United States: A Handful Of Positive MDL Discovery Rulings

Last Updated: October 18 2017
Article by Michelle Yeary

A lot of time is spent in litigation on discovery. As tedious and non-exciting as it often is, cases can be won or lost depending on what happens during discovery. So, it's not to be taken lightly. When we find ourselves arguing to the court about discovery, however, it is often without being able to point to much precedential case law. That's because many courts simply rule from the bench perhaps entering only minute orders. And if case management orders are entered they often don't rise to the level of being published, even electronically. We are then left scouring dockets looking for rulings or calling our colleagues hoping someone has an order that is helpful. So, we really appreciate when a helpful discovery ruling grabs our attention and we can in turn alert our readers to it.

One of the reasons that more routine discovery decisions don't generate many opinions is that the rulings frequently turn on case specifics and common sense as opposed to more traditional legal analysis. That's true of today's decision. A lengthy order entered in the Abilify MDL setting forth essentially a list of decisions on multiple motions made by both plaintiffs and defendants. Certainly some are more case specific and not really worth much of a mention, so what follows is a list of the more general and most helpful rulings:

  • Confidentiality: The court allowed the parties to provisionally seal documents filed with their Daubert briefing and then at the conclusion of the briefing, the party who sealed the document had to show cause why the document should remain sealed. Defendants argued to keep certain very common categories of documents confidential:

    • Clinical case reports/adverse event reports: Defendants argued that these documents contain confidential patient identifying information and personal medical information. These aren't plaintiffs – they are people who participated in studies or for whom an AER was prepared. They absolutely have a right to an expectation of privacy, not to mention the company has an obligation to protect that privacy. The court agreed – no public interest. In re Abilify Prods. Liab. Litig., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161660, at *7-8 (N.D. Fla. Sep. 29, 2017).
    • Internal company documents: Defendants sought to maintain confidentiality of several categories of internal, non-public documents and the court agreed as to most. Specifically, the court found that all of the following should remain under seal: "standard operating procedures, non-public regulatory submissions, drafts of non-public regulatory submissions, or internal communications regarding the pharmacovigilance process." Id. at *9. All things plaintiffs like to use to try the case in the media. As to SOPs, the court concluded they are proprietary and developed by the company at considerable expense. With respect to the rest, disclosure "would have a chilling effect on the pharmacovigilance process." Id. Keeping the pharmacovigilance process confidential actually enables manufacturers to participate in the process in a "frank, open, and honest" way. Id.
    • Expert reports and testimony: Here the court was unwilling to seal expert reports and transcripts across the board. They have to be redacted to the extent they discuss any of the documents or information that the court said should remain confidential. Id. at *10-11.
  • Privilege: Plaintiffs complained that they were unable to assess defendants' claims of privilege as to its documents because defendants were not producing privilege logs simultaneous with their document productions. Defendants correctly noted that simultaneous privilege logs would significantly slow production down – a production would have to wait the finalizing of the log before it could be produced. The court agreed. Simultaneous production would be inefficient. Id. at *17-19.
  • Document Retention Policies: Plaintiffs want them, defendants objected. Court ruled: "in the absence of any suggestion of spoliation Defendants' document retention policies are not relevant." Id. at *24.
  • Other Drugs: Plaintiffs' discovery requests included documents about other similar drugs, claiming the information would go to defendants' knowledge. The court sustained defendants' objection on the grounds of relevance and proportionality. Id. at *25. While other drugs in the same class may be similar, they were developed later in time, have different mechanisms, and different indications – making them marginally relevant. When you balance only marginal relevance against the issues involved in the litigation – and what we assume to be massive discovery already taking place as to the actual drug at issue — we think the court reached a sound conclusion regarding proportionality to the needs of the case.
  • Trial Pool Discovery: Plaintiffs requested many different types of information, including financial information relevant to sales representatives, physicians, and other consultants. Defendants sought to limit that discovery to just the individuals related to the cases being worked up as trial bellwethers. Again the court agreed. For example, plaintiffs' request to know about payments and incentives to sales representatives and doctors should be narrowly tailored to those doctors who treated the bellwether plaintiffs and the sales representatives who called on those doctors. Id. at *26-27. The same applied to other categories of "liability" discovery that were more appropriately limited to the bellwether cases. "Expanding the scope to all Plaintiffs would be a Herculean task and impossible to complete in the time frame set by the Court." Id. at *28.

All in all the rulings were very defense-friendly and provide some good cites for your next motion to compel or motion to quash.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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