Multi-district, state court litigation over Zoloft continues

Multi-district litigation over Zoloft now includes more than 250 cases, according to a report from an attorney on the plaintiffs’ steering committee. And although the matter continues to move forward in federal court, the report that Florida attorney Bryan F. Aylstock, the multi-district coordinator, filed this week shows that dozens of Zoloft claims continue to remain pending in state courts. The MDL was created in April and assigned to Judge Cynthia Rufe in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The litigation focuses on claims that ingesting Pfizer’s anti-depressant drug during pregnancy causes birth defects. Aylstock’s report, dated Nov. 30, shows that Zoloft claims remain pending in five states: Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In Illinois, the report states, there are 14 cases pending in three separate complaints in St. Clair County. One complaint involves eight families (Wilson, et al. v. Pfizer), another deals with five (Saville, et al. v. Pfizer) and the third covers one family with twins (Ratliff v. Pfizer). The Wilson and Saville cases are pending before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson while Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot is handling the Ratliff matter, the report states. Aylstock said in his report that the parties in Wilson and Saville “have exchanged initial discovery responses and protective orders have been entered in both cases.” Pfizer, he adds, “has also served written discovery limited to forum non conveniens issues and has moved to stay further discovery pending coordination with the MDL and resolution of its pending motions.” Arguments on the pending motions, which include Pfizer’s motions to sever, stay discovery and dismiss on forum grounds, were heard in July and await rulings from Gleeson. When it comes to the Ratliff case, the report notes that the parties have also exchanged initial discovery responses and that a hearing has been set for Jan. 23, 2013 on a motion to dismiss filed one of the defendants. In addition, Aylstock said in the report that U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy in July granted a plaintiffs’ motion to remand a Zoloft-claim involving 38 families that was originally filed in St. Clair County (Reeves, et al. v. Pfizer). Pfizer appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in July ordered the parties to file briefs over a jursidictional question. Both sides did so in August, but, according to the report, the appeal remains pending. Besides the Illinois cases, the report shows that 43 cases remain pending in two complaints filed in St. Louis County. One complaint involves 23 plaintiff families (Foster, et al. v Pfizer) and the other involves 20 families (Lancaster, et al. v. Pfizer). The report also shows that cases remain pending in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Pfizer has tried to move many of these pending cases to federal courts and the MDL, claiming that the plaintiffs fraudulently misjoined distinct claims of several different plaintiffs into one complaint. Aylstock told Rufe in his five-page report that he sent letters late last month to numerous state court judges to provide them with an update on the MDL, as well as copies of a recent discovery order and notices of depositions scheduled for later this month. He also said in the report he conveyed Ruth’s “availability to discuss with these judges the possibility of coordination between state court and federal court proceedings.”

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