Western District of Kentucky Remands Pharmaceutical Injury Lawsuit Back to Jefferson County Circuit Court

by Mandy Hicks

In Putnam v. Medtronic, Inc., an Indiana woman filed a medical product injury lawsuit asserting 15 state-law causes of action in Jefferson County Circuit Court against her Kentucky doctor, the manufacturer of a medical product, and the Kentucky hospital where she underwent spinal fusion surgery. According to the woman’s complaint, the physician used the medical product to treat her in an off-label manner that was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, she accused the manufacturer of the product of intentionally and illegally promoting it for off-label use. The woman claimed she suffered harm as a result of this unapproved use and asked the Circuit Court to award her both compensatory and punitive damages.

The manufacturer of the medical product immediately removed the woman’s case to the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville based on diversity of citizenship. The manufacturer also asserted that removal was appropriate because the case involved questions of federal law. In response, the woman filed a motion to remand the lawsuit back to state court.

In considering the woman’s motion, the U.S. District Court examined the two sources of federal jurisdiction alleged in the case. Diversity jurisdiction is proper when the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and the parties hail from different states. Federal question jurisdiction exists only when a lawsuit arises from the United States Constitution, federal statutes, or a treaty the nation is a party to. The U.S. District Court continued by stating the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party that seeks removal, and the case must be remanded if jurisdiction is not proper.

Next, the U.S. District Court addressed whether diversity of citizenship existed in the woman’s lawsuit. Although there was no question that the medical product manufacturer was from a different state than the woman, the forum defendant rules requires a case to remain in state court if any party that is properly served with notice of a lawsuit is a citizen of the state in which it was filed. Although the medical product defendant sought removal before the Kentucky defendants were served with notice of the case, the court said the company’s quick filing constituted obvious gamesmanship and held the forum defendant rule still applied.

The court then addressed whether the injured woman’s claims “arise under” federal law. The court analyzed the woman’s complaint to determine whether she relied on the Medical Device Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. After finding the woman merely referenced the law, the court examined the substantial federal question doctrine to determine if her case relied on federal law. Under this doctrine, a state-law claim becomes a federal question “if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance” that was approved by U.S. lawmakers.

Since the federal issue that was disputed in the woman’s lawsuit was important to her case but was not meaningful to the federal legal system as a whole, the Western District of Kentucky held that the issue was not substantial enough to merit federal question jurisdiction. Additionally, the court held that allowing the case to proceed in federal court would disrupt the balance between federal and state courts that was prescribed by Congress. After holding the case lacked both diversity of citizenship and federal question jurisdiction, the Western District of Kentucky remanded the woman’s lawsuit back to the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

If you or someone you love suffered a serious pharmaceutical or medical product injury in Kentucky, you need a skilled attorney on your side. To schedule a free consultation with a hardworking personal injury lawyer, please call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Putnam v. Medtronic, Inc., Dist. Court, Western District of Kentucky, 2014