Monday, April 24, 2006

W.D. Wis. Discusses Doctrine of Primary Jurisdiction

Per Peters v. Astrazeneca, LP, 417 F.Supp.2d 1051 (W.D.Wis., Mar. 3, 2006):

Next, defendants argue that the court should abstain from deciding this case in deference to the “primary jurisdiction” of the FDA. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction is concerned with promoting proper relationships between the courts and administrative agencies charged with particular regulatory duties and applies where a claim that is originally cognizable in courts “requires the resolution of issues which, under a regulatory scheme, have been placed within the special competence of an administrative body,” United States v. Western Pacific R.R. Co., 352 U.S. 59, 63-64, 77 S.Ct. 161, 1 L.Ed.2d 126 (1956). In deciding whether to apply the primary jurisdiction doctrine, a court should take into account the doctrine's two primary interests: resolving technical questions of fact through an agency's specialized expertise prior to judicial consideration of the legal claims and consistency and uniformity in the regulation of an area which Congress has entrusted to a specific agency. [citations omitted] In the past, the doctrine has been applied in matters that required the FDA's special expertise to resolve an issue in the first instance. [citations omitted] . . . .

In this case, it is unclear what issues, if any, defendants want the FDA to resolve. In their reply brief, defendants allege that the FDA considered whether to require defendants to warn against special senses damages, but decided not to require that warning when it approved Prilosec for over-the-counter sale. Defs.' Reply Br., at 2-3. Even assuming that this is true, it demonstrates only that the FDA has already had an opportunity to pass on the issue in the first instance. However, “[a]n FDA determination that a warning is not necessary may be sufficient for federal regulatory purposes but still not be sufficient for state tort law purposes.” [citation omitted]

Furthermore, plaintiff's claims are grounded in state tort law. Although the issues plaintiff raises require some technical analysis, questions such as whether Prilosec is a defective product, whether defendants breached any duties owed to the plaintiff by failing to give adequate warnings and whether the plaintiff's injuries were caused by defendants' conduct are legal questions that fall within the conventional experience of judges, not administrative agencies. Defendants fail to show how this case is any different from the thousands of other personal injury suits regularly decided by courts.

Finally, plaintiff seeks monetary damages only. A court may refuse to invoke primary jurisdiction when a plaintiff is seeking damages for injury to his property or person, as this is the type of relief courts routinely evaluate. Ryan v. Chemlawn Corp., 935 F.2d 129, 131 (7th Cir.1991) (lower court improperly invoked primary jurisdiction doctrine when plaintiff sought monetary damages only). The FDA does not have authority to grant the compensatory or punitive damages sought by plaintiff in this case.

Because I do not find that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is applicable to this case, defendants' motion to dismiss will be denied with respect to their request that the court abstain from hearing this case in deference to the FDA.


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