Alanis, et al. v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-00365 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2017).

In this action involving claims from plaintiffs in several lawsuits, a district court in California remanded the cases to the state court and found that the plaintiffs’ intention or desire for coordinated proceeding in the absence of some concrete step to effect joinder remain possibilities or predictions, not “voluntary and affirmative” proposals for a joint trial.

The plaintiffs in related cases originally filed their complaints in California state court alleging that Lipitor, a prescription drug developed and manufactured by the defendant Pfizer, Inc., and marketed and distributed by the defendant McKesson Corporation (together, “the defendants”), caused them to develop type 2 diabetes.

Pfizer removed the state court actions to federal court on the grounds of diversity jurisdiction and mass action jurisdiction pursuant to CAFA. Following removal to the federal court, the cases were transferred to the Lipitor MDL in the District of South Carolina, which determined that diversity jurisdiction did not exist.  Subsequently, the cases were remanded to the District Court for determination whether it had jurisdiction under CAFA.  The District Court found that it did not have jurisdiction over these cases under CAFA and remanded them to California state court.

The District Court found that the coordination petition in this case sought coordination “for all purposes” and cited the potential for “duplicative and inconsistent rulings, orders, or judgments” and potentially diverging determinations of liability as reasons to hold coordinated proceedings. The District Court opined that because the plaintiffs sought coordination for “all purposes” and sought coordination to reduce risks, such as liability, that would likely be resolved through some type of joint trial, the petition constituted a proposal for a joint trial.  The District Court, however, noted that the core issue was whether there was a proposal that 100 or more plaintiffs’ cases be tried jointly.

The defendants argued that each of the plaintiffs took some affirmative, voluntary action to connect themselves to the Joint Council Coordinated Proceeding (JCCP), thereby bringing each of those cases under CAFA’s mass action umbrella. The District Court noted that JCCP Counsel’s amended petition sought to include all subsequent Lipitor actions, the Counsel handed the Lipitor JCCP judge a table of 1,000 cases that they stated they intended to add to the JCCP and represented that more than 1,800 claims that would be encompassed by the JCCP had been filed.  The District Court further noted that the JCCP Counsel proposed a leadership structure of ten firms that collectively represented approximately 2,800 plaintiffs who had filed Lipitor claims and submitted a proposed order to streamline the JCCP process.  The District Court found that the plaintiffs might have signalled an intention or desire to add cases to the JCCP, but in the absence of add-on petitions or some other concrete step to effect joinder, these statements and actions remained possibilities or predictions, not voluntary and affirmative proposals for a joint trial.

The defendants asserted that the plaintiffs indicated on the complaints’ cover sheets that the cases were complex because they were subject to coordination with related actions.  They attached the Order that waived payment of the complex case fee because of the existence of the coordinated proceeding. The District Court, however, ruled that checking a box or seeking a fee waiver did not alone act to propose that a plaintiff be added to the proposed trial group.

Next, the defendants argued that even if fewer than 100 plaintiffs had themselves proposed to join the JCCP, the JCCP nevertheless covered all Lipitor plaintiffs who filed claims in California state court. The defendants argued that Congress elected to place under removal jurisdiction both those plaintiffs who themselves proposed a joint trial and the broader category of those whose claims were proposed to be tried jointly.

The District Court noted that the Supreme Court construed the mass action provision of CAFA in Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics Corp., 134 S. Ct. 736, 742 (2014), and held that where Congress intended for a named plaintiff to be able to bind unnamed other real parties in interest, it knew how to do so, as it did in CAFA’s definition of class actions, and elected not to do so in the definition of mass actions.  The Supreme Court further held that the ‘100 or more persons’ referred to in the statute are not unspecified individuals who have no actual participation in the suit, but instead the ‘plaintiffs’ referred to later in the sentence “the parties who are proposing to join their claims in a single trial.”  (Editor’s Note: See the CAFA Law Blog Analysis of the Supreme Court’s opinion posted on October 8, 2014).

The District Court opined that permitting a single plaintiff to propose that his claims be tried jointly with 99 others without any requirement that each plaintiff join in that proposal would transform CAFA’s mass-action provision from a fairly narrow jurisdictional grant into the sweeping equivalent of a class action but without any of Rule 23’s protections allowing unwilling plaintiffs to opt out. The District Court ruled that the interpretation that the defendants proposed was unsupported by the statutory text and would be unfair to those plaintiffs who wanted nothing to do with a joint trial and to the state of California which had a significant interest in addressing injuries allegedly suffered by its citizens and setting the appropriate level of liability for companies conducting business within its borders.

Therefore, the District Court held that because fewer than 100 plaintiffs had proposed to try their cases jointly, it lacked jurisdiction to hear these cases under CAFA’s mass action provision. Accordingly, the District Court remanded the cases to California state court.

-Melissa M. Grand