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Cooper v. Ethicon, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

June 16, 2017

RHONDA COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
ETHICON, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment)

          JOSEFH R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Based on the Statute of Limitations [ECF No. 53] filed by defendants Ethicon, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson (collectively, “Ethicon”) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 60]. As set forth below, Ethicon's Motion for Summary Judgment Based on the Statute of Limitations [ECF No. 53] is DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 60] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         This action involves an Arkansas plaintiff who was implanted with Tension-free Vaginal Tape-Obturator (“TVT-O”), a mesh product manufactured by Ethicon. Second Am. Short Form Compl. [ECF No. 24] ¶¶ 1-12. The case resides in one of seven MDLs assigned to me by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation concerning the use of transvaginal surgical mesh to treat pelvic organ prolapse (“POP”) and stress urinary incontinence (“SUI”). In the seven MDLs, there are approximately 60, 000 cases currently pending, nearly 28, 000 of which are in the Ethicon MDL, MDL 2327.

         In an effort to efficiently and effectively manage this massive MDL, the court decided to conduct pretrial discovery and motions practice on an individualized basis so that once a case is trial-ready (that is, after the court has ruled on all summary judgment motions, among other things), it can then be promptly transferred or remanded to the appropriate district for trial. To this end, the court ordered the plaintiffs and defendants to submit a joint list of 200 of the oldest cases in the Ethicon MDL that name only Ethicon, Inc., Ethicon, LLC, and/or Johnson & Johnson. These cases became part of a “wave” of cases to be prepared for trial and, if necessary, remanded. See Pretrial Order No. 210, In re Ethicon, Inc. Pelvic Repair Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 2:12-md-002327, Dec. 18, 2015, available at http://www.wvsd.uscourts.gov/MDL/ethicon/orders.html. The plaintiff's case was selected as an “Ethicon Wave 3 case.”

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, the court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).

         Although the court will view all underlying facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party nonetheless must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict” in his or her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmoving party has the burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a showing sufficient to establish that element. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The nonmoving party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering more than a mere “scintilla of evidence” in support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or unsupported speculation, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of a summary judgment motion. See Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303, 311 (4th Cir. 2013); Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 191 (4th Cir. 1997).

         B. Choice of Law

         The parties agree, as does this court, that Arkansas law applies to the plaintiffs claims. If a plaintiff files her claim directly into the MDL in the Southern District of West Virginia, as Ms. Cooper did in this case, the court consults the choice-of-law rules of the state where the plaintiff was implanted with the product. See Sanchez v. Bos. Sci. Corp., No. 2:12-cv-05762, 2014 WL 202787, at *4 (S.D. W.Va. Jan. 17, 2014) (“For cases that originate elsewhere and are directly filed into the MDL, the court will follow the better-reasoned authority that applies the choice-of-law rules of the originating jurisdiction, which in our case is the state in which the plaintiff was implanted with the product.”). Ms. Cooper underwent the TVT-O implantation surgery in Arkansas. Second Am. Short Form Compl. [ECF No. 24] ¶ 11. Thus, the choice-of-law principles of Arkansas guide the court's choice-of-law analysis.

         Arkansas courts consider the lex loci delicti doctrine and Dr. Robert A. Leflar's five choice-influencing factors in conjunction when analyzing choice of law problems. Ganey v. Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., 234 S.W.3d 838, 847 (Ark. 2006); Schubert v. Target Stores, Inc., 201 S.W.3d 917, 922-23 (Ark. 2005). “Under the doctrine of lex loci delicti, the law of the place where the wrong took place is the proper choice of law.” Ganey, 234 S.W.3d at 846. The five choice-influencing factors, promulgated by Dr. Leflar, include (1) predictability of results, (2) maintenance of interstate and international order, (3) simplification of the judicial task, (4) advancement of the forum's governmental interests, and (5) application of the better rule of law. Id. The Leflar factors, however, are used only to soften “a rigid formulaic application” of the lex loci delicti doctrine. See Gomez v. ITT Educ. Servs., Inc., 71 S.W.3d 542, 546 (Ark. 2002). In the case at bar, those factors are inapposite. The implantation surgery that resulted in Ms. Cooper's alleged injuries took place in Arkansas where Ms. Cooper is a resident. Accordingly, Arkansas's substantive law governs this case.

         III. Analysis

         Ethicon argues it is entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff's claims are ...


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