Parallel or Preempted? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Highlights the Inconsistency Among Courts Regarding Pleading Standards for Parallel Claims Involving Medical Devices

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently addressed the question of what pleading standard is required in Massachusetts to allege parallel state law claims involving medical devices to avoid preemption under the federal law regulating medical devices.  The Court’s decision sheds light on the lack of consensus among state and federal courts on this issue, which may impact the time and resources that litigants and the courts expend on claims that may later prove to be meritless.

Background

As background, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) must approve or clear medical devices before they can be marketed or sold to the public.  The approval process employed depends upon the category of the medical device.  Under the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 (the “MDA”) to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the “FDCA”), devices are separated into three categories depending on the potential risks they present: Class I, Class II, and Class III.  Class I devices “are those that present no unreasonable risk of illness or injury and therefore require only general manufacturing controls; Class II devices are those possessing a greater potential dangerousness and thus warranting more stringent controls; Class III devices ‘presen[t] a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury’ and therefore incur the FDA’s strictest regulation.”  Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 341, 343-44 (2001) (citation omitted); see also 21 U.S.C. § 360c.  Class III devices include replacement heart valves, implanted cerebella stimulators, and pacemaker pulse generators, among other devices.  Riegel v. Medronic, 552 U.S. 312, 316 (2008). Continue reading “Parallel or Preempted? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Highlights the Inconsistency Among Courts Regarding Pleading Standards for Parallel Claims Involving Medical Devices”

Supreme Court Rules That Judges, Not Juries, Must Decide Preemption of Failure-to-Warn Claims

On May 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a rare unanimous decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht, et al., holding that judges, not juries, must decide whether state law failure-to-warn claims against brand-name drug manufacturers are preempted by the FDA’s labeling regulations. In so holding, the Court further clarified the preemption standard set forth in an earlier decision, Wyeth v. Levine, concluding that such claims are preempted where a drug manufacturer can show “that it fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning required by state law and that the FDA, in turn, informed the drug manufacturer that the FDA would not approve changing the drug’s label to include that warning.”

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.