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Epilepsy Drug Case on the Ropes

(CN) - In booting all but 41 of the 216 consolidated plaintiffs who claim that Pfizer's anti-epilepsy drug Neurontin causes suicidal tendencies, a federal judge in Boston scorched an attorney for "serious misconduct."

In a 28-page Memorandum and Order, U.S. District Judge Patti Saris took the gloves off with attorney Levi Boone, who represents dismissed plaintiffs. She said Boone missed deadlines, changed his claims against Pfizer, failed to comply with discovery orders, and that in a "particularly extreme" example of "discovery misconduct ... Mr. Boone filed 125 original or supplemental interrogatory responses, none of which was signed or verified by the individual plaintiffs. Sixty-three, or more than half, of those filings, give the same answer, nearly word for word, to Interrogatory No. 11 (asking about incidents of psychiatric illness)".

After citing a Boone client who denied ever having claimed she suffered from thoughts of suicide, Judge Saris wrote: "The reasonable inference is that Mr. Boone filed supplemental interrogatory responses without consulting his clients. This is serious misconduct."

Saris told the remaining 41 plaintiffs that their claims will be dismissed if they do not give Pfizer more information about their claims before an early May deadline.

"When Mr. Boone's cases were originally transferred to this Court for pre-trial management as part of the multi-district litigation, he had three cases with 394 individual plaintiffs. Over time, many of those cases have been dismissed, whether by stipulation or court order. While he originally pursued damages based on a panoply of injuries, including injuries unrelated to suicide, Mr. Boone has represented to the Court that he is 'only pursuing the suicidality issues, suicide, attempted suicide, suicide ideation,'" the order states.

Saris said she extended Boone's deadlines and eventually fined him $500 for failing to turn in monthly status reports.

Saris said that only 41 of the plaintiffs have "met the threshold discovery requirements outlined by the court," and ordered them to give Pfizer a complete list of their medical records and providers within 30 days of her April 5 order.

She also ordered Boone to pay Pfizer's attorney's fees for the dismissed cases.

A jury in Boston Federal Court already has fined Pfizer $141 million for illegally pushing Neurontin for unapproved uses, such as treating bipolar disorder and migraines, in a separate but related case that ended in March 2010.

The jury's $47 million penalty was automatically tripled under the federal anti-racketeering law.

Doctors are permitted to prescribe drugs for off-label uses, but drug companies cannot push them for that.

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