United States: When Parallel Claims Are Neither Claims Nor Parallel

Last Updated: April 6 2018
Article by Eric Alexander

This is not new. PMA devices should have broad preemption against product liability claims. Not just from the express preemption provisions of the MDA, but from attempts to get around express preemption by basing claims on violations of the FDCA and running smack into implied preemption under Buckman. We have talked about the narrow gap a claim needs to squeeze through to not be subject to either version of preemption. We have, when we were feeling mythological, likened this to traversing the Strait of Messina between Scylla and Charybdis. Without overdoing the analogy, each state law claim must neither 1) impose a requirement that is "different from or in addition to" the PMA approval requirements, nor 2) have federal requirements as a "critical element," or it will be smashed or swallowed into preemption oblivion. A good analysis of these issues starts with looking at what plaintiffs have alleged and how that fits within the cognizable causes of action under applicable state law.

In In re Smith & Nephew BHR & R3 Hip Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., No. CCB-172775, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49021 (D. Md. Mar. 26, 2018), more than two hundred plaintiffs purported to assert fairly standard state law product liability causes of action against the manufacturer of a PMA hip implant. The actual allegations of what the manufacturer did wrong and what was bad about the device were not so standard. They were very heavy on alleged non-compliance with a range of FDA requirements. The defendant moved to dismiss under express and implied preemption and TwIqbal. We will focus on the preemption part and will resist griping about how the TwIqbal analysis should have come before the preemption analysis. We cannot, however, avoid commenting on the decision to address whether state law claims—under the law of forty-two states—are preempted without looking at state law. While the defendant may have liked the court's willingness to address preemption on a motion to dismiss—something the plaintiffs resisted—the limited analysis helped to predict the result. The court said that "there is little need to analyze the elements of underlying state laws" and that it was "merely deciding which claims, and which arguments within those claims, would run afoul of state requirements that differ from and add to federal regulations," but states do not impose requirements unless there is some statutory or common law claim that fits what plaintiff is complaining about in the case. Id. at **61-62.

The court started its preemption analysis by citing some cases we like, such as Mensing and the Bexis favorite Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 136 S. Ct. 1938, 1946 (2016), on no presumption against preemption. It then cited some cases we do not like, such as Mink and Bausch on parallel claims. Id. at *66. When it said this, we knew where things were headed:

So, if a plaintiff may succeed on her state law claim by proving conduct that violates federal requirements, then that claim parallels federal requirements. The state law reliance on a federal regulation need not be explicit. Rather the elements of traditional state laws need only be satisfied by conduct leading to a violation of a federal regulation.

Id. Not only is that bit of bad logic eerily reminiscent of another case following Bausch that we lambasted, but you might want to look at the "elements of traditional state laws" before you declare them parallel to federal requirements. And there is that whole Scylla/Buckman part of the preemption analysis that cannot be defined away. With this background, the court's analysis actually started out pretty well with strict liability design defect claims getting sucked down into the sea. "[P]remarket approval is FDA recognition of a particular medial device's fitness for the market. Having received that approval, the BHR system cannot be labeled unreasonably dangerous by state law without imposing requirements on medical devices different from or in addition to federal regulations." Id. at **67-68 (citing Reigel). Not bad.

The rest was. Claims for undifferentiated negligence, negligence per se—with no separate analysis—failure to warn, negligent misrepresentation, express warranty, and manufacturing defect were all considered parallel claims because they were based on the manufacturer's "alleged failure to comply with duties already required by the FDA." Id. at **69-70. Even if were not for Buckman, this is not what makes a state law claim parallel to a federal requirement. There needs to be a state law requirement that exists independent of FDA requirements and then it has to be parallel to the federal requirements. If state law required truthful communications about the risks and benefits of all products sold in the state and FDA required specific formats for communications about an approved device, but generally that communications about its risks and benefits be truthful, then that could be parallel. Those state law requirements probably apply equally to mushrooms as they do to implanted prescription medical devices.

By contrast, the purported state law requirement to train surgeons would be different than and in addition to federal requirements, because there is neither a federal requirement that surgeons be trained—states regulate the practice of medicine—nor a state law requirement that a manufacturer train surgeons before they can use its products. The court is correct that this claim is not impliedly preempted—it is not based on a federal requirement—but there needs to be a cognizable state law duty requiring training in the first place. Id. at *69 n.11. Similarly, the court held that a "failure to warn" claim based on reporting adverse events to FDA would not be expressly preempted, without considering whether state law imposes any duty to report—it does not. Id. at * 71. A claim for failure to warn "the general public or the medical community is, however, expressly preempted because there is no such parallel federal requirement"—but there is similarly no actual state law duty. Id. For negligent misrepresentation and express warranty, there are state law duties independent of any federal obligations and, here, we are not critical of the analysis. False marketing claims that a product is safer than it is or safer than a competing device can give rise to liability regardless of FDA requirements. So, we are fine with the court's statement that "any state law claim that imposes liability for making false statements regarding the device's relative safety parallels federal requirements," even if we do not think the cases cited for that proposition are all good law. Id. at **72-73. We also agree that misrepresentation and warranty claims cannot be based on the alleged falsity of FDA-required statements about the device. Id. at *73. On manufacturing defect, the court reverted to an incomplete analysis, assuming that deviations from "the FDA's approved design of the BHR device" could give rise to non-preempted state law claims, ignoring state law claims require manufacturing defects to render a product dangerous. Id. at *73.

Having found all these claims based on purported violations of FDA requirements to escape express preemption, without considering whether any state law authorized them, the court gave short shrift to implied preemption

All of the plaintiffs' claims in the MACC fall within the states' traditional power to regulate matters of health and safety. Not one cause of action tries to enforce a legal right held by a federal agency or relies on the statutory scheme for its existence—they all long predated modern medical devices.

Id. at **75-76. This is neither an accurate recap of what Buckman means, nor consistent with how the court had characterized plaintiffs' causes of action as not seeking to impose liability based on violating requirements that were different from or in addition to FDA requirements. Rather than belabor the problems with this court's analysis, we will end with pretty obvious gaffe. In returning to the purported state law claim for "failure to warn" by failing to report adverse events to FDA, the court concluded that "plaintiff's failure to warn claims do not attempt to enforce the FDA's right to be warned of information concerning the safety of approved medical devices" because plaintiffs claimed failing to report adverse events to FDA "violated a legal right owed to them." Id. at *77. Presumably, that would be a right that the law of a state—or, rather, the law of 42 separate states—bestowed on private citizens based solely on federal law. To put it mildly, this is the kind of mess than can happen when preemption analyses skip steps and make unwarranted assumptions.

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

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