A federal judge chose two lawyers Monday to serve as lead counsel in a putative class action against drug manufacturers and pharmacies alleging antitrust violations, following squabbling from several firms eager to take the leading role.
U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti of the District of New Jersey appointed Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and James Cecchi of Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello to represent the putative class of patients with diabetes who purchased insulin from certain drugmakers.
The suit alleges drug manufacturers including Novo Nordisk, Sanofi-Aventis and Eli Lilly and Co., as well as pharmacy benefit managers like CVS Health, who act as middlemen between drug companies and insurers, are engaged in an “anticompetitive scheme” to raise prices for insulin products.
The lawsuit is a consolidation of three separate suits, all alleging similar claims of collusion and price-setting by the drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers. The judge chose Berman and Cecchi from a pool of lawyers from different firms vying to represent the class, including attorneys from Keller Rohrback, Weitz & Luxenberg and Berman DeValerio.
Lawyers from Weitz & Luxenberg and Berman DeValerio argued Hagens Berman should not get the nod because the firm represents a drug wholesaler, FWK Holdings, in a putative class action against Sanofi in a Massachusetts federal court. The lawyers wrote in a letter to the court that Berman’s work in Massachusetts is a conflict because awarding damages there would reduce damages in New Jersey.
Lawyers for Hagens Berman and Carella Byrne said there is no conflict because the Massachusetts case involves Sanofi’s alleged efforts to prevent competition in the insulin marketplace, where as the New Jersey cases allege harm to consumers.
“The court finds Hagens Berman’s efforts to prove anticompetitive behavior in FWK Holdings are distinct from its efforts to prove fraud in this case,” Martinotti wrote in the opinion. “[Hagens Berman] further argues the distinct legal bases for the claims in each case preclude ‘any overlap in damages between the two cases.’ The court agrees.”
Martinotti wrote that all the lawyers in the case “are highly regarded,” but that Berman, Cecchi and their teams invested more than a year developing their claims, filed their complaint first and “successfully tried similar claims against comparable defendants.”
Berman is the managing partner of Hagens Berman, a major plaintiffs firm based in Seattle. He’s represented plaintiffs in various major class actions against large corporations such as Enron, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Microsoft. Cecchi is a former assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey and is a partner in Carella Byrne’s litigation department.