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In re Diet Drugs Products Liability Litigation

December 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bartle, C.J.



On April 3, 2007, Cynthia Righetti filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota seeking damages for injuries she allegedly sustained after taking the diet drug, Pondimin. In June, 2007, the plaintiff's action was transferred to this court for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings as part of the Diet Drug Multi-District Litigation.

Now pending before this court is the motion of Wyeth, Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (collectively "Wyeth") for summary judgment on all counts of the plaintiff's complaint.


Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be "rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. After reviewing the evidence, the court makes all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. In re Flat Glass Antitrust Litig., 385 F.3d 350, 357 (3d Cir. 2004).


The following facts are either undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving plaintiff. In May, 2003, the plaintiff was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension ("PPH"), a fatal disease affecting the heart and lungs that can be caused by the ingestion of the prescription diet drug, Pondimin (otherwise known as "Fenfluramine"). The plaintiff's physician had prescribed Pondimin, which the plaintiff began taking in July, 1996. She continued her use of that drug through January, 1997. In April, 2003, the plaintiff began to experience shortness of breath, a symptom of PPH. A month later, she was diagnosed with the disease.

The plaintiff had been tested prior to May, 2003 for valvular heart damage, which can also be caused by ingestion of Wyeth's diet drugs. In response to an advertisement in her local newspaper regarding the heart problems associated with use of diet drugs, the plaintiff had an echocardiogram in or around May, 2002 to determine whether she sustained such damage. A representative of the Caruso law firm in New Mexico was on-site when the echocardiogram was performed on the plaintiff and others who were prescribed diet drugs. The plaintiff met with the representative of the law firm after the echocardiogram was completed and, at that point, retained the Caruso law firm to represent her in connection with her "Wyeth settlement claim." In September, 2002, Tod Novak of the Caruso Law Offices wrote the following to the plaintiff:

Thank you for retaining Caruso Law Offices, P.C. to represent you in your AHP/Wyeth settlement claim. We have received your signed attorney agreement and are reviewing your file to determine what, if any, information from you, we need to complete your case. You will be contacted in the near future regarding the status of your case and the future action we will be taking on your behalf.

The Caruso law firm submitted a "Blue Form," on behalf of the plaintiff, to the American Home Products ("AHP")*fn1 Settlement Trust that same month. The Blue Form is submitted by any "class member" seeking to register for settlement benefits under the Nationwide Class Action Settlement Agreement ("Settlement Agreement") with Wyeth. The "Preamble" to the Settlement Agreement advises that it resolves "settled claims" against Wyeth arising from the marketing, sale, distribution and use of the diet drugs Pondimin and Redux. "Settled claims" do not include claims based on PPH. The Blue Form submitted on behalf of the plaintiff states she was prescribed and took both Pondimin (Fenfluramine) and Redux (Dexfenfluramine) for one year.*fn2 The form additionally manifests that an echocardiogram was performed on the plaintiff on May 30, 2002. The form was signed and dated by the plaintiff the same day.

In April, 2003, the plaintiff filed her "Orange Form #2," by which she exercised her intermediate opt-out rights under the Settlement Agreement, and an "Orange Form #3," by which she exercised her back-end opt-out rights under the Agreement. By opting out, she was permitted to sue Wyeth in the tort system.

On May 1, 2003, the plaintiff went to the hospital complaining of shortness of breath. She underwent a series of tests throughout that week. At least two different physicians, Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Lambert, informed her during that time that she had PPH caused by her ingestion of diet drugs. The plaintiff testified at her deposition in December, 2007 that she first considered bringing a lawsuit against Wyeth after she was told, on May 1, 2003, that she had PPH. She further testified that she "knew" she had a case against Wyeth on that date when she "got sick."

However, that same month, the Caruso law firm informed the plaintiff that she did not have a compensable claim against Wyeth under the Settlement Agreement. Its May 20, 2003 ...

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