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Baycol Class Action Lawsuit Allowed to Proceed

Jun 17, 2011

Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that was nearly unanimous, two West Virginians will be able to go forward with a Baycol class action lawsuit that seeks economic damages.  The decision overturns previous federal court rulings that prohibited a West Virginia state court from certifying the Baycol lawsuit as a class action.

The West Virginia Baycol lawsuit was brought in September 2001, a month after Bayer pulled the cholesterol-lowering drug off the market because of its association with rhabdomyolysis, a sometimes-fatal muscle disorder.  By the time the Baycol recall was issued, 31 deaths had been attributed to the drug.   The company says it has paid $1.17 billion to resolve claims from users who allegedly suffered serious Baycol side effects.

The plaintiffs in the West Virginia lawsuit, Keith Smith and Shirley Sperlazza, did not sustain a Baycol injury, but claimed Bayer had violated a state consumer protection law by selling them a hazardous product.  In 2008, the Minnesota federal judge overseeing the Baycol multidistrict litigation ruled hat the lawsuit could not move forward as a class action in West Virginia state court.  The judge held that the issue had already been decided when he ruled that a different group of West Virginia plaintiffs didn't meet the standards for allowing the case to proceed as a class action.

That decision was ultimately upheld by the Eighth Circuit in January 2010, which found the Anti-Injunction Act's relitigation exception allowed the injunction because the plaintiffs had sought class action certification on the same legal basis as the earlier West Virginia lawsuit.

But in a near-unanimous opinion (Justice Clarence Thomas did not join his colleagues in a portion of the opinion) authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal courts had overstepped their authority.

"This case does not even strike us as close," Kagan wrote. "The issues in the federal and state lawsuits differed because the relevant legal standards differed. And the mere proposal of a class in the federal action could not bind persons who were not parties there."

A lawyer for the West Virginia plaintiffs hailed the high court's ruling as "a great step toward protecting consumers."

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