The judge presiding over the multidistrict litigation involving plaintiffs who allege that the use of Zoloft caused birth defects in their children said there are now enough cases amassed in federal court for precedential rulings to be appropriate.
In the wake of a slowdown in motions for remand to state court, U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said in a status conference Tuesday, "We haven’t seen too many additional motions for remand. We think we’ve got enough of a body to create a precedential type of line of rulings."
There are over 330 cases in the MDL so far, Rufe said.
Unlike past pharmaceutical litigation, Zoloft lawsuits are coalescing in federal court instead of state courts across the country, The Legal previously reported.
One factor that could be driving cases into the federal MDL is Pfizer’s stance that, before it will enter tolling agreements, those cases must be refiled in federal court, The Legal previously reported.
Another factor that could be driving cases into the federal MDL is that the plaintiffs steering committee is reaching out to lawyers with state-court cases and encouraging them to come to the MDL.
"It’s not productive to have competing litigation in state court," said defense counsel Mark S. Cheffo of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in federal court Tuesday.
In December, Rufe said the MDL also should not be viewed as a competitor to state courts.
In another development, Andrew Chirls, who was appointed the special discovery master for the Zoloft MDL, was introduced by Rufe on Tuesday.
Co-lead counsel of the plaintiffs steering committee’s executive committee, Dianne Nast of NastLaw in Philadelphia, reported that the lawyers involved with the litigation have met with Chirls a handful of times so far.
Over 300,000 more documents have been produced by drugmaker-defendant Pfizer, Nast said.
Another current area of work in the MDL right now is the development of fact sheets that will be given to plaintiffs by the plaintiffs’ lawyers to be answered and fact sheets that will be given to plaintiffs by Pfizer to be answered.
If the parties cannot sort out what questions are to be part of the plaintiffs’ fact sheets and what questions are to be part of the defendant’s fact sheets and then get the "rather pivotal" forms filled out, then the bellwether trials cannot be selected, Rufe said.
Right now the process is in a good place in terms of the dozen cases that the plaintiffs have picked out as their initial cases, Cheffo said, because only a handful of litigants have not completed the initial fact sheets or undergone product identification. "If it sounds like a good news story, then it is," he said.
Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, has been on the market for 20 years and is used for treating depressive, obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress, premenstrual dysphoric and social anxiety disorders, according to court papers.