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October 2014: Product Liability Victory

October 2014

On August 29, 2014, the firm obtained an order dismissing with prejudice a class action challenging the efficacy of Pfizer’s highly successful antidepressant, Zoloft. Plaintiff Laura Plumlee brought suit under California’s consumer protection statutes, the Unfair Competition Law, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the False Advertising Law, seeking restitution on behalf of every Californian who had purchased or paid for Zoloft since it was first approved by the FDA in 1991. The essence of her claim was that Zoloft was no more effective than a placebo and that Pfizer had failed to disclose certain negative clinical trial data that bore on the efficacy of the product and, had it been disclosed, would have revealed that Zoloft only worked due to the “placebo effect.” On behalf of Pfizer, Quinn Emanuel responded with judicially noticeable documents showing not only that the FDA had considered the same trial data plaintiff alleged had not been disclosed when it approved the medication, but also showed that the results of those same negative studies were actually made clear on the product label in multiple places.

The issue that led to the dismissal was statute of limitations. The plaintiff alleged she had used Zoloft from 2005-2008, but did not file her lawsuit until 2013, over 5 years later. The longest statute of limitations available under the consumer statutes is 4 years. On the first pleading motion, Judge Koh of the Northern District of California dismissed plaintiff’s claims as untimely, but gave her leave to amend, directing her to show what steps she had taken towards diligence, if she wanted to take advantage of the delayed discovery rule. Plaintiff amended, but instead of showing diligence, claimed that there was no information in the public domain accessible to a layperson, so that even if she had been diligent, she could not have discovered that she had a claim. When it filed its opposition, Pfizer showed her allegation of no available information was untrue. Pfizer submitted a Request for Judicial Notice, attaching a voluminous submission of articles, books, and websites discussing antidepressants, including Zoloft specifically, and the placebo effect, as well as other issues plaintiff raised in her complaint. This time the Court dismissed her claims with prejudice.