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Hodges v. Pfizer, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Minnesota

March 27, 2015

Lamar Hodges, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Pfizer, Inc., Wyeth, LLC, and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, Inc., Defendants.

Connor G. Sheehan, Esq., Dunn Sheehan, LLP, Dallas, TX, and Elliot L. Olsen, Esq., PritzkerOlsen, PA, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

Brandon Goodman, Esq., Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, and Anna M. Petosky, Esq., Maslon LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter came before the undersigned United States District Court Judge on Defendants’ Motion for Partial Dismissal [Docket No. 15]. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants’ Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

The medical condition giving rise to this lawsuit is undeniably horrific. Plaintiff Lamar Hodges, Jr. (“Hodges”) ingested Advil when he was 16 years old and suffered a severe adverse drug reaction known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (“SJS”) / Toxic Epideral Necrolysis (“TEN”). Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶ 8. Severe blistering affected 35% of his body, leaving essentially no skin on his face, neck, scalp, trunk, back, buttocks, arms, and legs. Id. ¶ 10. Hodges spent over one month in the hospital and underwent numerous surgeries. Id. ¶¶11-12. As a result of SJS / TEN, Hodges is permanently disfigured, blind in one eye, and will likely lose all sight in the future. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

Although Hodges’ Complaint is comprised of 57 pages, Defendants argue that several claims are insufficiently pled. Specifically, Defendants move to dismiss the following claims: (1) failure to warn (Counts I, VIII, IX); (2) manufacturing defect (Count III); (3) breach of express warranty (Count VII); (4) willful and wanton negligence (Count IX, in part); and (5) fraud-based claims (Counts IV, V, X, XI, XII and XIII).[1] See Compl. 35-54.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party may move to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, the pleadings are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the facts alleged in the complaint must be taken as true. Hamm v. Groose, 15 F.3d 110, 112 (8th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, the factual allegations must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” and push claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In other words, the complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. In doing so, the court must draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor, but it need not make unreasonable inferences or accept unrealistic assertions. See Brown v. Medtronic, Inc., 628 F.3d 451, 461 (8th Cir. 2010).

B. Manufacturing Defect Claim (Count III)

Defendants argue that Hodges’ manufacturing defect claim should be dismissed because Hodges does not plausibly alleged that the Advil he ingested departed from the drug’s intended design. Hodges alleges that “[t]he product Advil manufactured, supplied, and/or sold by Defendants was defective in design or formulation in that when it left the hands of the manufacturers and/or sellers and (sic) was unreasonably dangerous in that its foreseeable risks exceeded the benefits associated with its design or formulation.” Compl. ¶ 95. Hodges’ broad allegations are insufficient to plead a manufacturing defect claim because he states only conclusions rather than facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” and push claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atl. Corp. 550 U.S. at 555. “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulistic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

At oral argument, Hodges acknowledged that his manufacturing defect claim is in tension with his failure to warn, negligence and fraud-based claims. Nevertheless, counsel argued he included the defect claim to secure relevant discovery before conceding that such a claim was not feasible. This approach contracts federal pleading standards and cannot be allowed. Should discovery reveal information that allows Hodges to plead additional facts related to a possible manufacturing defect claim, he may seek leave to amend at that time. In the meantime, Hodges’ manufacturing defect claim is dismissed without prejudice. See Riley v. Cordis Corp., ...


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