Plaintiffs in 316 cases involving Zoloft multidistrict litigation have appealed a Pennsylvania federal judge’s decision that had ended their litigation.
Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Their appeal states they disagree with “each and every part” of U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe’s decision that dismissed their cases before the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 5.
Rufe had opined that although it has not been proven that Zoloft does not cause birth defects, plaintiffs attempts in court have failed to prove that it does.
The MDL once numbered 600 cases before nearly half of the cases had been dismissed last summer. Dr. Nicholas Jewell, a professor of biostatistics at the University of California, Berkeley, was the expert for the remaining, cardiac-related cases. Rufe blocked his testimony as the plaintiff’s general causation expert. This had come after she had previously barred testimony from the plaintiffs’ noncardiac birth-injury expert, Dr. Anick Bérard.
“Dismissal without prejudice under the circumstances of this MDL and in the face of this essential defect of proof would work against the fair administration of justice,” Rufe wrote in her opinion. “The court recognizes that the final scientific verdict as to whether Zoloft can cause birth defects may not be delivered for many years. Nevertheless, plaintiffs chose when to file their cases, and the court concludes that for the plaintiffs who have continued to pursue their claims, the litigation gates must be closed.”
“At the end of the day, plaintiffs have failed to raise a jury question on the necessary predicate to success in any case: that Zoloft was capable of causing their injuries,” she stated.
Rufe wanted Jewell to have explained why he believes that the positive associations between mothers’ use of Zoloft and cardiac birth defects, reported in some studies, are accurate and not the result of statistical flaws or biases. Furthermore, she wanted the expert to reconcile those studies that claimed there was no increased risk of cardiac birth defects with his opinion.
Rufe’s previous opinion regarding Jewell’s testimony was that he “has deviated from or downplayed certain well-established principles of his field, and has inconsistently applied methods and standards to the data so as to support his prior opinion. It is improper for an expert to take a results-driven approach to a question, molding his methodology and selectively relying upon data so as to confirm his preconceived opinion.”