Defense Motion for Summary Judgment Granted as to Class Action’s Express Warranty Claim and Granted as to Other Class Action’s Claims as to Individuals who did not Benefit from Off Label Use of Prescription Drug, and Defense Established Grounds to Decertify Class Action because Individual Questions Predominate Pennsylvania State Trial Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a class action against Pfizer and Warner-Lambert alleging that their drug, Neurontin, approved by the FDA for epilepsy and for neuralgia, was sold by prescription for “off label” purposes “not approved by the FDA.” Clark v. Pfizer, Inc., Philadelphia Common Pleas Case No. 1819 (February 9, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The trial court noted that doctors were free to prescribe Neurontin “for any condition that they believe to be appropriate even if not FDA approved,” explaining that this practice “is known as off-label prescribing and although permissible in the medical profession, federal law prohibits a drug manufacturer from promoting off-label uses of an approved medication.” Id. According to the class action, defendants “deliberately and unlawfully promoted Neurontin to physicians for ‘off-label uses’ for which effectiveness had not been scientifically demonstrated.” Id., at 2. Defendants were charged criminally in federal court; they pleaded guilty to two specific violations of off-label marketing, and paid a $240 million fine. Id. The class action asserted claims for misrepresentation, negligence and breach of warranty, and sought reimbursement of all drug costs paid by individuals as opposed to insurers, id., at 1. The trial court certified the lawsuit as a class action; defense attorneys moved to decertify the class action and for summary judgment. Id.
Defendants’ motion stressed that certain physician’s prescribed Neurontin for off-label purposes because they believed it would help – and believed it did help – their patients, not because of defendants’ marketing efforts. Clark, at 2-4. The trial court easily concluded that the class action’s express warranty claim failed because “there is no evidence that plaintiffs saw, heard or in any way received any warranties that Neurontin could be used in circumstances not approved by the FDA.” Id., at 4. Further, “[t]he alleged fraud on the medical profession which is the essence of plaintiffs’ claims does not create any warranty.” Id. Accordingly, the trial court granted summary judgment as to the class action’s express warranty claim, id. As to the misrepresentation and negligence claims, the class action alleged that “through defendants’ concerted activities they incorrectly convinced that entire medical community of the effectiveness of off label uses.” Id. However the evidence presented demonstrated that “some of the class members have suffered no injury” because they “received a medical benefit” from the off-label use of Neurontin, id. The court therefore granted summary judgment “as to those class members who benefited from prescribed off label uses of Neurontin,” but denied the motion as to class members who received no benefit from off label uses. Id., at 4-5.
With respect to defendants’ motion to decertify the class, the trial court noted that because some people benefited from off label uses and others did not, “individual questions of fact are presented making the case unsuitable for class resolution.” Clark, at 5. The trial court explained at page 5, “Whether an individual class member suffered a compensable loss is an inherently individualized question which predominates making class resolution impracticable and possibly impossible.” Accordingly, the court granted defendants’ motion to decertify the class, id.