Class Action Litigation

DENTSPLY International Inc. Prevails in UCL Class Action Trial in San Francisco Superior Court

Dentsply International Inc. was the victor in a three-week UCL class action trial in San Francisco Superior Court.  Plaintiffs challenged the FDA-cleared prescription medical device labeling of an ultrasonic scaler, which dentists and hygienists use to clean teeth, as “deceptive” and “misleading” for not including more explicit statements on the microbiological quality of dental water.  Plaintiffs claimed that the content of the device’s instruction manual violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and breached an express warranty to purchasing dentists of fitness for “surgical” use. 

Represented by Linda S. Woolf, Richard M. Barnes, and Derek M. Stikeleather of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, Dentsply put on extensive evidence that professionally trained and licensed dentists have long understood the microbiologic quality of dental water and how to properly maintain all dental water lines, including those in ultrasonic scalers.  Even plaintiffs’ dental expert conceded these critical points on cross-examination.  Dentsply further showed that the instruction manuals that accompany devices that professional dentists were trained to use in dental school are virtually irrelevant to their purchase decisions and clinical practice.  Notably, there was also no evidence that any ultrasonic scaler output water has ever injured anyone, despite decades of widespread use. 

In its written opinion, following post-trial briefing, the trial court rejected plaintiffs’ allegations.  It explicitly found that the purportedly deceived dentists “already know the facts which plaintiffs say ought to have been disclosed.”  It further found that the “evidence does not show anyone was misled, or that the class was likely to be misled.”

The win is notable because California has a notoriously low threshold for certifying class actions, which typically expose defendants to extraordinary liability.  Certification creates enormous pressure on defendants to settle cases even where, as here, the claims ultimately lack merit.  This dynamic has made class action litigation more attractive to plaintiffs, especially in jurisdictions like California, and has created significant exposure for once-unimaginable claims of “unfair” conduct.


Goodell DeVries Defeats Class Certification in New Jersey Federal Court: Plaintiffs Sought Nationwide Class of All Purchasers of Pet Care Product

Goodell DeVries attorneys Linda S. Woolf, K. Nichole Nesbitt, and Derek M. Stikeleather secured a major class action victory for Pfizer Inc in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.  Mahtani v. Wyeth, No. 08-cv-6255-KSH (D.N.J. June 30, 2011).  The court denied certification of a proposed nationwide class of purchasers of a flea and tick product for dogs.  Plaintiffs sought refunds for every purchase of millions of product doses by alleging consumer fraud, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment.  In the alternative, they sought class certification for all New Jersey and Maryland purchasers.

Plaintiffs’ suit alleged that the spot-on liquid pesticide for dogs was ineffective and unsafe because it contained a pesticide known to have side effects in other applications and was not adequately tested.  Through fact and expert discovery, Goodell DeVries established that the product was thoroughly tested before going to market and was comparable to leading competitor products in efficacy and safety.  The Court agreed that the product “proved highly effective in studies and was the subject of only a small number of adverse event reports.”  It also recognized that the vast majority of dogs treated with it suffered no adverse effects.

Because the adverse effects associated with the product were so uncommon, the court categorically rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the case could be resolved through class treatment under Federal Rule 23, even on an individual state level.  It explained that each purchaser’s claim required intensive individual inquiry to possibly find liability, and thus, individual questions predominated over common ones.  Since the vast majority of purchasers got a product that worked perfectly well with no adverse effects, the court found no basis to subject defendants to a certified class action.

Goodell DeVries Attorneys Defend Pacemaker Lead Manufacturer in Class Action

From 1994 to 2001 Goodell DeVries acted as national trial counsel for the Colorado based manufacturer of pacemaker leads in thousands of individual cases filed nationwide. The National Team including Charles P. Goodell, Jr., Richard M. Barnes, and several other Goodell DeVries attorneys coordinated national discovery, participated in a summary jury trial following class certification and Multidistrict Litigation status and sucessfully negotiated a favorable class action settlement in the United States District Court for the District of Ohio. Goodell DeVries also sucessfully opposed efforts to have a second class action certified as to a different, but related model lead, and sucessfully opposed an international class action. A number of opinions have been reported in connection with this litigation, including In re Telectronics Pacing Systems, Accufix Atrial J Lead Litigation, 168 F.R.D. 203 (S.D. Ohio 1996) (on motion for reconsideration, earned decertification of an international and nationwide product liability class action involving allegedly defective pacemaker leads). 


Goodell DeVries Defeats Class Certification Request Brought by Retirees under ERISA

In Miller v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Maryland and Burdette v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Maryland, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland denied two separate motions to certify class actions brought by retirees under ERISA. The Goodell DeVries attorneys then obtained summary judgment on the grounds that the employer did not breach any fiduciary duty or other obligations under ERISA.


Goodell DeVries Defeats Class Certification Request Brought by Users of Dilantin

In James E. Tyler et al. v. Warner-Lambert Company, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland denied plaintiff’s petition for certification of a national class of persons who consumed or were allegedly injured by the pharmaceutical product Dilantin. Goodell DeVries obtained an order on behalf of Warner-Lambert Company, the pharmaceutical product manufacturer, denying the class certification.