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Riddle v. Merck & Co.

April 21, 2006

KIMBERLY RIDDLE, SYBIL GRIFFIN, JAMES SANDERS AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BETTY SANDERS, RITA CARR, CURTIS BOBO, HUEY DANZIE, ROY SHAIN, RAY HEMKEN, AND CLEMOTINE CORNELIOUS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MERCK & CO., INC., WALGREEN CO., D/B/A WALGREENS, AMERICAN DRUG STORES, INC., D/B/A OSCO DRUGS, AND CVS PHARMACY, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This action is before the Court on the Motion to Remand brought by Plaintiffs Kimberly Riddle, Sybil Griffin, James Sanders as administrator of the estate of Betty Sanders, Rita Carr, Curtis Bobo, Huey Danzie, Roy Shain, Ray Hemken, and Clemotine Cornelious (Doc. 7). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs originally filed this action in the Circuit Court for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, St. Clair County, Illinois, asserting claims based upon strict products liability, negligence, consumer fraud, common-law fraud, and breach of warranty arising from personal injuries allegedly caused by Vioxx, a prescription pain medication manufactured by Defendant Merck & Co. ("Merck").

Merck subsequently removed the action to this Court, asserting that Defendants Walgreen Co. ("Walgreens") and American Drug Stores, Inc. ("Osco Drugs"), who are, like Plaintiffs, citizens of Illinois, have been fraudulently joined to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction.*fn1 Plaintiffs have requested remand of the action to Illinois state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

At issue here are Count III, Count VI, and Count XI of Plaintiffs' complaint, which assert, respectively, claims for sale of a defective product sounding in strict products liability, negligent failure to warn, and breach of warranty against Walgreens and Osco Drugs. More specifically, Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that a pharmacy owned and operated by Walgreens filled prescriptions for Vioxx for Plaintiffs Kimberly Riddle and Rita Carr, and that a pharmacy owned and operated by Osco Drugs filled a prescription for Vioxx for Plaintiff Sybil Griffin. Merck contends that Plaintiffs have fraudulently joined Walgreens and Osco Drugs because Plaintiffs' claims against those parties are barred by the "learned intermediary" doctrine under Illinois law. Also, Merck contends that under Illinois law a sale of prescription medication does not constitute a sale of "goods" for purposes of Article 2 of the Illinois Uniform Commercial Code ("Illinois UCC"). Finally, Merck contends that the claims in this case are procedurally misjoined so as to amount to fraudulent joinder.

DISCUSSION

A. Merck's Request for a Stay

In opposing Plaintiffs' request for remand, Merck urges the Court to stay proceedings in this action pending transfer of the action by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ("JPML") for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. See 28 U.S.C. § 1407. As Merck acknowledges, the Court retains full jurisdiction over this action until such time as a transfer order by the JPML is filed in the office of the clerk of the district court of the transferee district, in this instance the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. See Illinois Mun. Retirement Fund v. Citigroup, Inc., 391 F.3d 844, 850 (7th Cir. 2004). The decision to grant a stay rests within the Court's discretion. See Walker v. Merck & Co., No. 05-CV-360-DRH, 2005 WL 1565839, at *2 (S.D. Ill. June 22, 2005).

In Meyers v. Bayer AG, 143 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (E.D. Wis. 2001), the court noted that, while it is within the power of a district court to grant a stay of proceedings although subject matter jurisdiction is in question, a court should be "reluctant" to grant such a stay "without making any effort to verify jurisdiction." Id. at 1048. The Meyers court concluded that, when faced by a request for a stay while a challenge to jurisdiction is pending, "a court's first step should be to make a preliminary assessment of the jurisdictional issue." Id. If this "first step" suggests that removal was improper, then the court "should promptly complete its consideration and remand the case to state court." Id. at 1049. In this instance the Court's preliminary assessment of Plaintiffs' motion to remand indicates that the Court should proceed to resolve the motion.

B. Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand

1. Legal Standard

Removal based on diversity requires that the parties be of diverse state citizenship and that the amount in controversy exceed $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Id. § 1441. The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. See Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993). "Courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly and presume that the plaintiff may choose his or her forum." Id. Put another way, there is a strong presumption in favor of remand. See Jones v. General Tire & Rubber Co., 541 F.2d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 1976).

In evaluating diversity of citizenship, a court must disregard a defendant that has been fraudulently joined. See Schwartz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 174 F.3d 875, 878 (7th Cir. 1999). A defendant is fraudulently joined when "there is no possibility that a plaintiff can state a cause of action against [the] nondiverse defendant[ ] in state court, or where there has been outright fraud in plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional facts." Gottlieb v. Westin Hotel Co., 990 F.2d 323, 327 (7th Cir. 1993). A defendant seeking removal based on alleged fraudulent joinder has the "heavy" burden of proving that, after the court resolves all issues of law and fact in plaintiff's favor, there is no ...


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