Pfizer Antitrust Suit Stays in Federal Court

     (CN) - A federal judge in New Jersey refused to send RP Healthcare's antitrust case against Pfizer to California, or to stay discovery in the matter.
     Chimes Pharmacy and RP Healthcare sued pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and generic drugmaker Ranbaxy for illegally keeping a generic version of the blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor off the U.S. market in November 2011.
     Related cases were filed around the country in December 2011, at which point the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized the matters.
     RP Healthcare, represented by Joseph Alioto, withdrew the federal complaint and reinstituted the matter in California state court in January 2012.
     Pfizer removed that action to federal court in March, claiming that the case violated several federal price-competition laws.
     RP Healthcare then filed a motion to remand the case to state court in Sonoma County, Calif., on the basis that only California antitrust statutes applied.
     The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ultimately denied RP Healthcare's motion to vacate the Central Transfer Order and forwarded the case to the U.S. District Court for District of New Jersey in July.
     Pfizer and Ranbaxy moved the next month to stay discovery until resolution of motions to dismiss the complaint, and CVS Caremark Corporation joined Pfizer's motion to stay discovery.
     In addition, in September, the defendants filed a motion to stay pending Supreme Court review in another antitrust litigation regarding K-Dur, a drug used to treat low blood levels of potassium.
     In October, U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan denied RP Healthcare's motion to remand, tossing aside its claim that patent law is not at issue in the case.
     "There may be many patent issues raised as defenses in this case which would engender federal jurisdiction," he wrote. "Mr. Alioto's argument that patent issues will not arise in the California state court case is speculative when Pfizer will be arguing otherwise."
     The judge also granted Pfizer's cross-motion to amend the notice of removal.
     "Plaintiff further argues in its motion that Pfizer did not acquire the consent of the other defendants when it filed the removal, and therefore, the removal petition is void," Sheridan wrote. "However, the amended notice of removal clarifies that Pfizer had such consent. The motion to remand is denied."
     The court ruled against Pfizer and CVS's motion to stay discovery, noting that the "limited discovery" sought includes production of written agreements between Pfizer and Ranbaxy, along with documents from previous patent litigation. "These discovery requests appear to be reasonable and are not over-reaching," the two-page order states.
     "Here, defendants do not show any clear case of hardship with the limited discovery requests, and there is no particular need for protection to defendants at this point on the discovery requested," Sheridan added.
     In a separate two-page order, Sheridan also denied Pfizer's motion to stay pending Supreme Court review in In re K-Dur Antitrust litigation.
     "It is unclear whether or when the Supreme Court will hear the case, and it is too speculative to decide how a Supreme Court decision will effect (sic) the outcome of this case," Sheridan wrote.
     "To date, the defendants have filed two motions to stay discovery and have made several applications to delay the filing of a motion to dismiss," he added. "Although the requests may have been reasonable, the litigation and discovery should move forward. Since Magistrate Judge Arpert will oversee discovery, discovery will not be over burdensome on defendants, and it will be conducted on a step-by-step basis to prevent any prejudice or undue expense. As such, a stay of the proceedings or discovery is denied."