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Stay Granted for Lawsuit Headed to Zoloft Multidistrict Litigation

A recent lawsuit slated for Zoloft multidistrict litigation has now been granted a stay by the presiding judge. The case, which was originally filed in district court in the Northern District of California, would typically be transferred to federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the Zoloft MDL has been assigned. However, a question of whether McKesson Corp., which was listed as a defendant on this complaint, was properly joined has left this case in limbo in California district court.

The stay was granted in accordance with a request by the defendant Pfizer on April 5, 2013, by Judge Yvonne G. Rogers. Judge Rogers determined that a question of whether McKesson Corp. was properly joined led to the stay of this particular complaint. Judge Rogers also noted in her decision that other Zoloft lawsuits in the federal MDL involved questions of jurisdiction, which would address the issues in this particular case specifically. Specific issues involve whether distributors of medications, like McKesson Corp., could be held liable for failure to warn claims under California law.

Other cases that have originated in the northern California district court support the decision to stay a case where the same jurisdictional issues exist, Judge Rogers noted in her decision. Three other cases that list McKesson as a defendant have also been stayed to ensure consistent rulings within Zoloft multidistrict litigation. Since consistent rulings are a prime benefit of centralized litigation, this federal judge has determined that a stay in this particular case will prevent the risk of inconsistent outcomes regarding claims of fraudulent joiner.

Zoloft and birth defects

Zoloft is an antidepressant medication manufactured by Pfizer. It falls into the category of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Since it was approved by the FDA in 1991, it has gradually risen in popularity to become the most prescribed SSRI by 2007. Medications that fall into this category work by preventing reabsorption of serotonin, which can lead to feelings of depression. However, these drugs are also linked to serious side effects, including birth defects in infants born to mothers that take Zoloft while pregnant.

The link between Zoloft and birth defects has been documented since 2006, since manufacturer Pfizer issued the first warning involving Zoloft use and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, also known as PPHN. Since that time, the antidepressant has been linked to other birth defects, including heart abnormalities, limb deformities and gastrointestinal defects. Some who have had infants diagnosed with these birth defects have chosen to file a lawsuit against Pfizer, claiming the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warning in regards to potential risks for pregnant women.

Establishing Zoloft multidistrict litigation

As reports – and lawsuits – involving Zoloft-related birth defects continued to grow, Zoloft multidistrict litigation was established. Multidistrict litigation streamlines pre-trial portions of the legal process, to prevent duplicate discovery and conflicting ruling from different courts. At the time the federal MDL was assigned in April, 2012, more than 90 Zoloft lawsuits had already been filed in federal courts across the country.

In this particular complaint, the stay was requested by the defendant, Pfizer, which argued that the stay could prevent potentially conflicting ruling on the issue of whether McKesson was fraudulently joined to other defendants in the case. Pfizer argued that other cases already assigned to the federal MDL present similar questions. Judge Rogers agreed with Pfizer, stating in her decision that other cases already in the MDL “weigh strongly in favor” of staying the proceedings in this case.