Lawyers in the Zoloft MDL are hoping to have a verdict by Thanksgiving 2014, Dianne Nast, who is on the plaintiffs’ steering committee, told a federal judge at a status conference this week.
“I admire the ambition,” said U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is presiding over the case.
This summer, she told the dozens of lawyers from Pfizer’s defense team and the plaintiffs’ steering committee that the pace of litigation would need to pick up.
“If we are going to determine true issues of science, of liability, and then of damages, I would hope that we would be speeding along. It’s time to speed,” Rufe had said.
The multidistrict litigation, which was consolidated in Rufe’s court in the spring of 2012, now includes more than 500 cases in which plaintiffs allege that their ingestion of Pfizer’s antidepressant drug, Zoloft, caused birth defects in the babies they were pregnant with while they took the drug.
In August, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated nine actions from five districts across the country that make similar claims against Wyeth’s drug called Effexor—that it caused severe birth defects in babies born to women who took the prescription antidepressant while pregnant.
While Rufe acknowledged that this is a scientifically complex case, she told Pfizer’s lawyer, Robert Heim of Dechert, that she doesn’t need an expert tutorial at this point. Heim had asked her about his offer to furnish the court with a medical expert. Nast said that her major concern would be the ability for either side to find a truly neutral expert to present to the court.
Rufe was given the Effexor case because she was already handling the Zoloft MDL, she told the lawyers, explaining that is natural and expected that the two cases would coordinate. That coordination won’t hold up the Zoloft litigation, she said.
Rufe favors coordinating with other judges presiding over similar cases and has been in touch with judges hearing Zoloft cases, she said over the summer.
Last month, Rufe named Nast, who is also on that plaintiffs’ steering committee, to be liaison counsel to the Zoloft MDL.
The schedule submitted to the court last week for the Zoloft MDL, agreed upon by both sides, sets a quick clip to trial, with threshold discovery finishing by the end of January and Daubert hearingsto be held in April.
Trial is anticipated to start at the beginning of November.
Rufe stressed the importance of being prepared with more than one case for trial, which Nast assured her was the plan so that the court wouldn’t be dependent on one case that could be swept away.
The plaintiffs definitely want a trial, Nast said.
“We certainly want one, too,” Rufe said.
Nast is of the Philadelphia law firm NastLaw.
Rufe also heard oral argument at the status conference Monday on motions to dismiss cases under two state statutes—Michigan and Texas.
Mark Cheffo of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan argued for the defense that three cases brought from those states should be dismissed as a matter of law on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion.
Joseph Zonies of Reilly Pozner, on behalf of the plaintiffs, argued that what is still at issue are questions of fact and would be properly addressed in a Rule 56 motion. To dismiss them at this stage would be taking the heightened pleading standard announced in the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinions in Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Bell Atlantic v. Twombly too far, he said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit hasn’t issued precedent directly on the question and each side disagreed on where the court should look for direction.