United States: Taking Out The Laundry With TwIqbal

Last Updated: August 29 2018
Article by James Beck

In medical device product liability cases to which preemption by reason of FDA pre-market approval ("PMA") applies, courts have consistently misinterpreted the Supreme Court's dictum in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 552 U.S. 312 (2008) − finding the plaintiff's "parallel" violation claims waived by failure to assert in the court of appeals – as somehow endorsing such claims. Of course, only those PMA plaintiffs able to take advantage of prior FDA enforcement actions (usually, but not exclusively, warning letters or recalls) really have any basis to raise so-called "parallel" claims, but that certainly won't stop other plaintiffs desperate to avoid preemption.

Lacking factual basis to make a valid parallel claim, such plaintiffs frequently try to bluff their way through by burying their opponents in garbage. Typically, this ploy takes the form of a "laundry list" of allegations that the defendant's device violated just about every FDA good manufacturing practice ("GMP" or "CGMP" in the cases) in the title 21 of Code of Federal Regulations, and for good measure, sometimes other regulations as well. These allegations often go on for several pages in a complaint, with no hint of what exactly the defendant did that was in violation, and even less about how any of these purported violations caused any injury to this particular plaintiff.

Fortunately, most courts are willing to use TwIqbal to call bull$%@&! on these types of allegations. "To plead a parallel claim successfully, a plaintiff's allegations must meet the plausibility standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Iqbal and Twombly." Shuker v. Smith & Nephew PLC, 2015 WL 1475368, at *13 (E.D. Pa. March 31, 2015), aff'd, 885 F.3d 760 (3d Cir. 2018). "[M]ore is required to make out a parallel claim than conclusory statements that a defendant violated multiple regulations." Swisher. v. Stryker Corp., 2014 WL 1153716, at *2 (W.D. Okla. March 14, 2014). "Plaintiff must do more than simply allege the existence of the regulation, and then state that Defendants violated it." Grant v. Corin Grp. PLC, 2016 WL 4447523, at *6 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2016).

One of the first cases to encounter, and to dispatch, this kind of abusive pleading was Ilarraza v. Medtronic, Inc., 677 F. Supp.2d 582 (E.D.N.Y. 2009). Since the complaint in Ilarraza "goes on to list eleven federal regulations alleged to have been violated," id. at 583, the opinion needed over two pages just to explain the regulations that plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated. Id. at 586-88. However, "no regulation relied upon refers specifically to the medical device at issue here." Id. at 588. TwIqbal therefore barred the claims:

[W]here, as here, a plaintiff relies on nothing more that CGMP's in support of a parallel cause of action, preemption bars the claim. . . . Plaintiff's claim cannot withstand the pleading requirements [that] . . . require dismissal of complaints that do nothing more than engage ion a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Where, as here, the plaintiff has done nothing more that recite unsupported violations of general regulations, and fails to tie such allegations to the injuries alleged, the complaint is properly dismissed.

* * * *

Here, Plaintiff fails to set forth any specific problem, or failure to comply with any FDA regulation that can be linked to the injury alleged.

Id. at 588, 589 (Twombly citations omitted).

Another early pleading case is In re Medtronic, Inc. Sprint Fidelis Leads Products Liability Litigation, 592 F. Supp.2d 1147 (D. Minn. 2009), in which MDL plaintiffs, after Riegel was decided, loaded up their master complaint with lots of alleged regulatory violations. Id. at 1153-54. Dismissing the complaint, the court held:

Plaintiffs' failure to allege in detail the federal requirement(s) purportedly violated by Medtronic also raises the specter of Twombly. . . . Hence, their assertion that the [device] did not comply with the CGMPs/QSR is insufficient, without more, to save their claims. Under Twombly, Plaintiffs were required to provide enough factual detail in the Complaint to alert [defendant] of the "grounds" upon which their manufacturing-defect claim rests. Merely alleging that [defendant] failed to comply with the CGMPs/QSR . . . is insufficient without some factual detail about why that violates federal standards.

Id. at 1158 (citations and quotation marks omitted). The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding, in pertinent part, that "Plaintiffs simply failed to adequately plead that [defendant] violated a federal requirement specific to the FDA's PMA approval of this Class III device." In re Medtronic, Inc., Sprint Fidelis Leads Products Liability Litigation, 623 F.3d 1200, 1207 (8th Cir. 2010).

But TwIqbal has defeated "laundry list" pleadings much more recently. In Canary v. Medtronic, Inc., 2017 WL 1382298 (E.D. Mich. April 18, 2017), plaintiffs' complaint recited "over the course of nine pages and nearly thirty paragraphs . . . a plethora of CGMPs and other regulatory provisions to which Defendant allegedly was subject." Id. at *8. Nonetheless, the court TwIqballed the complaint.

A number of courts have rejected this "laundry list" approach to pleading a parallel claim arising from a manufacturer’s alleged violation of FDA regulations or CGMPs. . . . [T]he allegations that follow Plaintiff’s lengthy recitation of purportedly relevant CGMPs and regulatory duties are too vague and conclusory to satisfy the Twombly/Iqbal standard of plausibility. . . . [T]he allegations put forward by Plaintiff here in support of her product liability claims lack the factual content necessary to permit the plausible inferences (i) that Defendant violated one or more FDA regulations . . . and (ii) that Plaintiff was injured as a result of these violations.

Id. (citations omitted).

A similar result was reached in McLaughlin v. Bayer Corp., 172 F. Supp.3d 804 (E.D. Pa. 2016). Five unrelated plaintiffs tried to gin up a parallel claim with a long list of purported regulatory violations, filing a single complaint that "simply include[d] a laundry list of over twenty-five federal 'requirements,'" to which were appended "over twenty alleged breaches" – all "without giving any indication as to what federal requirement was violated by each alleged breach." Id. at 820-21. TwIqbal barred that hot mess:

Most importantly . . . Plaintiffs have failed to allege any identifiable causal connection between the alleged [violations] and Plaintiffs' resulting injuries. . . . The Complaint then baldly alleges that all identified . . . breaches caused Plaintiffs' damages. . ., [but] [g]iven the lack of allegations that in any way link [defendant's] failure to follow procedures . . . with . . . any of Plaintiffs’' [] devices . . ., we can only conclude that Plaintiffs' claims are based entirely on speculation. Indeed, we are unable to discern any plausible and non-speculative causal connection between any of [defendant's] alleged . . . failings and . . . Plaintiffs' [] devices. Accordingly, we conclude that the negligent risk management claim, as currently pled, does not set forth a plausible claim for relief.

172 F. Supp.3d at 821 (citations and quotation marks omitted). A similar string of regulatory violation allegations got the bum's rush in Gelber v. Stryker Corp., 788 F. Supp.2d 145 (S.D.N.Y. 2011), because, "[t]o the extent these vague and conclusory allegations are not impliedly preempted . . ., plaintiffs have failed to set forth facts to plausibly allege how defendants violated these provisions or how [injured plaintiff's] injury is linked to any such violation." Id. at 164-65.

Likewise, in Raab v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 150 F. Supp.3d 671 (S.D.W. Va. 2015), plaintiffs’ allegations of "wholesale noncompliance with the requirements of . . . a series of statutory provisions" failed TwIqbal. Id. at 698.

[P]laintiffs do not allege how any of the defendant's promotional activities violated federal law because they neither identify any specific conduct on the part of the defendant . . . nor any substantive federal regulation, restriction, or standard . . . actually made applicable to any of the defendant's devices. On such allegations, the defendant (and this Court) are left to guess as to the manner in which the defendant was negligent under state law. More is required of a valid parallel claim.

Id. (citations omitted). A similar "list[] without any supporting factual allegations eight provisions of the FDCA and corresponding federal regulations which Plaintiff’s allegedly violated" was TwIqballed in Gavin v. Medtronic, Inc., 2013 WL 3791612, at *16 (E.D. La. July 19, 2013), since "Plaintiff has failed to identify violations of federal regulations and provide allegations connecting those violations to Plaintiff’s specific injury." Id. at *17.

Parallel violation claims fail where "plaintiff cites generally applicable CGMPs and contends the [PMA device] violated them, without alleging specific facts to support his assertions." Gale v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2013 WL 9874422, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2013). In Shuker, the court denied plaintiff's attempt to amend the complaint, due to woefully insufficient pleading:

In Count II of their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege Defendants were negligent in that they breached their duty "to comply with the [FDCA] and the regulations promulgated pursuant to the Act" by violating a host of statutory and regulatory provisions. Although defendants devote twenty pages − approximately one-third of the Second Amended Complaint − to cataloging these alleged violations, they offer no legal support for, or explanation of, most of the theories they seek to advance. . . . As a result, the Court is left to parse a lengthy laundry list of FDCA provisions and FDA regulations.

2015 WL 1475368, at *13 (factual citations omitted). The allegations failed because "Plaintiffs have not pleaded facts supporting a plausible inference that Defendants engaged in" the claimed violations, pleaded "conclusory allegation[s]" that were "entirely speculative," and "provide[d] no explanation of any such deviation[s]." Id. at *14, 16.

The same result occurred in Paturzo v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2017 WL 8220600 (C.D. Cal. April 21, 2017), where bald allegations of multiple regulatory violations could not save a supposed "parallel" claim from dismissal:

Although Plaintiffs list several federal regulations that Defendants purportedly violated, they fail to allege any facts relating the [device failure] to Defendants' manufacturing processes and, specifically, the FDA's requirements for manufacturing. Plaintiffs' allegations of Defendants' failure to establish or maintain certain quality control procedures are simply regurgitations of the text of the federal regulations. Alone, they amount to no more than an allegation that Defendants violated federal standards.

Id. at *5. The court could "draw no reasonable inference that the [device failure] was the result of a manufacturing defect, let alone that the manufacturing defect arises from Defendants' failure to comply with FDA requirements. Id. Accord Chester v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2017 WL 751424, at *9 (D.N.J. Feb. 27, 2017) (complaint "provides a laundry list of FDA regulations with which Defendants were obligated to comply" but "is missing . . . any plausible pleading of if, how, or when Defendants violated any of the listed regulations").

See also Skinner v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., 2016 WL 4054931, at *3 (W.D. La. July 27, 2016) ("it is difficult to discern whether any of [plaintiffs'] claims are parallel claims because the amended complaint contains little more than a laundry list of bare, conclusory allegations"); Nevolas v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2016 WL 1532259, at *3-4 (W.D. Okla. April 15, 2016) (5 paragraphs of violation allegations insufficient; "more is required to make out a parallel claim than conclusory statements that a defendant violated multiple regulations) (quoting Swisher, supra); Ward v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., 2016 WL 1208789, at *2 (S.D. Fla. March 28, 2016) ("Although the amended complaint alleges that the defendants violated various federal statues, it does not present device-specific premarket violations linked to the plaintiffs’ alleged harm."); Ellis v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2016 WL 7319397, at *4-5 (D.S.C. Feb. 16, 2016) (list of 12 alleged violations "failed to allege how the violations of these federal requirements would give rise to liability under state law for [plaintiff's] injuries"); Grant, 2016 WL 4447523, at *6 (complaint "is utterly devoid of factual allegations concerning what manufacturing procedures Defendants allegedly violated"); Nevolas v. Boston Scientific Corp., 2016 WL 347721, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 28, 2016) (complaint "simply makes numerous conclusory allegations, devoid of any factual support, that defendant violated in unspecified ways various federal regulations and federal manufacturing requirements"); Thibodeau v. Cochlear Ltd., 2014 WL 3700868, at *4 (D. Ariz. July 25, 2014) ("negligence claims cannot simply put forth a laundry list of PMA or federal law provisions Defendants failed to follow without some factual allegations in support"); Williamston v. Medtronic, Inc., 2014 WL 2042004, at *7 (W.D. La. May 15, 2014) (footnote omitted) ("[t]he simple listing of various federal regulations is insufficient to successfully plead a state law claim predicated on the violation of federal requirements"); McPhee v. DePuy Orthopedics, Inc., 2013 WL 5462762, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2013) ("Plaintiffs merely list the CFR provisions and assert that Defendant was negligent in violating the listed provisions"); Desai v. Sorin CRM USA, Inc., 2013 WL 163298, at *6-7 (D.N.J. Jan. 15, 2013) (list of regulations "fail[s] to assert the facts necessary, or indeed, any facts at all, to establish a claim that would parallel a violation of federal law" and "fail[s] to allege any 'cognizable link' between [the] alleged federal violations and [plaintiff's] injury"); Cohen v. Guidant Corp., 2011 WL 637472, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 15, 2011) (complaint was "flawed . . . because it lists boilerplate FDA regulations without linking any of those regulations to a defect in [plaintiff's] specific pacemaker that was caused by Defendants violating FDA regulations"); Cenac v. Hubbell, 2010 WL 11537934, at *2-3 (E.D. La. April 16, 2010) (list of four regulatory violations in complaint TwIqballed "because it provides no facts with respect to how [defendant] violated federal regulations").

In Weaver v. Ethicon, Inc., 2016 WL 7098781 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 6, 2016), plaintiffs tried to cobble together a failure-to-report claim from an allegation that defendant violated no less than fourteen FDA regulations. Id. at *5 (listing regulations). This "laundry list" failed because "[a] general allegation that Defendant failed to report adverse events to the FDA is not sufficient to demonstrate causation." Id. at *6 (citations omitted). Plaintiffs' "acts present only conclusory allegations that Defendant failed to report adverse events without specific instances of actual adverse events." Id. For a comprehensive rundown (as of September, 2016) of causation issues in failure-to-report cases, see this prior post.

A fortiori, the minimalist approach the pleading FDCA violations also fails. Plaintiffs "cannot simply incant the magic words '[defendant] violated FDA regulations' in order to avoid preemption." Wolicki-Gables v. Arrow International, Inc., 634 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir. 2011). "[B]road references to federal regulations in pleadings are insufficient." Gross, 858 F. Supp.2d 466, 494 (W.D. Pa. 2012).

Although Plaintiff acknowledges that [defendant] must comply with the specific regulations that apply to the . . . PMA device, he does not outline what these regulations are or how [defendant] allegedly violated same. Because Plaintiff pled his negligence claim in a very general manner, he has failed to state a claim for negligence that survives preemption.

Id. at 497 (citation omitted). In Olmstead v. Bayer Corp., 2017 WL 3498696 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2017), the plaintiff alleged generally that the defendant violated the FDA's CGMPs, citing generally, "21 C.F.R. §820.1 et. seq." But "[p]laintiff fail[ed] to explain how Defendants violated the CGMPs." Id. at *4. That attempt resulted in dismissal because:

Plaintiff has failed to identify a single parallel federal statute or regulation related to any of her claims. Therefore, the Court concludes that, as a matter of law, the MDA expressly preempts Plaintiff’s claims.

Id. (footnote omitted). See also Ali v. Allergan USA, Inc., 2012 WL 3692396, at *7 (E.D. Va. Aug. 23, 2012) (plaintiff's "Complaint offers a series of conclusory allegations that that [defendant] violated federal law in the manufacture and marketing of the [device]. However, without factual enhancement, these statements are insufficient to plead plausible federal violations"); Parker v. Stryker Corp., 584 F. Supp. 2d 1298, 1302 (D. Colo. 2008) ("nowhere does plaintiff’s complaint provide any factual detail to substantiate that crucial allegation").

Thus, although on first glance a complaint's multi-paragraph list of FDA regulations that the defendant allegedly violated may look imposing, chances are that the plaintiff has failed either to plead facts sufficient to establish any violation as to the particular device or to allege how the purported violations caused a product defect that actually caused the injuries being alleged. In either instance, the plaintiff's "parallel" claim preemption dodge should properly be TwIqballed.

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

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