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Knight v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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

May 15, 2019

CLAUDE R. KNIGHT and CLAUDIA STEVENS, individually and as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Betty Erelene Knight, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOEHRINGER INGELHEIM PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, Motion for a New Trial. ECF No. 225. In its motion, Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim, as well as Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages. See Id. at 1. Alternatively, Defendant asks this Court to order a new trial on all claims. See id.

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim for three reasons: (1) the claim is preempted; (2) there is no evidence that Mrs. Knight read or relied on the Medication Guide; and (3) there is insufficient evidence to support a fraud claim based on any other communication from Defendant to Mrs. Knight. See Id. Defendant next argues that it is also entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages because, for the reasons stated above, predicate liability does not exist, and even if predicate liability does exist there is insufficient evidence to support a finding for punitive damages. See id. Finally, Defendant argues that, if this Court does not grant its motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim, it should order a new trial on all claims because the jury delivered an inconsistent verdict. See Id. at 2.

         The parties have fully briefed the issues and the motion is now ripe for adjudication. As explained below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, Motion for a New Trial.

         I. Background

         Both the factual and procedural background of this case are extensive. Thus, the Court will only briefly explain how the current motion has come before it.[1] This case is one in a series of product liability suits brought around the country, in which plaintiffs have claimed that they were harmed due to allegedly defective aspects of Pradaxa, a drug created and sold by Defendant. See generally Chambers v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., No. 4:15-CV-00068 (CDL), 2018 WL 849081 (M.D. Ga. Jan. 2, 2018); Warren v. Boehringer Ingleheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., No. 1:16-cv-01326-SEB-DML, 2017 WL 3970666 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 8, 2017). In their complaint, Plaintiffs asserted various causes of action against Defendant stemming from its allegedly defective drug and its warnings, or lack thereof, which possibly damaged their mother, Betty Knight. See Compl., ECF No. 1. After over three years of litigation, trial began on October 3, 2018. ECF No. 166. At the close of Plaintiffs' case-in-chief, Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on all of Plaintiffs' claims. See Def.'s Mot. for Directed Verdict, ECF No. 178. Defendant's motion was denied. See ECF No. 218. On October 17, 2018, trial concluded, and the jury was instructed on five claims: strict liability failure to warn, negligent failure to warn, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, and fraud. See ECF No. 208; ECF No. 221, at 20-40.

         Later that same day, the jury returned its verdict, finding that Defendant was not liable for strict liability failure to warn, negligent failure to warn, breach of express warranty, or breach of implied warranty. See Jury Verdict Form, ECF No. 214, at 1. However, based on the same failure to warn evidence, the jury found Defendant liable for fraud. See Id. at 2. The jury also found that, absent Defendant's wrongful conduct, Mrs. Knight would not have taken Pradaxa, and that Pradaxa proximately caused Mrs. Knight's injuries, but not her death. See Id. The jury awarded $50, 000 in economic damages, $200, 000 in non-economic damages, and $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages. Id. at 3; ECF No. 216. Significantly, Defendant made no objection to any inconsistency in the verdict before the jury was dismissed. On November 14, 2018, Defendant filed its Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or in the Alternative, Motion for a New Trial. ECF No. 225.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) states that a Court may “direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law” upon post-trial renewal of a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when, “without weighing the credibility of the evidence, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment.” U.S. ex rel. DRC, Inc. v. Custer Battles, LLC, 562 F.3d 295, 305 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The movant is entitled to judgment pursuant to Rule 50(b) “if the nonmoving party failed to make a showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he had the burden of proof.” Wheatley v. Wimico County, Md., 390 F.3d 328, 223 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). The Court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” in making this determination. Myrick v. Prime Ins. Syndicate, Inc., 395 F.3d 485, 490 (4th Cir. 2005).

         III. Discussion

         As stated above, Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim as well as Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim. See Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, ECF No. 225, at 1. Further, Defendant argues that, if this Court denies its motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim, this Court should order a new trial on all claims asserted against it in the complaint. See Id. at 2. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         1. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law-Fraud Claim

         Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim for three reasons. First, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs' fraud claim was “barred by the Court's ruling that federal law preempts any claim premised on the Medication Guide.” See Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, at 1. Second, Defendant argues that “Plaintiffs did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Mrs. Knight ever read and relied on the Medication Guide.” Id. Third, and lastly, Defendant asserts that “Plaintiffs did not demonstrate clear and convincing evidence to support a fraud claim based on any other communication by BI to Mrs. Knight.” Id. For the reasons below, the Court disagrees with each of Defendant's arguments, and finds that Defendant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' fraud claim.

         A. Whether Plaintiffs' Fraud Claim Is Preempted

         Federal preemption law has no bearing on Plaintiffs' fraud claim. Federal preemption law states that a party cannot be held liable for failing to satisfy state duties when the party “cannot satisfy its state duties without the Federal Government's special permission and assistance, which is dependent on the exercise of judgment by a federal agency….” See PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604, 623-24 (2011). In this case, the Court previously held that federal law preempted any claim by Plaintiffs based on alleged defects in the Medication Guide. See ECF No. 225-8, at 7-8. The Court reached this conclusion because the FDA regulations make clear that a Medication Guide cannot be changed without the Federal Government's permission. See 21 C.F.R. § 314.70(b); 21 C.F.R. § 208.24(a).

         Defendant now argues that this holding necessarily should have terminated Plaintiffs' fraud claim because “the Medication Guide was the only communication between BI and Mrs. Knight.” See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, ECF No. 226, at 13 (emphasis added). In fact, Defendant claims that this fact is “undisputed.” See Id. This assertion is erroneous. While it may be undisputed that Defendant never technically sent any warning other than the Medication Guide to Mrs. Knight, and that Defendant never provided any other information directly to Mrs. Knight, [2]these facts do not establish that Defendant never communicated to Mrs. Knight indirectly through other individuals. It is through this logical fallacy that Defendant reaches the faulty conclusion that “any allegation that BI committed a fraud by inaccurately or incompletely describing Pradaxa's risks must rest upon the warnings in the Medication Guide.” See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, at 13. Contrary to Defendant's assertion, Plaintiffs' fraud claim could have also rested upon warnings, or the lack thereof, in the physician label or television advertisements. To be clear, whether there is enough evidence to support a finding of fraud based on either ...


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