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W. B. v. Raleigh Heart Clinic, Inc.

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

April 2, 2018

W.B., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RALEIGH HEART CLINIC, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE CBERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed the Plaintiffs' motions to remand filed in each of the above-listed cases, together with the responsive briefing, the complaints, the notices of removal, and all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motions should be granted.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         This matter includes some 125 cases filed in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, West Virginia, and removed to this Court. All of the cases involve similar core allegations, and the facts and legal standard relevant to removal and remand are the same for all cases. Each Plaintiff is represented by one of five primary groups of attorneys.[1] The Plaintiffs' attorneys have not pursued identical legal strategies, although it appears they have worked somewhat cooperatively, and so the complaints[2] and procedural histories of the cases are not identical. The Court will note differences in the allegations as relevant.

         The Plaintiffs allege that they were patients at the Raleigh Heart Clinic, where they received cardiac stress test examinations from Dr. Thair Barghouthi. As part of the stress test, they were injected with Cardiolite or other radiopharmaceuticals supplied by Cardinal Health. Cardinal Health packaged, marketed, and distributed the radiopharmaceuticals used in the stress tests in large vials conducive to multi-dosing, rather than single-dose vials. Dr. Barghouthi and the Raleigh Heart Clinic administered the radiopharmaceuticals in a manner that permitted the spread of blood-borne pathogens. Each Plaintiff was subsequently diagnosed with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. In a letter dated March 11, 2016, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) notified Dr. Barghouthi's patients that it was investigating a link between the cardiac stress tests at Raleigh Health Clinic and cases of viral hepatitis.

         Each Plaintiff alleges negligence against Raleigh Heart Clinic and Dr. Barghouthi; negligence/gross negligence/reckless indifference/wanton disregard in design, manufacture, and distribution, strict product liability, and failure to warn against Cardinal Health. The Plaintiffs represented by Stephen New allege breach of duty and failure to perform mandatory acts against the DHHR, asserting that the DHHR failed to notify patients and the public of the Hepatitis outbreak or exposure in accordance with state regulations. Raleigh Heart Clinic is located in Beckley, West Virginia, and is a West Virginia citizen. Dr. Barghouthi is a West Virginia resident. Cardinal Health is a limited liability company organized in Delaware with a principal place of business in Ohio, although the pharmacy branch that compounded and shipped radiopharmaceuticals to the Raleigh Heart Clinic is located in Princeton, West Virginia. The West Virginia DHHR is located in West Virginia. More than 90% of the Plaintiffs are West Virginia residents, and all received the medical care at issue in West Virginia.

         Prior to filing these cases, Attorney Stephen New filed a class action complaint, styled Dennis Norman v. Raleigh Heart Clinic et al., asserting similar claims. Cardinal Health removed that case to federal court on September 27, 2017, and the Plaintiff promptly filed a voluntary dismissal order, which the Court entered on October 30, 2017. Another related class action, styled Cathy L. Mills v. Raleigh Heart Clinic et al., asserts claims on behalf of Raleigh Heart Clinic patients who allege that they suffered distress as a result of the potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens, but do not allege that they became infected with any such ailments as a result of their stress tests. That case was filed by attorneys not involved in the instant cases, and it remained pending in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County as of the time the motions for remand were briefed.

         These cases[3] were consolidated for discovery purposes in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, on an unopposed Defense motion. The consolidation order noted some facts and legal issues that would be common among all the cases, and found that consolidation for discovery purposes only would promote efficient resolution and reduce the burden on parties, the court, and witnesses. Attorney Ben Salango, representing the Plaintiffs in six cases, filed a motion to refer the consolidated cases to the West Virginia Mass. Litigation Panel (MLP).[4] The remaining Plaintiffs' attorneys involved in this matter signed on to that motion. The motion suggests that “through consolidated discovery, all of the cases would likely move more quickly toward resolution and trial.” (MLP Mot. at 2, att'd as Def.'s Ex. 7) (Document 12-7 in 5:18-cv-100.) The motion lists the fourteen cases that were pending at the time it was filed, along with four additional forthcoming cases. It sought “referral to the Mass. Litigation Panel, especially for discovery purposes, ” and emphasized the uneven progress of discovery in the pending cases. (Id. at 3.) The motion also argued that referral “will facilitate in the development and implementation of the case management and trial methodology necessary to fairly and expeditiously dispose of these common issues of fact and law.” (Id. at 5.)

         Cardinal Health removed these cases as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Each Plaintiff has filed a motion to remand, relying on similar legal arguments. Cardinal Health has filed similar responses in every case, and the Plaintiffs have all filed replies. The motions to remand are therefore ripe for ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) provides for federal jurisdiction in civil class action cases with an amount in controversy over $5, 000, 000, at least 100 class members, and diversity between at least one plaintiff and at least one defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). A defendant's notice of removal is held to the same pleading standards as a complaint, and need not supply supporting evidence. “[W]hen a defendant seeks federal-court adjudication, the defendant's amount-in-controversy allegation should be accepted when not contested by the plaintiff or questioned by the court.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014). After a defendant's jurisdictional allegations have been challenged, “both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.” Id. at 553-54. Contrary to the standard for removal and remand in diversity cases, “no antiremoval presumption attends cases invoking CAFA.” Id. at 554. However, “as the party seeking removal, [the defendant] bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction.” Lanham v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, 169 F.Supp.3d 658, 660 (S.D. W.Va. 2016) (Johnston, J.)

         DISCUSSION

         The Plaintiffs argue that these cases cannot properly be classified as a “mass action” removable under CAFA because they were not consolidated in state court, the Plaintiffs did not propose that the cases be tried jointly, and the cases arose out of an event or occurrence within West Virginia. They further argue that even if the Court finds that the cases constitute a mass action, exceptions to federal jurisdiction under CAFA apply. Specifically, they assert that the “home state” exception applies because more than two-thirds of the Plaintiffs are West Virginia residents and Raleigh Heart Clinic and Dr. Barghouthi, as the primary Defendants, are West Virginia residents. In addition, they assert that the “local controversy” exception applies because more than two-thirds of the Plaintiffs are West Virginia residents, significant relief is sought from the West Virginia Defendants, and the principal injuries occurred in West Virginia.

         Cardinal Health argues that these actions do constitute a mass action because they are a “class action in disguise.” (Def.'s Resp. at 9) (Document 100-12) (quoting from legislative history regarding CAFA.) It asserts that the Plaintiffs' request to transfer the cases to the MLP is sufficient to satisfy the requirement that the matter include 100 or more claims proposed to be tried jointly. Cardinal Health also argues that these cases did not arise from an ‘event of occurrence' within West Virginia because that provision applies to a single happening, while the allegations here involve many transactions between Cardinal Health and Raleigh Heart Clinic and many separate patient visits. Finally, Cardinal Health argues that no exceptions to federal jurisdiction for class or mass actions ...


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