Federal Court Transfers Lawsuit Against Pharmaceutical Company from Washington DC to Ohio

A woman must pursue her lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company in the Southern District of Ohio rather than the District of Columbia, according to a ruling in Sheffer v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. The plaintiff and her husband brought suit alleging claims including strict liability and failure to warn of potentially harmful side effects for cancer patients using the drug Aredia. The court granted the defendant’s motion to transfer venue to Ohio, finding that certain public and private interests superseded the plaintiffs’ choice of venue.

Shirley Sheffer, a resident of Yorkshire, Ohio, sought treatment for breast cancer. As part of her chemotherapy, she received infusions of Aredia, a drug manufactured and marketed by Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation to treat metastasizing cancers affecting bone. Aredia is part of a family of drugs known as bisphosphonates. It reportedly works by decreasing the amount of calcium that the bones release into the bloodstream, thereby slowing the bone breakdown process and enhancing bone density. This is called “antiresorptive therapy.” According to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), antiresorptive therapy using bisphosphonates is associated with a frequently painful condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), in which part of the jawbone weakens and eventually dies. The ACR notes that the specific cause of ONJ in cancer patients receiving antiresorptive therapy remains unknown.

Sheffer developed ONJ, and she alleges that the Aredia treatment was the proximate cause. She and her husband filed suit against Novartis, alleging multiple causes of action, including an allegation that Aredia was a dangerous product that rendered Novartis strictly liable for the damage it caused. Although they reside in the Southern District of Ohio, and all of the events giving rise to their claims took place there, the plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Novartis is a multinational company headquartered in New Jersey, which markets Aredia nationwide.

The federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation had already consolidated hundreds of similar lawsuits in the Middle District of Tennessee, in order to provide an efficient forum for common questions of fact. The Judicial Panel transferred the lawsuit there in August 2008, and later remanded it back to the Washington DC court. Novartis then moved to transfer venue to Ohio.

The statute allowing changes of venue states that a court should consider both private and public interests that may override a plaintiff’s preferred venue. As to private interests, the court reviewed both the plaintiffs’ and the defendant’s preferences, the venue where the claim arose, the convenience of the parties and potential witnesses, and the venue where evidence would be most easily accessible. Although the court noted that the plaintiffs’ choice of venue is a “paramount consideration,” it was swayed by the fact that the events giving rise to the lawsuit all took place in Ohio. The court found that all factors of convenience pointed to Ohio.

The court considered the public interests of preserving the transferees’ (the plaintiffs) familiarity with laws and procedures, any potential delay in moving the case through a new court, and the Ohio courts’ interest in litigating the case locally. The court once again found that Ohio best served all of these interests.

The Maryland and Washington DC attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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