Comcast May Be A Class Action Game-Changer, But Not In Boston

In Comcast Corp. v Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426 (March 27, 2013), the Supreme Court held that the lower court erred in failing to consider flaws in plaintiffs' damages model merely because the damages model would be pertinent on merits issues.....thus, "running afoul of our precedents requiring precisely that inquiry".  It was up to the district court to determine whether the expert's methodology was "just and reasonable inference or speculative."  

Citing the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, the court held that the "first step in a damages study is the translation of the legal theory of the harmful event into an analysis of the economic impact of that event."  

Pre-Comcast, plaintiffs generally focused on getting over the hump of standing and/or alleging damages under various legal theories at the pleading stage, without knowing how they would ever prove up damages. No more! The ground has shifted beneath the feet of the plaintiff class action bar.  To cite the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the new judicial mantra is "No damages model, no predominance, no class certification".

Despite Comcast's holding, some federal trial courts continue to certify class actions of arguably questionable merit. An example of such a case is In re: Nexium (Esomeprazole) Antitrust Litigation which was handed down by the District of Massachusetts on November 14, 2013.

Plaintiffs alleged that they paid higher prices for Nexium because less expensive generic versions of Nexium were prevented from coming onto the market due to AstraZeneca’s settlement with three generic manufacturers. The end-payors (as the plaintiffs called themselves) sought to certify a sprawling Rule 26(b)(3) class consisting of virtually every consumer (insured and uninsured), commercial insurer, health plan and pharmacy benefit manager who had paid any portion of the purchase price for Nexium for a six year period in twenty-six states.

Although the district court referenced the Supreme Court’s rulings in Wal-Mart and Comcast, it certified a class despite plaintiffs’ adoption of a model that adopted the use of “aggregate damages calculations.” The defendants properly objected to the damages model because it failed to account for differences in injuries and losses among class members.

The use of an "average" price differential, even if capable of being proven, ignored the variations within the class and did not identify which end-purchasers would have saved money and which would have lost money if and when generic Nexium had entered the market. Even the district court acknowledged that under plaintiffs’ model certain class members who suffered no damages whatsoever would remain in the class.

Applying the reasoning of the D.C. Circuit in In re: Rail Freight Fuel Surcharge Antitrust Litig., one of the most important circuit court decisions applying Comcast, class certification would most likely have been denied because common questions of fact cannot predominate where there exists no reliable means of proving classwide injury in fact.

Plaintiffs’ expert conceded that the proposed class included tens of thousands of consumers who would continue to purchase branded Nexium after generic entry due to preference or their physician’s recommendation. Such brand loyalists would potentially have faced higher Nexium prices had generic Nexium been available.

Other consumers were not injured because their co-pays were the same for both generic and branded Nexium. Plaintiffs’ average price differential model ignored variations within the class and failed to distinguish between purchasers who would have lost money if and when generic Nexium would have entered the market and those who would not have lost money.

 In an almost identical situation involving a similar set of facts and the same plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Meredith Rosenthal, a Philadelphia district court denied class certification in Sheet Metal Workers Local 1141 Health and Welfare Plan v. GlaxoSmithKline, No. 04-5898, 2010 WL 385552, at #27 (E.D.Pa. Sep. 30, 2010), class certification was denied by the Pennsylvannia district court (pre-Comcast) which rejected an analogous damages model proposed by Dr. Rosenthal in a case of alleged generic drug suppression involving the drug Wellbutrin SR.  There, as in the Nexium case, plaintiffs’ model failed to exclude uninjured class members. Because plaintiffs were unable to meet their burden of Rule 26(b)(3) that questions of law or fact common to class members predominated over any questions affecting only individual members, the district court denied class certification.

It is difficult to understand how the Massachusetts district court determined that the Nexium end-payors’ damages model met the “rigorous analysis” standard required by Comcast and Wal-Mart, particularly as there are many  thousands of plaintiffs in the class who have not suffered injury. Plaintiffs' methodology indisputably failed to identify non-injured members of the class.  We look forward to the First Circuit's analysis of the Rule 23(b)(3) issues presented by the case, assuming that an appeal is in the offing. 
 

Resurgent Mold Litigation In Sandy's Wake

There is a significant risk that there will be a resurgence of mold claims and mold litigation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Sandy left behind thousands of homes and offices in New York and New Jersey with flood-soaked flooring and sheet rock and water-damaged carpeting and personal belongings, which are all potential sources of mold if not removed and replaced.  In addition to potential mold exposure to property owners and lessees, there is the potential occupational risk to the thousands of workers in the construction trades who are working to repair damaged homes and offices.

The most likely source of mold-related claims, however, will arise over disagreement concerning the scope of work of remediation contractors, construction companies and others involved in returning storm-ravaged communities to some semblance of normality.  The contractor who replaces ruined sheet rock walls or wooden flooring, for example, may not be thinking about the water-soaked floor joists that may be a breeding ground for mold. The contractor who rebuilds an HVAC system may not feel responsible for sources of mold that may be spreading via that system.

Although certain affected surfaces may appear to recovered after being submerged under storm water for days, those surfaces may in fact be a breeding ground for mold. As much as possible, a building contractor should clarify with the client in writing what responsibility, if any, the building contractor has for addressing mold conditions, particularly those conditions that may be adjacent to area of new construction.

On November 30, 2012, WNYC broadcast a highly informative program on the Leonard Lopate Show titled, "Mold: Please Explain", which can be downloaded from WNYC's website. The guests on the program were Monona Rossol, an expert in environmental health and industrial hygeine, and Chin Yang, a microbiologist with Prestige EnviroMicrobiology. Ms. Rossol and Mr. Chin discussed what mold is, where it comes from, how it grows, what it can do to your home and health, and how to get rid of it.  The listener Q&A following the initial presentation made clear that there are widespread misperceptions about mold and how to address it.   

Thankfully, there are many publicly available websites that provide first-rate information concerning mold hazards and how to address it.  These sources should be the first place anyone with a mold concern should look for answers.  They are also excellent sources of information for toxic tort practitioners defending mold cases, who need to identify relevant regulations and standards of practice in the industry.  These sources also provide valuable insights into how to protect human health during the restoration process.

These sources, most of which are provided on the WNYC website, include NYC's excellent site at: The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; EPA's "Mold Regulation in Schools and Commercial Buildings", EPA's "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home", "Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems" and "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality" "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality", FEMA's "Dealing With Mold and MIldew in Your Floor Damaged Home" and "Eradicating Mold and Mildew" HUD's "Healthy Homes Programs Resources" and Disaster Recovery: Mold Removal Guidelines for Your Flooded Home" and lastly, the "Guidance for Clinicians on the Recognition and Management of Health Effects related to Mold Exposure and Moisture Indoors", published by the University of Connecticut Health Center, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Center for Indoor Environments and Health.

There is no dearth of strong science-based resources concerning mold and mold rememdiation on the internet. Unfortunately, these resources are often consulted only after some ill-advised action is taken with regard to a mold concern, not before. 

 

 

 

Health Problems Due to Long Term EMF Exposure Doubtful

According to recent reports in the Greenwich Time, Greenwich, CT state legislators are proposing a bill that would prohibit building cell towers within 750 feet of a school or day care because of a perceived health risk from electromagnetic radiation. However, some Cos Cob, CT residents believe that the cell towers should not be permitted within 5,000 feet of any schools, day cares and elderly homes due to health concerns. Reportedly, the cell tower bill has been proposed by Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151st District, and supported by fellow Reps. Livvy Floren, R-149th District, Lile Gibbons, R-250th District, and Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-136th District. There is no good evidence that attending school near a cell tower, such as the one proposed, creates a health risk. During the 1980’s, some plaintiff lawyers ballyhooed electromagnetic field (“EMF”) litigation as the “new asbestos.” A series of well-funded EMF trials were litigated against various electric utility companies around the United States in the 1990’s. After the presentation of the scientific evidence, judges and juries uniformly rejected plaintiff health claims. The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) website contains a great deal of reliable scientific information concerning health effects from radiation exposure from cell towers, cell phones, microwave ovens and hair dryers. According to the CDC, the risk is extremely low. The low frequency radiation that those fields emit may have a biological effect, but do not cause adverse health effects, according to the website of the World Health Organization (“WHO”), which has devoted years of study on EMFs. So what is a biological effect? WHO’s literature explains that “biological effects” may include “listening to music, reading a book, eating an apple or playing tennis,” none of which cause health effects. WHO's conclusion is that there is no health risk to the EMF radiation to which the public is exposed. Thus, contrary to popular hysteria, there is no evidence that proximity to EMFs can “fry” a person’s brain or cause cancer. If our legislators are going to propose EMF safety precautions, they should base their proposals on strong science rather than fear. The "dose" or exposure from cell tower EMFs can be measured and quantified. Once that “exposure” is known, it is then necessary to look to the scientific literature to evaluate the likelihood of a health risk from that exposure. If EMF radiation posed a health risk to everyone living near a cell tower, it is a no-brainer that all cell towers should be dismantled--not just those near schools and day cares and homes for the elderly. The cell tower issue has always been about diminution of property value and aesthetics; it is not about our health!