Zoloft Birth Defect Claims Are for State Court

     (CN) – The 4th Circuit allowed a mass action claiming the antidepressant Zoloft caused birth defects to proceed in state court, finding that it lacked jurisdiction to review the remand order.
     In a single complaint, filed in a West Virginia state court, 19 families sued Pfizer and Greenstone, complaining of birth defects to children born of a pregnancy where the mother ingested Zoloft. Both pharmaceutical companies are Delaware corporations, based in New York and New Jersey.
     Although the plaintiffs were required to file only a single complaint, the clerk of court docketed each family separately and charged each a separate filing fee pursuant to West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 3(a).
     The pharmaceutical companies, believing that 19 actions existed, removed the 18 cases where diversity jurisdiction could apply to Federal Court. Claims brought by the Dropp family, who are nondiverse from defendants, remained in New York state court.
     But U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers sent the cases back to state court, finding that the separate docketing and filing fees were used purely for administrative purposes. He rejected the pharmaceutical companies’ argument that the Dropp family had been fraudulently joined.
     The 4th Circuit declined to review the ruling on appeal, finding that it lacked jurisdiction.
     “Congress has sharply proscribed our ability to review a district court’s remand order,” Judge Franklin Floyd wrote for the appellate panel.
     “The pharmaceutical companies face an insurmountable barrier because ‘an order remanding a case to the state court from which it was removed is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise,’ … regardless of ‘whether or not that order might be deemed erroneous by us.'”
     No exception applies which could allow review of the order, the 4th Circuit ruled.
     The appeals court cannot address whether Judge Chambers properly considered the citizenship of the Dropps, who the pharmaceutical companies claimed are “non-parties” to the suit, because that “evaluation was plainly a necessary step for the court to determine subject matter jurisdiction and is inseverable from that conclusion.”
     “Here, there is no preclusive effect and there was no decision that preceded the determination of subject matter jurisdiction that can be separated from the inquiry of subject matter jurisdiction. Were we to accept the Pharmaceutical Companies’ argument, we would open up for review any legal or factual analysis that a district court takes to determine whether to remand an action. We refuse to do this.”

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