 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2009).
But you will find a couple of citations in Quintana and Oden to TwIqbal cases that we don’t include because they only dismissed complaints in part. See Parillo v. Stryker Corp., 2015 WL 12748006 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2015); DiBartolo v. Abbott Laboratories, 914 F. Supp.2d 601 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). That’s OK – it’s a matter of legal judgment what to cite for any particular proposition. Our philosophy is that we want to be picky, so we don’t give anyone a bum steer with a case citation that may be harmful on some other TwIqbal point. As Billy Joel would say, “It’s no big sin to stick your two cents in if you know when to leave it alone.”