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In re Diet Drugs (Phentermine/Fenfluramine/Dexfenfluramine) Products Liability Litigation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 16, 2013

IN RE: DIET DRUGS (PHENTERMINE FENFLURAMINE/DEXFENFLURAMINE) PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION.
v.
AMERICAN HOME PRODUCTS CORPORATION. THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO: SHEILA BROWN, et al. No. 2:16 MD 1203

MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF SEPARATE PRETRIAL ORDER NO. 9132

HARVEY BARTLE, III, District Judge.

John V. Davis ("Mr. Davis" or "claimant"), a class member under the Diet Drug Nationwide Class Action Settlement Agreement ("Settlement Agreement") with Wyeth, [1] seeks benefits from the AHP Settlement Trust ("Trust"). Based on the record developed in the show cause process, we must determine whether claimant has demonstrated a reasonable medical basis to support his claim for Matrix Compensation Benefits ("Matrix Benefits").[2]

To seek Matrix Benefits, a claimant must first submit a completed Green Form to the Trust. The Green Form consists of three parts. The claimant or the claimant's representative completes Part I of the Green Form. Part II is completed by the claimant's attesting physician, who must answer a series of questions concerning the claimant's medical condition that correlate to the Matrix criteria set forth in the Settlement Agreement. Finally, claimant's attorney must complete Part III if claimant is represented.

In July, 2010, claimant submitted a completed Green Form to the Trust signed by his attesting physician, Manoj R. Muttreja, M.D. Based on an echocardiogram dated April 21, 2003, [3] Dr. Muttreja attested in Part II of claimant's Green Form that Mr. Davis suffered from moderate mitral regurgitation, an abnormal left atrial dimension, and ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which results in hemodynamic compromise. Based on such findings, claimant would be entitled to Matrix A-1, Level V benefits in the amount of $1, 059, 643.[4]

In the report of claimant's April 21, 2003 echocardiogram, the reviewing cardiologist, James W. Smith, M.D., stated, "The mitral valve shows calcification of the mitral annulus with mild systolic anterior motion of the anterior leaflet." In addition, in the report of claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram, the reviewing cardiologist, David Liang, M.D., stated, "There is mild mitral annular calcification." Under the Settlement Agreement, the presence of mitral annular calcification requires the payment of reduced Matrix Benefits. See Settlement Agreement § IV.B.2.d. (2)(c)ii)d). Dr. Muttreja, however, attested in claimant's Green Form that Mr. Davis did not suffer from mitral annular calcification.

In September, 2010, the Trust forwarded the claim for review by Waleed N. Irani, M.D., F.A.C.C., one of its auditing cardiologists. In audit, Dr. Irani determined that there was no reasonable medical basis for the attesting physician's representation that claimant had moderate mitral regurgitation based on claimant's April 21, 2003 echocardiogram. Specifically, Dr. Irani explained, "Only mild [mitral regurgitation] seen on study with ratio of approximately 10-1596." Dr. Irani also concluded that there was a reasonable medical basis for the Green Form representation[5] that claimant did have mitral annular calcification based on claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram because "mild posterior [mitral annular calcification] [was] present."[6]

Based on Dr. Irani's finding that claimant's April 21, 2003 echocardiogram demonstrated only mild mitral regurgitation, the Trust issued a post-audit determination denying the claim. Pursuant to the Rules for the Audit of Matrix Compensation Claims ("Audit Rules"), claimant contested this adverse determination.[7] In contest, Mr. Davis argued that the auditing cardiologist should have determined whether claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram demonstrated an abnormal left atrial dimension. According to claimant, he may rely on his June 14, 2002 echocardiogram to satisfy the Matrix Level II prerequisite to his claim for Matrix Level V benefits based on ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which results in hemodynamic compromise, irrespective of the results of the audit of his April 21, 2003 echocardiogram. Claimant also contended that the auditing cardiologist's finding of mitral annular calcification was not supported by the evidence.

Although not required to dO so, the Trust forwarded the claim to the auditing cardiologist for a second review. Dr. Irani submitted a declaration in which he concluded that there was no reasonable medical basis for finding that Mr. Davis did not have mitral annular calcification. In particular, Dr. Irani explained:

11. At Contest, I was also asked to determine whether mitral annular calcification is present on the April 21, 2003 echocardiogram of attestation, the June 14, 2002 eligibility echocardiogram, and echocardiogram studies dated November 30, 2001, May 28, 2002, and September 20, 2002.
12. Upon review of the April 21, 2003 echocardiogram study at Contest, I observed posterior mitral annular calcification that is mild, but present, in the PLAX images. There is no reasonable medical basis to conclude that mitral annular calcification is not present on this study.
13. Mitral annular calcification is also present on the June 14, 2002 echocardiogram study, as I noted at audit. There is no reasonable medical basis to conclude that mitral annular calcification is not present on this study.
Dr. Irani also reviewed claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram and determined that, in addition to moderate mitral regurgitation, "it would not be unreasonable to conclude that left atrial enlargement is present on that study."

The Trust then issued a final post-audit determination, again denying the claim. Claimant disputed this final determination and requested that the claim proceed to the show cause process established in the Settlement Agreement. See Settlement Agreement VI.E.7.; PTO No. 2807, Audit Rule 18(c). The Trust then applied to the court for issuance of an Order to show cause why his claim should be paid. On April 13, 2011, we issued an Order to show cause and referred the matter to the Special Master for further proceedings. See PTO No. 8634 (Apr. 13, 2011).

Once the matter was referred to the Special Master, the Trust submitted its statement of the case and supporting documentation. Claimant then served a response upon the Special Master. The Trust submitted a reply on July 14, 2011, and claimant submitted a sur-reply on August 2, 2011. Under the Audit Rules, it is within the Special Master's discretion to appoint a Technical Advisor[8] to review claims after the Trust and claimant have had the opportunity to develop the Show Cause Record. See Audit Rule 30. The Special Master assigned a Technical Advisor, Sandra V. Abramson, M.D., F.A.C.C., to review the documents submitted by the Trust and claimant and to prepare a report for the court. The Show Cause Record and Technical Advisor Report are now before the court for final determination. See id. Rule 35.

The issue presented for resolution of this claim is whether claimant has met his burden of proving that there is a reasonable medical basis for his claim. See id. Rule 24. Ultimately, if we determine that there is no reasonable medical basis for the claim, we must affirm the Trust's final determination and may grant such other relief as deemed appropriate. See id. Rule 38(a). If, on the other hand, we determine that there is a reasonable medical basis for the claim, we must enter an Order directing the Trust to pay the claim in accordance with the Settlement Agreement. See id. Rule 38(b).

In support of his claim, Mr. Davis argues that he is entitled to Level V Matrix Benefits because the Trust concedes both that his June 14, 2002 echocardiogram qualified him for Level II benefits and that he suffered from ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which resulted in hemodynamic compromise on December 9, 2004. According to Mr. Davis, whether his April 21, 2003 echocardiogram qualifies him for Level II benefits is irrelevant because the plain language of the Settlement Agreement only requires that he qualify for benefits at Matrix Level II at the time he suffers ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which results in hemodynamic compromise. Claimant contends this interpretation is consistent with our decisions in PTO Nos. 3193 and 8595 and Section VI.C.1.d. of the Settlement Agreement, which provides:

A claimant who qualifies for a particular Matrix payment, by virtue of a properly interpreted Echocardiogram showing the required levels of regurgitation and/or complicating factors, after exposure to fenfluramine and/or dexfenfluramine, shall not be disqualified from receiving that Matrix payment in the event that a subsequent Echocardiogram shows that the required levels of regurgitation and/or complicating factors are no longer present.

Claimant also asserts that the only relevant echocardiogram for determining whether claimant has mitral annular calcification is his June 14, 2002 echocardiogram and that there is a reasonable medical basis for Dr. Muttreja's representation that Mr. Davis did not have mitral annular calcification based on that echocardiogram.

In response, the Trust argues that Mr. Davis cannot meet the requirements for Matrix Level V benefits because he did not concurrently qualify for Matrix Level II benefits and suffer ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which resulted in hemodynamic compromise. The Trust maintains that his April 21, 2003 echocardiogram, the echocardiogram performed immediately preceding his episode of ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which resulted in hemodynamic compromise, does not demonstrate Matrix Level II qualifying conditions. The Trust further asserts that Section VI.C.l.d. does not change this result because that section pertains only to whether a claimant qualifies for certain Matrix Benefits, not the presence or absence of the medical conditions giving rise to the particular claim. Finally, the Trust argues that Mr. Davis did not establish a reasonable medical basis for Dr. Muttreja's representation that claimant did not have mitral annular calcification.

The Technical Advisor, Dr. Abramson, reviewed claimant's echocardiograms and concluded that there was no reasonable medical basis for Dr. Muttreja's representation that Mr. Davis did not have mitral annular calcification. Specifically, Dr. Abramson noted that each of claimant's echocardiograms, dated November 30, 2001, May 28, 2002, June 14, 2002, September 20, 2002, and April 21, 2003, demonstrated mild mitral annular calcification.

Mr. Davis submitted a response to the Technical Advisor Report but did not address Dr. Abramson's findings with respect to mitral annular calcification.[9]

After reviewing the entire Show Cause Record, we find that claimant is entitled to Matrix B-1, Level V benefits. Under the Settlement Agreement, a claimant is entitled to Level V Matrix Benefits if the following definition is met:

(d) The individual otherwise qualifies for payment at Matrix Level II, III, or IV and suffers from ventricular fibrillation or sustained ventricular tachycardia which results in hemodynamic compromise.

Settlement Agreement § IV.B.2.c. (5)(d).

In the present case, the Trust does not contest that Mr. Davis qualified for Level II Matrix Benefits based on his June 14, 2002 echocardiogram or that Mr. Davis suffered from ventricular fibrillation or sustained tachycardia which resulted in hemodynamic compromise on December 9, 2004. The Trust, however, argues that Mr. Davis cannot meet the requirements for Matrix Level V benefits as set forth in PTO No. 3193 because his April 21, 2003 echocardiogram does not demonstrate that he qualifies for payment at Matrix Level II, III, or IV.

In PTO No. 3193, we rejected a claim for Matrix Level V benefits because claimant's episode of "ventricular fibrillation occurred and ended before the existence of factors qualifying her for Matrix Level II payments." Mem. in Supp. of. PTO No. 3193, at 4 (Jan. 7, 2004). In PTO No. 8595, we found that claimant demonstrated it was entitled to Level V benefits where the Diet Drug Recipient qualified for Level II Matrix Benefits based on an echocardiogram performed in March, 2002 but did not suffer an episode of ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia which resulted in sustained hemodynamic compromise until August, 2003. Mem. in Supp. of PTO No. 8595, at 2-3, 12-15 (Feb. 3, 2011).

As did the Diet Drug Recipient in PTO No. 8595, Mr. Davis qualified for Matrix Level II benefits based on an echocardiogram performed prior to his episode of ventricular fibrillation. Specifically, Mr. Davis qualifies for Level II benefits based on his June 14, 2002 echocardiogram and he subsequently suffered an episode of ventricular fibrillation on December 9, 2004. The fact that claimant's April 21, 2003 echocardiogram does not qualify him for Level II benefits is thus irrelevant. Accordingly, he has satisfied the criteria for Level V benefits.

We must, however, still determine whether claimant should be paid on Matrix A-1 or Matrix B-1. As noted previously, the Settlement Agreement provides that the presence of mitral annular calcification requires the payment of reduced Matrix Benefits. See Settlement Agreement § IV.B.2.d. (2)(c)(ii)d). The auditing cardiologist reviewed claimant's medical records, including his echocardiograms, and concluded that there was a reasonable medical basis for representing that claimant had mitral annular calcification. Although claimant responded that Dr. Irani did not consider claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram, Dr. Irani submitted a supplemental declaration wherein he confirmed that claimant's June 14, 2002 echocardiogram in fact demonstrated mitral annular calcification.[10] In addition, Dr. Abramson reviewed claimant's medical records, including claimant's numerous echocardiograms, and concluded that each one demonstrated mitral annular calcification. Despite submitting a response to the Technical Advisor Report, claimant did not dispute Dr. Abramson's finding in this regard. Thus, claimant has not established a reasonable medical basis for Dr. Muttreja's representation that claimant did not have mitral annular calcification.

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that claimant has met his burden of proving that he is entitled to Level V benefits but has not met his burden of proving that he is entitled to Matrix A-1 benefits. Therefore, we will affirm the Trust's denial of the claim of Mr. Davis for Matrix A-1, Level V benefits but will reverse the Trust's denial of the claim of Mr. Davis for Matrix B-1, Level V benefits.


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