DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson
By Mark A. York (September 5, 2017)
Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade has delayed the next DePuy Pinnacle hip implant bellwether trial that was set for today, Sept. 5, 2017 until later this month after a split federal appeals panel requested that he halt the proceedings due to a “grave error.”
In the August 31st opinion, two of three judges on a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to grant a petition for writ of mandamus filed by DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. to halt the trial. But two of the three also concluded that U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, who is presiding over 9,300 cases alleging DePuy’s Pinnacle hip implants are defective, committed a “grave error” in allowing certain trials to take place before him, including the one scheduled this month on behalf of eight New York plaintiffs.
The opinion stated “despite finding serious error, a majority of this panel denies the writ that petitioners seek to prohibit the district court from proceeding to trial on plaintiffs’ cases,” wrote Circuit Judge Jerry Smith. “A majority requests the district court to vacate its ruling on waiver and to withdraw its order for a trial beginning September 5, 2017.”
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom lead counsel for Johnson & Johnson, DePuy’s parent company, called on Judge Kinkeade to halt the trial, which is the fourth bellwether in the multidistrict litigation over the DePuy Pinnacle hip implant. This may help DePuy and J&J avoid a repeat of the last Pinnacle verdict in the prior bellwether trial where a Dallas jury awarded over $1 billion in damages, subsequently reduced by Judge Kinkeade, see DePuy Pinnacle Hip Implant Dec 2016 Trial Verdict Halved to Just $500 million in December 2016, which DePuy-J&J are appealing.
“We are pleased that the Fifth Circuit has determined that the MDL court does not have jurisdiction to conduct its planned trial of the claims of eight New York plaintiffs in a Texas courtroom,” Beisner wrote in an emailed statement after the ruling.
Lead plaintiffs attorney Mark Lanier called it the “wildest opinion I’ve ever seen.”
“What this small panel has tried to do is change the law in the Fifth Circuit on a mandamus record, and that’s really frowned about,” said Lanier, of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston, who was joined in the appeal by former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.
In addition to this month’s trial, the ruling could impact a separate case before the Fifth Circuit in which Johnson & Johnson has raised the same venue arguments in appealing a $1.04 billion verdict in the most recent Pinnacle trial. Oral argument on that appeal hasn’t yet been scheduled.
“Why this court issues an order on another court’s case, which is just an advisory opinion, is just absurd,” said Lanier. “It’s judicial activism.”
Lanier filed a petition for rehearing en banc on Friday. Later that afternoon, Kinkeade ordered the trial delayed until Sept. 18.
Kinkeade appeared to anticipate the Fifth Circuit’s intervention. On Aug. 25, he ordered that this month’s trial would “be the final bellwether case tried in the Dallas division of the Northern District of Texas” under which both sides have waived venue. This was an unexpected ruling for the Pinnacle litigation, where Johnson & Johnson has appealed two other verdicts in Kinkeade’s courtroom, both involving consolidated cases that led to major awards in 2016,. Johnson & Johnson won the first verdict in 2014. But a second trial ended with a verdict of $502 million awarded to five Texas plaintiffs, while the third gave $1.04 billion verdict to six California plaintiffs.
These cases are part of the 8,707 actions consolidated before Judge Kinkeade in MDL 2244, In re DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., Pinnacle Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, Case No. 3:11-md-02244, Northern District of Texas in Dallas.
Juries have found that DePuy and J&J have negligently designed the hip implant, failed to warn surgeons about dangerous conditions related to the implant, and concealed its risks. J&J stopped selling the devices in 2013 after the FDA issued a safety communication about artificial-hip damages.
Separately, DuPuy is facing 1,458 product liability actions consolidated before US District Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick in MDL 2197, In re: DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., ASR Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation in Toledo, Ohio.
J&J prevailed in the first Pinnacle hip case to go to trial in October 2014 after a jury rejected a Montana woman’s claims that the devices were defective and gave her metal poisoning. In March 2016, a Dallas jury ordered J&J to pay $502 million to a group of five patients who accused the company of hiding defects in the hips. A judge cut that verdict in July to about $150 million.
DePuy and Johnson & Johnson have argued that Kinkeade lacked jurisdiction over the trials involving California and New York plaintiffs. MDL judges are assigned to oversee pretrial matters with the intention of sending cases back to their original courts for trial. But defendants often waive that right under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1998 holding in Lexecon v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, which allows bellwether trials to proceed before an MDL judge.
Johnson & Johnson claims it waived that right as to the first and second trials, but not the third or fourth. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have insisted that Johnson & Johnson agreed to a global waiver over all the trials.
Mass Tort Nexus will provide additional details of the ongoing trial dispute as information becomes available.