Asymmetries in the Law Between the Pursuer and the Defender

There are some important asymmetries in the law.  A single defendant is at risk of collateral estoppel, but each individual plaintiff will claim independence lack of privity with the rest of the herd.  Similarly, a defendant in a mass tort may be bound by its cross-examination of a now unavailable witness, but plaintiffs may be able to disavow a previous plaintiff’s examination even though there was a common representation.

Plaintiffs have sought discovery of confidential consulting expert witnesses of a defendant in multi-district litigation, while successfully evading discovery of their own consulting expert witnesses.  Again plaintiffs’ success turns on the lack of privity between and among the many plaintiffs, or because plaintiffs’ counsel indulge the fiction that they were not acting in their role as attorney for claimants.

Expert witnesses for plaintiffs accuse scientists who testify for a defendant of “conflicts of interest,” but conveniently ignore and fail to disclose their own. SeeMore Hypocrisy Over Conflicts of Interest” (Dec. 4, 2010) (Arthur Frank and Barry Castleman); James Coyne, “Lessons in Conflict of Interest: The Construction of the Martyrdom of David Healy and The Dilemma of Bioethics,” 5 Am. J. Bioethics W3 (2005).

Plaintiffs often seek to use evidence of lobbying or “rent-seeking” by defendants.  See Bruce R. Parker and Jennifer Lilore, “Application of the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine to Drug and Medical Device Litigation,”  Rx for the Defense 2 (Fall 1995) (“Typically, plaintiffs will argue that the petitioning activity was designed to minimize or eliminate regulations pertaining to safety and efficacy in order to maximize profits. Plaintiffs’ counsel often assert that such conduct is reckless and supports an award of punitive damages.”). See, e.g., Ruth v. A.O. Smith Corp., 2006 WL 530388 at *13 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 27, 2006); In re Welding Fume Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 1:03–CV–17000, MDL no. 1535, 2010 WL 7699456, *93 (June 4, 2010) (“Trial Template for Welding Fume MDL Cases”; summarizing previous Noerr-Pennington ruling in this MDL, and rejecting defendants’ motion, in part, to bar use of defendants’ petitioning governmental and quasi-governmental entities to consider scientific studies and arguments concerning “threshold limit values,” despite constitutional protection of speech).

Of course, the plaintiffs’ bar lobbies as an organized entity, and perhaps its activities should be imputed to all members of the relevant organizations.  Mutuality might chill plaintiffs’ enthusiasm for attacking defendants for their efforts to influence policy. The plaintiffs’ bar is, after all, the litigation industry.  A few weeks ago, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), now operating under the pseudonym American Association of Justice (AAJ), issued a press release (Mar. 13, 2014), praising a proposed FDA regulation that would undermine preemption defenses for manufacturers of generic pharmaceuticals. The press release conveniently omitted that the proposed regulation praised was one that plaintiffs helped craft. Paul Berard, “Trial lawyers helped FDA with rule opening generic drug firms to lawsuits” Wash. Examiner (Mar. 27, 2014).

Last week, the FDA in response to a Congressional inquiry, acknowledged that high-level officials of the agency met with plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ed Blizzard, and regulatory counsel for ATLA-AAJ, Sarah Rooney, and ATLA’s lobbyist, Michael Forscey. See Jeff Overley, “FDA Chief Questioned Over Staff Meeting With Trial Lawyers,” Law360, New York (Mar. 28, 2014).  The meeting was calendared, in February 2013, at the FDA as a follow up to the Supreme Court’s decision in Pliva v. Mensing, which held that FDA regulations preempted state liability claims against makers of generic drugs. The FDA participated through high-level officials, including its chief counsel, and policy advisors.  Congressman Kevin Yoder interrogated FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg as to why a private session with plaintiffs’ lawyers and lobbyists, who are in the litigation business.  The news accounts did not provide an explanation why the plaintiffs’ litigation lobbyists could not have submitted their comments publicly.  Mr. Blizzard’s and the ATLA’s lobbying snow storm was, however, registered on the FDA’s public calendar for February 11-15, 2013.

Jim Beck documents that this is not first time that the plaintiffs’ bar has lobbied for their fee-generating activities with the FDA, for rules that fostered their litigation product.  SeeThe More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same” (April 3, 2014). Perhaps when the plaintiffs next make their argument that the FDA is captured by industry, courts should take judicial notice that the plaintiffs’ bar has a great deal of influence as well.

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