TORTINI

For your delectation and delight, desultory dicta on the law of delicts.

Science Bench Book for Judges

July 13th, 2019

On July 1st of this year, the National Judicial College and the Justice Speakers Institute, LLC released an online publication of the Science Bench Book for Judges [Bench Book]. The Bench Book sets out to cover much of the substantive material already covered by the Federal Judicial Center’s Reference Manual:

Acknowledgments

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Why This Bench Book?
  2. What is Science?
  3. Scientific Evidence
  4. Introduction to Research Terminology and Concepts
  5. Pre-Trial Civil
  6. Pre-trial Criminal
  7. Trial
  8. Juvenile Court
  9. The Expert Witness
  10. Evidence-Based Sentencing
  11. Post Sentencing Supervision
  12. Civil Post Trial Proceedings
  13. Conclusion: Judges—The Gatekeepers of Scientific Evidence

Appendix 1 – Frye/Daubert—State-by-State

Appendix 2 – Sample Orders for Criminal Discovery

Appendix 3 – Biographies

The Bench Book gives some good advice in very general terms about the need to consider study validity,[1] and to approach scientific evidence with care and “healthy skepticism.”[2] When the Bench Book attempts to instruct on what it represents the scientific method of hypothesis testing, the good advice unravels:

“A scientific hypothesis simply cannot be proved. Statisticians attempt to solve this dilemma by adopting an alternate [sic] hypothesis – the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is the opposite of the scientific hypothesis. It assumes that the scientific hypothesis is not true. The researcher conducts a statistical analysis of the study data to see if the null hypothesis can be rejected. If the null hypothesis is found to be untrue, the data support the scientific hypothesis as true.”[3]

Even in experimental settings, a statistical analysis of the data do not lead to a conclusion that the null hypothesis is untrue, as opposed to not reasonably compatible with the study’s data. In observational studies, the statistical analysis must acknowledge whether and to what extent the study has excluded bias and confounding. When the Bench Book turns to speak of statistical significance, more trouble ensues:

“The goal of an experiment, or observational study, is to achieve results that are statistically significant; that is, not occurring by chance.”[4]

In the world of result-oriented science, and scientific advocacy, it is perhaps true that scientists seek to achieve statistically significant results. Still, it seems crass to come right out and say so, as opposed to saying that the scientists are querying the data to see whether they are compatible with the null hypothesis. This first pass at statistical significance is only mildly astray compared with the Bench Book’s more serious attempts to define statistical significance and confidence intervals:

4.10 Statistical Significance

The research field agrees that study outcomes must demonstrate they are not the result of random chance. Leaving room for an error of .05, the study must achieve a 95% level of confidence that the results were the product of the study. This is denoted as p ≤ 05. (or .01 or .1).”[5]

and

“The confidence interval is also a way to gauge the reliability of an estimate. The confidence interval predicts the parameters within which a sample value will fall. It looks at the distance from the mean a value will fall, and is measured by using standard deviations. For example, if all values fall within 2 standard deviations from the mean, about 95% of the values will be within that range.”[6]

Of course, the interval speaks to the precision of the estimate, not its reliability, but that is a small point. These definitions are virtually guaranteed to confuse judges into conflating statistical significance and the coefficient of confidence with the legal burden of proof probability.

The Bench Book runs into problems in interpreting legal decisions, which would seem softer grist for the judicial mill. The authors present dictum from the Daubert decision as though it were a holding:[7]

“As noted in Daubert, ‘[t]he focus, of course, must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions they generate’.”

The authors fail to mention that this dictum was abandoned in Joiner, and that it is specifically rejected by statute, in the 2000 revision to the Federal Rule of Evidence 702.

Early in the Bench Book, it authors present a subsection entitled “The Myth of Scientific Objectivity,” which they might have borrowed from Feyerabend or Derrida. The heading appears misleading because the text contradicts it:

“Scientists often develop emotional attachments to their work—it can be difficult to abandon an idea. Regardless of bias, the strongest intellectual argument, based on accepted scientific hypotheses, will always prevail, but the road to that conclusion may be fraught with scholarly cul-de-sacs.”[8]

In a similar vein, the authors misleadingly tell readers that “the forefront of science is rarely encountered in court,” and so “much of the science mentioned there shall be considered established….”[9] Of course, the reality is that many causal claims presented in court have already been rejected or held to be indeterminate by the scientific community. And just when readers may think themselves safe from the goblins of nihilism, the authors launch into a theory of naïve probabilism that science is just placing subjective probabilities upon data, based upon preconceived biases and beliefs:

“All of these biases and beliefs play into the process of weighing data, a critical aspect of science. Placing weight on a result is the process of assigning a probability to an outcome. Everything in the universe can be expressed in probabilities.”[10]

So help the expert witness who honestly (and correctly) testifies that the causal claim or its rejection cannot be expressed as a probability statement!

Although I have not read all of the Bench Book closely, there appears to be no meaningful discussion of Rule 703, or of the need to access underlying data to ensure that the proffered scientific opinion under scrutiny has used appropriate methodologies at every step in its development. Even a 412 text cannot address every issue, but this one does little to help the judicial reader find more in-depth help on statistical and scientific methodological issues that arise in occupational and environmental disease claims, and in pharmaceutical products litigation.

The organizations involved in this Bench Book appear to be honest brokers of remedial education for judges. The writing of this Bench Book was funded by the State Justice Institute (SJI) Which is a creation of federal legislation enacted with the laudatory goal of improving the quality of judging in state courts.[11] Despite its provenance in federal legislation, the SJI is a a private, nonprofit corporation, governed by 11 directors appointed by the President, and confirmed by the Senate. A majority of the directors (six) are state court judges, one state court administrator, and four members of the public (no more than two from any one political party). The function of the SJI is to award grants to improve judging in state courts.

The National Judicial College (NJC) originated in the early 1960s, from the efforts of the American Bar Association, American Judicature Society and the Institute of Judicial Administration, to provide education for judges. In 1977, the NJC became a Nevada not-for-profit (501)(c)(3) educational corporation, which its campus at the University of Nevada, Reno, where judges could go for training and recreational activities.

The Justice Speakers Institute appears to be a for-profit company that provides educational resources for judge. A Press Release touts the Bench Book and follow-on webinars. Caveat emptor.

The rationale for this Bench Book is open to question. Unlike the Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence, which was co-produced by the Federal Judicial Center and the National Academies of Science, the Bench Book’s authors are lawyers and judges, without any subject-matter expertise. Unlike the Reference Manual, the Bench Book’s chapters have no scientist or statistician authors, and it shows. Remarkably, the Bench Book does not appear to cite to the Reference Manual or the Manual on Complex Litigation, at any point in its discussion of the federal law of expert witnesses or of scientific or statistical method. Perhaps taxpayers would have been spared substantial expense if state judges were simply encouraged to read the Reference Manual.


[1]  Bench Book at 190.

[2]  Bench Book at 174 (“Given the large amount of statistical information contained in expert reports, as well as in the daily lives of the general society, the ability to be a competent consumer of scientific reports is challenging. Effective critical review of scientific information requires vigilance, and some healthy skepticism.”).

[3]  Bench Book at 137; see also id. at 162.

[4]  Bench Book at 148.

[5]  Bench Book at 160.

[6]  Bench Book at 152.

[7]  Bench Book at 233, quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 595 (1993).

[8]  Bench Book at 10.

[9]  Id. at 10.

[10]  Id. at 10.

[11] See State Justice Institute Act of 1984 (42 U.S.C. ch. 113, 42 U.S.C. § 10701 et seq.).

Creators of ToxicDocs Show Off Their Biases

June 7th, 2019

Columbia Magazine’s most recent issue includes a laudatory story about David Rosner, a professor of history in Columbia University.1 The “story” focuses on Rosner’s website, ToxicDocs, which has become his and Gerald Markowitz’s clearing house for what they assert are industry’s misdeeds in the realm of public health.

What the magazine’s story chooses not to discuss is the provenance of the ToxicDocs website in Rosner and Markowitz’s long collaboration with the lawsuit industry in a variety of litigation endeavors. And what you will not find on ToxicDocs are documents of the many misdeeds of the sponsoring lawsuit industry’s misdeeds, such as unlawful and unethical screenings, evidentiary frauds, specious claiming, and misleading and incompetent medical advice to its clients. Nor will you find much in the way of context for the manufacturing industry’s documents.

Media coverage of ToxicDocs from last year provides some further insight into the provenance of the website.2 According one account, Rosner and Markowitz (collectively Rosnowitz) bristled when they were attacked for their litigation work by historian Philip Scranton, a professor in Rutgers University. Scranton showed that Rosnowitz were guilty of a variety of professional sins, from “overgeneralization and failure to corroborate” to “selectively appropriat[ing] information.” Although the radical left came to Rosnowitz’s defense by labeling Scranton a “hired gun,” that charge range rather hollow when Scranton was a well-regarded historian, and Rosnowitz were long-term hired guns for the lawsuit industry.3

And so these leftist historians felt the need to defend their long-term collaboration with the lawsuit industry by putting what they believed were incriminating documents on line at their website, ToxicDocs.4 The problem, however, with Rosnowitz’s response to the Scranton critique is that their website suffers from all the undue selectivity, lack of context, and bias, which afflict their courtroom work, and which validated Scranton’s report. Most important, the reader will not find anything on ToxicDocs that challenges the misdeeds of the lawsuit industry, which has employed them for so many years.

In February 2018, the Journal of Public Health Policy (vol. 39, no. 1) published a series of editorials lauding ToxicDocs.5 Remarkably, not a single paper by Rosnowitz, and their associates, Robert Proctor, David Wegman, or Anthony Robbins mentioned their service to the lawsuit industry or the extent of their income from that service. Sheldon Whitehouse wrote an editorial, in which he disclosed his having served as Rhode Island’s Attorney General, but failed to disclose that he had worked in lockstep with the plaintiffs’ firm, Motley Rice, and that he had hired Rosnowitz, in Rhode Island’s lawsuit against major paint manufacturers. For those observers who are in a moral panic over “industry” conflicts of interest, please note the conflicts of lawsuit industrial complex.


1 Carla Cantor, “ToxicDocs Exposes Industry MisdeedsColumbia Magazine (Summer 2019).

2 Tik Root, “In ToxicDocs.org, a Treasure Trove of Industry Secrets,” Undark (Jan. 10, 2018).

3 See, e.g., Jon Wiener, “Cancer, Chemicals and History: Companies try to discredit the experts,” The Nation (Jan. 20, 2005).

4 SeeToxicHistorians Sponsor ToxicDocs” (Feb. 1, 2018); “David Rosner’s Document Repository” (July 23, 2017).

5 Anthony Robbins & Phyllis Freeman, “ToxicDocs (www.ToxicDocs.org) goes live: A giant step toward leveling the playing field for efforts to combat toxic exposures,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 1 (2018); David Rosner, Gerald Markowitz, and Merlin Chowkwanyun, “ToxicDocs (www.ToxicDocs.org): from history buried in stacks of paper to open, searchable archives online,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 4 (2018); Stéphane Horel, “Browsing a corporation’s mind,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 12 (2018); Christer Hogstedt & David H. Wegman, “ToxicDocs and the fight against biased public health science worldwide,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 15 (2018); Joch McCulloch, “Archival sources on asbestos and silicosis in Southern Africa and Australia,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 18 (2018); Sheldon Whitehouse, “ToxicDocs: using the US legal system to confront industries’ systematic counterattacks against public health,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 22 (2018); Robert N. Proctor, “God is watching: history in the age of near-infinite digital archives,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 24 (2018); Elena N. Naumova, “The value of not being lost in our digital world,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 27 (2018); Nicholas Freudenberg, “ToxicDocs: a new resource for assessing the impact of corporate practices on health,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 30 (2018).

Specious Claiming in Multi-District Litigation

May 2nd, 2019

In a recent article in an American Bar Association newsletter, Paul Rheingold notes with some concern that, in the last two years or so, there has been a rash of dismissals of entire multi-district litigations (MDLs) based upon plaintiffs’ failure to produce expert witnesses who can survive Rule 702 gatekeeping.[1]  Paul D. Rheingold, “Multidistrict Litigation Mass Terminations for Failure to Prove Causation,” A.B.A. Mass Tort Litig. Newsletter (April 24, 2019) [cited as Rheingold]. According to Rheingold, judges historically involved in the MDL processing of products liability cases did not grant summary judgments across the board. In other words, federal judges felt that if plaintiffs’ lawyers aggregated a sufficient number of cases, then their judicial responsibility was to push settlements or to remand the cases to the transferor courts for trial.

Missing from Rheingold’s account is the prevalent judicial view, in the early going of MDL of products cases, which held that judges lacked the authority to consider Rule 702 motions for all cases in the MDL. Gatekeeping motions were considered extreme and best avoided by pushing them off to the transferor courts upon remand. In MDL 926, involving silicone gel breast implants, the late Judge Sam Pointer, who was a member of the Rules Advisory Committee, expressed the view that Rule 702 gatekeeping was a trial court function, for the trial judge who received the case on remand from the MDL.[2] Judge Pointer’s view was a commonplace in the 1990s. As mass tort litigation moved into MDL “camps,” judges more frequently adopted a managerial rather than a judicial role, and exerted great pressure on the parties, and the defense in particular, to settle cases. These judges frequently expressed their view that the two sides so stridently disagreed on causation that the truth must be somewhere in between, and even with “a little causation,” the defendants should offer a little compensation. These litigation managers thus eschewed dispositive motion practice, or gave it short shrift.

Rheingold cites five recent MDL terminations based upon “Daubert failure,” and he acknowledges other MDLs collapsed because of federal pre-emption issues (Eliquis, Incretins, and possibly Fosamax), and that other fatally weak causal MDL claims settled for nominal compensation (NuvaRing). He omits other MDLs, such as In re Silica, in which an entire MDL collapsed because of prevalent fraud in the screening and diagnosing of silicosis claimants by plaintiffs’ counsel and their expert witnesses.[3] Also absent from his reckoning is the collapse of MDL cases against Celebrex[4] and Viagra[5].

Rheingold does concede that the recent across-the-board dismissals of MDLs were due to very weak causal claims.[6] He softens his judgment by suggesting that the weaknesses were apparent “at least in retrospect,” but the weaknesses were clearly discernible before litigation by the refusal of regulatory agencies, such as the FDA, to accept the litigation-driven causal claims. Rheingold also tries to assuage fellow plaintiffs’ counsel by suggesting that plaintiffs’ lawyers somehow fell prey to the pressure to file cases because of internet advertising and the encouragement of records collection and analysis firms. This attribution of naiveté to Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) members does not ring true given the wealth and resources of lawyers on PSCs. Furthermore, the suggestion that PSC member may be newcomers to the MDL playing fields does not hold water given that most of the lawyers involved are “repeat players,” with substantial experience and financial incentives to sort out invalid expert witness opinions.[7]

Rheingold offers the wise counsel that plaintiffs’ lawyers “should take [their] time and investigate for [themselves] the potential proof available for causation and adequacy of labeling.” If history is any guide, his advice will not be followed.


[1] Rheingold cites five MDLs that were “Daubert failures” in the recent times: (1) In re Lipitor (Atorvastatin Calcium) Marketing, Sales Practices & Prods. Liab.  Litig. (MDL 2502), 892 F.3d 624 (4th Cir. 2018) (affirming Rule 702 dismissal of claims that atorvastatin use caused diabetes); (2) In re Mirena IUD Products Liab. Litig. (Mirena II, MDL 2767), 713 F. App’x 11 (2d Cir. 2017) (excluding expert witnesses’ opinion testimony that the intrauterine device caused embedment and perforation); (3) In re Mirena Ius Levonorgestrel-Related Prods. Liab. Litig., (Mirena II), 341 F. Supp. 3d 213 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (affirming Rule 702 dismissal of claims that product caused pseudotumor cerebri); (4) In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Prods. Liab. Litig., 858 F.3d 787 (3d Cir. 2017) (affirming MDL trial court’s Rule 702 exclusions of opinions that Zoloft is teratogenic); (5) Jones v. SmithKline Beecham, 652 F. App’x 848 (11th Cir. 2016) (affirming MDL court’s Rule 702 exclusions of expert witness opinions that denture adhesive creams caused metal deficiencies).

[2]  Not only was Judge Pointer a member of the Rules committee, he was the principal author of the 1993 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as the editor-in-chief of the Federal Judicial Center’s Manual for Complex. At an ALI-ABA conference in 1997, Judge Pointer complained about the burden of gatekeeping. 3 Federal Discovery News 1 (Aug. 1997). He further opined that, under Rule 104(a), he could “look to decisions from the Southern District of New York and Eastern District of New York, where the same expert’s opinion has been offered and ruled upon by those judges. Their rulings are hearsay, but hearsay is acceptable. So I may use their rulings as a basis for my decision on whether to allow it or not.” Id. at 4. Even after Judge Jack Weinstein excluded plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ causal opinions in the silicone litigation, however, Judge Pointer avoided having to make an MDL-wide decision with the scope of one of the leading judges from the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. See In re Breast Implant Cases, 942 F. Supp. 958 (E. & S.D.N.Y. 1996). Judge Pointer repeated his anti-Daubert views three years later at a symposium on expert witness opinion testimony. See Sam C. Pointer, Jr., “Response to Edward J. Imwinkelried, the Taxonomy of Testimony Post-Kumho: Refocusing on the Bottom Lines of Reliability and Necessity,” 30 Cumberland L. Rev. 235 (2000).

[3]  In re Silica Products Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1553, 398 F. Supp. 2d 563 (S.D. Tex. 2005).

[4]  In re Bextra & Celebrex Marketing Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., 524 F. Supp. 2d 1166 (N.D. Calif. 2007) (excluding virtually all relevant expert witness testimony proffered to support claims that ordinary dosages of these COX-2 inhibitors caused cardiovascular events).

[5]  In re Viagra Products Liab. Litig., 572 F. Supp. 2d 1071 (D. Minn. 2008) (addressing claims that sildenafil causes vision loss from non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION)).

[6]  Rheingold (“Examining these five mass terminations, at least in retrospect[,] it is apparent that they were very weak on causation.”)

[7] See Elizabeth Chamblee Burch & Margaret S. Williams, “Repeat Players in Multidistrict Litigation: The Social Network,” 102 Cornell L. Rev. 1445 (2017); Margaret S. Williams, Emery G. Lee III & Catherine R. Borden, “Repeat Players in Federal Multidistrict Litigation,” 5 J. Tort L. 141, 149–60 (2014).

Expert Witnesses Who Don’t Mean What They Say

March 24th, 2019

’Then you should say what you mean’, the March Hare went on.
‘I do’, Alice hastily replied; ‘at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know’.
‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see!”’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter VII (1865)

Anick Bérard is an epidemiologist at the Université de Montréal. Most of her publications involve birth outcomes and maternal medication use, but Dr. Bérard’s advocacy also involves social media (Facebook, YouTube) and expert witnessing in litigation against the pharmaceutical industry.

When the FDA issued its alert about cardiac malformations in children born to women who took Paxil (paroxetine) in their first trimesters of pregnancy, the agency characterized its assessment of the “early results of new studies for Paxil” as “suggesting that the drug increases the risk for birth defects, particularly heart defects, when women take it during the first three months of pregnancy.”1 The agency also disclaimed any conclusion of “class effect” among the other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), and Prozac (fluoxetine). Indeed, the FDA requested the manufacturer of paroxetine to undertake additional research to look at teratogenicity of paroxetine, as well as the possibility of class effects. That research never showed an SSRI teratogenicity class effect.

A “suggestion” from the FDA of an adverse effect is sufficient to launch a thousand litigation complaints, which were duly filed against GlaxoSmithKline. The plaintiffs’ counsel recruited Dr. Bérard to serve as an expert witness in support of a wide array of birth defects in Paxil cases. In her hands, the agency’s “suggestion” of causation became a conclusion. The defense challenged Bérard’s opinions, but the federal court motion to exclude her causal opinions were taken under advisement, without decision. Hayes v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 2009 WL 4912178 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 14, 2009). One case in state court went to trial, with a verdict for plaintiffs.

Despite Dr. Bérard;s zealous advocacy for a causal association between Paxil and birth defects, she declined to assert any association between maternal use of the other, non-paroxetine SSRIs and birth defects. Here is an excerpt from her Rule 26 report in a paroxetine case:

Taken together, the available scientific evidence makes it clear that Paxil use during the first trimester of pregnancy is an independent risk factor that at least doubles the risk of cardiovascular malformations in newborns at all commonly used doses. This risk has been consistent and was further reinforced by repeated observational study findings as well as meta-analyses results. No such associations were found with other types of SSRI exposures during gestation.”2

In her sworn testimony, Dr. Bérard made clear that she really meant what she had written in her report, about exculpating the non-paroxetine SSRIs of any association with birth defects:

Q. Is it fair to say that you will not be offering an opinion that SSRIs as a class, or individual SSRIs other than Paxil increased the risk of cardiovascular malformations in newborns?

A. This is not what I was asked to do.

Q. But in fact you actually write in your report that you don’t believe there’s sufficient data to reach any conclusion about other SSRIs, true?

A. Correct.”3

In 2010, Dr. Bérard, along with two professional colleagues, published what they called a systematic review of antidepressant use in pregnancy and birth outcomes.4 In this review, Bérard specifically advised that paroxetine should be avoided by women of childbearing age, but she and her colleagaues affirmatively encouraged use of other SSRIs, such as fluoxetine, sertraline, and citalopram:

Clinical Approach: A Brief Overview

For women planning a pregnancy or when a treatment initiation during pregnancy is deemed necessary, the decision should rely not only on drug safety data but also on other factors such as the patient’s condition, previous response to other antidepressants, comorbidities, expected adverse effects and potential interactions with other current pharmacological treatments. Since there is a more extensive clinical experience with SSRIs such as fluoxetine, sertraline, and citalopram, these agents should be used as first-line therapies. Whenever possible, one should refrain from prescribing paroxetine to women of childbearing potential or planning a pregnancy. However, antenatal screening such as fetal echocardiography should be considered in a woman exposed prior to finding out about her pregnancy.5

When Bérard wrote and published her systematic review, she was still actively involved as an expert witness for plaintiffs in lawsuits against the manufacturers of paroxetine. In her 2010 review, Dr. Bérard gave no acknowledgment of monies earned in her capacity as an expert witness, and her disclosure of potential conflicts of interest was limited to noting that she was “a consultant for a plaintiff in the litigation involving Paxil.”6 In fact, Bérard had submitted multiple reports, testified at deposition, and had been listed as a testifying expert witness in many cases involving Paxil or paroxetine.

Not long after the 2010 review article, Glaxo settled most of the pending paroxetine birth defect cases, and the plaintiffs’ bar pivoted to recast their expert witnesses’ opinions as causal teratogenic conclusions about the entire class of SSRIs. In 2012, the federal courts established a “multi-district litigation,” MDL 2342, for birth defect cases involving Zoloft (sertraline), in the Philadelphia courtroom of Judge Cynthia Rufe, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Notwithstanding her 2010 clinical advice that pregnant women with depression should use fluoxetine, sertraline, or citalopram, Dr. Bérard became actively involved in the new litigation against the other, non-Paxil SSRI manufacturers. By 2013, Dr. Bérard was on record as a party expert witness for plaintiffs, opining that setraline causes virtually every major congenital malformation.7

In the same year, 2013, Dr. Bérard published another review article on teratogens, but now she gave a more equivocal view of the other SSRIs, claiming that they were “known carcinogens,” but acknowledging in a footnote that teratogenicity of the SSRIs was “controversial.”8 Incredibly, this review article states that “Anick Bérard and Sonia Chaabane have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.”9

Ultimately, Dr. Bérard could not straddle her own contradictory statements and remain upright, which encouraged the MDL court to examine her opinions closely for methodological shortcomings and failures. Although Bérard had evolved to claim a teratogenic “class effect” for all the SSRIs, the scientific support for her claim was somewhere between weak to absent.10 Perhaps even more distressing, many of the pending claims involving the other SSRIs arose from pregnancies and births that predated Bérard’s epiphany about class effect. Finding ample evidence of specious claiming, the federal court charged with oversight of the sertraline birth defect claims excluded Dr. Bérard’s causal opinions for failing to meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702.11

Plaintiffs sought to substitute Nicholas Jewell for Dr. Bérard, but Dr. Jewell fared no better, and was excluded for other methodological shenanigans.12 Ultimately, a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals, for the Third Circuit, upheld the expert witness exclusions.13


1 See “FDA Advising of Risk of Birth Defects with Paxil; Agency Requiring Updated Product Labeling,” P05-97 (Dec. 8, 2005) (emphasis added).

2 Bérard Report in Hayes v. SmithKline Beecham Corp, 2009 WL 3072955, at *4 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 4, 2009) (emphasis added).

3 Deposition Testimony of Anick Bérard, in Hayes v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., at 120:16-25 (N.D. Okla. April 2009).

4 Marieve Simoncelli, Brigitte-Zoe Martin & Anick Bérard, “Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy: A Critical Systematic Review of the Literature,” 5 Current Drug Safety 153 (2010).

5 Id. at 168b.

6 Id. at 169 (emphasis added).

7 See Anick Bérard, “Expert Report” (June 19, 2013).

8 Sonia Chaabanen & Anick Bérard, “Epidemiology of Major Congenital Malformations with Specific Focus on Teratogens,” 8 Current Drug Safety 128, 136 (2013).

9 Id. at 137b.

10 See, e.g., Nicholas Myles, Hannah Newall, Harvey Ward, and Matthew Large, “Systematic meta-analysis of individual selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications and congenital malformations,” 47 Australian & New Zealand J. Psychiatry 1002 (2013).

11 See In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 2342; 26 F.Supp. 3d 449 (E.D.Pa. 2014) (Rufe, J.). Plaintiffs, through their Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, moved for reconsideration, but Judge Rufe reaffirmed her exclusion of Dr. Bérard. In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 2342; 12-md-2342, 2015 WL 314149 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 23, 2015) (Rufe, J.) (denying PSC’s motion for reconsideration). See Zoloft MDL Relieves Matrixx Depression” (Jan. 30, 2015).

12 See In re Zoloft Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 12–md–2342, 2015 WL 7776911 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2015) (excluding Jewell’s opinions as scientifically unwarranted and methodologically flawed); In re Zoloft Prod. Liab. Litig., MDL NO. 2342, 12-MD-2342, 2016 WL 1320799 (E.D. Pa. April 5, 2016) (granting summary judgment after excluding Dr. Jewell). See alsoThe Education of Judge Rufe – The Zoloft MDL” (April 9, 2016).