PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) - At least 10 class actions filed against generic prescription drug manufacturers, including one brought by the City of Providence, a frequent antitrust lawsuit filer in recent years, will be consolidated in a Pennsylvania federal court.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a transfer order Aug. 9.
The six-member panel selected the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to handle the lawsuits against defendants Allergan PLC, Impax Laboratories Inc., The Lannett Company Inc., Mylan Inc., Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., Par Pharmaceuticals Inc. and West-Ward Pharmaceutical Corp.
The plaintiffs in the 10 class actions, plus at least seven other related, tag-along, actions, contend the generic drug makers conspired to fix the prices of two products: digoxin, which is used to treat irregular heartbeats and mild to moderate heart failure, and doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat both humans and animals for a variety of illnesses.
In particular, the plaintiffs allege that between 2012 and 2014, the average market price for digoxin and doxycycline increased by 884 percent and 8,281 percent, respectively.
“Plaintiffs uniformly allege that defendants effectuated this conspiracy through direct company-to-company contacts and through joint activities undertaken through trade associations,” wrote Sarah Vance, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and chair of the MDL panel. “Plaintiffs in all the actions assert similar claims for price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act and various state antitrust laws, as well as unjust enrichment, on behalf of overlapping putative nationwide classes of indirect purchasers of these drugs.”
Centralization, the panel said, will eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, including with respect to class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.
Of the 10 actions, nine are pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and one is pending the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.
In May, the City of Providence filed its class action in the District of Rhode Island, naming Allergan, Lannett, Par Pharmaceutical, Impax, Mylan, West-Ward and Actavis PLC as defendants.
The Rhode Island city, as in several other lawsuits it has filed in recent years, is represented by prominent plaintiffs law firm Motley Rice LLC.
The high-powered firm, which is based in South Carolina but also has an office in Providence, has gone after asbestos makers, tobacco companies and the lead paint industry.
In recent years, Providence has been quite active in filing antitrust litigation against various pharmaceutical companies.
Since 2012, including the class action filed in May, the city has filed on its own or in conjunction with other plaintiffs more than a dozen lawsuits in U.S. federal courts.
In many of those cases, Providence alleged the drug companies are “scheming” to keep generic versions of their products off the market.
By blocking generic competition through so-called “pay-for-delay” deals, the companies have forced it and its insurers to overpay for medications, the city contends.
But as some legal experts point out, the city’s decision to pursue a class action against the generic drug makers is not only unusual, but also could prove challenging for its attorneys.
“The biggest question is, ‘How can the town show standing or harm?'” Chris Bonneau, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, recently told Legal Newsline.
“I’m just not sure how a city would be able to have a cause of action. This is something that usually directly involves consumers."
Most such lawsuits are filed by an injured consumer, Bonneau noted, with the “class” being anyone who has suffered similar alleged injury and damages.
Before Rhode Island’s most recent lawsuit was transferred into the Pennsylvania federal court, the case was set to be heard by Judge John J. McConnell Jr.
However, he recused himself and the case was reassigned to Senior Judge Mary M. Lisi.
McConnell’s brother, Robert J. McConnell, and Vincent L. Greene, both Motley Rice attorneys, are representing Providence in the lawsuit.
This marks at least the second time Jack McConnell has had to step away from a case brought by the city. In May 2013, he recused himself from Providence’s antitrust lawsuit over birth control drug Loestrin. The case was reassigned to Judge William E. Smith.
Providence, according to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation’s recent four-page order, wanted the MDL to be centralized in the Rhode Island federal court or, alternatively, in the District of Connecticut or Southern District of New York.
But the panel said the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was the most appropriate transferee district for the litigation because the majority of the actions -- nine of the 10 on the motion, as well as all of the potential tag-along actions -- are pending in the district.
Also, a majority of the defendants are either headquartered or have “significant” business operations in or near the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the panel said.
Judge Cynthia M. Rufe will oversee the MDL.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.