Friday, March 25, 2011

Merck Loses Mandamus Petition In State Court Vioxx® Class Action Appeal

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has held that Merck is not entitled to the extraordinary relief of having a trial court determination set aside entirely, and summarily, even before a trial on the merits, in this state court Vioxx® class action suit. In sum, this is but one small example of my thesis that Merck's reserves, booked to date, will need to be augmented yet again, in the months and years to come (despite the $4.85 billion settled figure).

This still leaves open the more traditional routes of appeal, however. From the opinion, just published yesterday (courtesy

. . . .Appellant, Merck & Co., Inc., appeals from an order of the Court of Appeals denying its petition for a writ of mandamus against Appellee, Judge Stephen D. Combs, of the Pike Circuit Court. The underlying lawsuit, brought by the Real Party in Interest, James Ratliff, is a class action alleging that Merck concealed the dangerous side effects of the prescription pain medication marketed under the name "Vioxx". Merck now seeks an order directing the Pike Circuit Court to enter summary judgment in its favor or, alternatively, to vacate the court's order certifying a class action pursuant to CR 23.

Merck contends that it was entitled to summary judgment on Ratliff's claims. Alternatively, Merck contends that the class certified in this case is impermissible because Ratliff is an improper class representative, and because class issues do not predominate over individualized issues. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the Court of Appeals. . . .

Ratliff, who took Vioxx from January of 2000 through early 2004, filed the present class action litigation in Pike Circuit Court on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated in Kentucky. As ultimately certified by the circuit court, the class is defined as being comprised "of all Kentucky residents who have purchased and taken Vioxx during the period of May 1999 through September 30, 2004, and who, upon recommendation and advice of the FDA and Merck have or will contact physicians to seek advice regarding their Vioxx use[.]".

As grounds for relief Ratliff pled: (1) violations of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act; (2) fraudulent concealment and/or misrepresentation; (3) negligent and/or grossly negligent misrepresentation; and (4) unjust enrichment. As damages he sought compensatory damages for: (1) reimbursement of the cost of the drug itself; (2) reimbursement for the cost of the precautious medical exams; and (3) the loss of wages for lost work-time to receive the medical examinations. Collectively, his damages amount to about $350.00. He projects that other members of the putative class would experience similar damages.1 Merck opposed the motion to certify the class on the grounds that: (1) plaintiffs causes of action require proof of causation arid reliance, which would entail individualized inquiries that are unsuited for a class trial; (2) Ratliff is neither a typical nor adequate class representative; and (3) the proposed class definition is unworkable because there is no practical way to ascertain class membership. At the same time, Merck moved for summary judgment on Ratliff's claims on the grounds that: (1) Kentucky law does not allow product liability actions where the plaintiff was not injured by the product's alleged defect; (2) Ratliff has not suffered any actual economic loss because under his prescription drug plan he paid the exact same co-pay for Vioxx as he did for the prescription pain medication he would have taken in lieu of Vioxx; and (3) Ratliff lacks privity with Merck as required by Kentucky law to assert a claim under the Consumer Protection Act.

On April 2, 2010, the circuit court entered orders denying Merck's motion for summary judgment and certifying the class as described above. . . .

Now the Supreme Court of Kentucky has held that Merck must conduct a tradional appeal of the Pike ruling, in order to challenge the certification of the class, among other matters. This one will rage on for years to come.


Anonymous said...

Unrelated to this post and only indirectly related to Merck but, did you see this?

Condor said...

Thanks! -- see this new one!