Two women who joined a wide-ranging MDL against Cook Medical did not allege injuries more than the jurisdictional minimum of $75,000, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in vacating the district court’s grant of summary judgment in Cook’s favor.
The plaintiffs in the two cases consolidated in a multidistrict litigation proceeding, Shirley Parton and Teresa Sykes, each alleged that they received a defective inferior vena cava filter manufactured by Cook. Parton is a Kentucky citizen and Sykes was a Texas citizen at times relevant to litigation.
Years after the procedure, both women received CT scans that showed the filters had perforated their IVC walls.
Neither experienced pain or other symptoms but still pursued product liability claims against Cook.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, adopted a direct-filing process for the MDL that didn’t require Parton or Sykes to file standard complaints. They instead filed short-form complaints that incorporated allegations from a master complaint.
The district court later granted Cook’s motion for summary judgment, and Parton and Sykes appealed.
But before getting to the merits, the 7th Circuit asked whether there was federal subject-matter jurisdiction.
The court determined there wasn’t because neither party’s alleged injuries put more than the minimum $75,000 at stake.
In reaching that conclusion, the 7th Circuit applied the “legal certainty” test articulated in St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283 (1938). A plaintiff’s allegations about the amount in controversy control, the opinion says, unless the court concludes “to a legal certainty” that the pleadings demonstrate the plaintiff can’t recover the jurisdictional minimum or that the plaintiff wasn’t entitled to that amount.
The court applies state law to decide whether more than $75,000 is in controversy, the opinion says, and the relevant question is whether recovery in that amount is permissible, not likely.
The 7th Circuit ruled Parton and Sykes, while relying on the master complaint, contradicted its jurisdictional allegations in their short-form complaints and case categorization forms. The court also ruled it was “legally impossible” for either of them to recover more than $75,000.
The master complaint “no doubt” alleges injuries that put more than $75,000 in controversy, the opinion says, but neither Parton nor Sykes suffered the injuries alleged in the master complaint. And even though a plaintiff can file directly into the MDL if the master complaint’s allegations don’t fully capture their own, it’s up to the individual plaintiff in that circumstance to add their own jurisdictional allegations in the short-form complaint.
Neither plaintiff did that here, though, even after the 7th Circuit raised the possibility of such an amendment at oral argument and in an order directing the parties to file supplemental memoranda.
“We agree that Parton and Sykes cannot amend the master complaint, which was filed by lawyers acting on behalf of all plaintiffs, but we do not see why they could not amend their short-form complaints,” the opinion says. “Court-ordered or not, the short-form complaints are individual filings that allege the basis of federal jurisdiction through incorporation from the master complaint, individualized allegations, or both.”
Parton and Sykes argued neither the district court nor any party had questioned jurisdiction in the MDL before, but the 7th District said that fact “does not relieve us of our obligation to ensure we have jurisdiction.”
Cook argued that because it’s “impossible” to predict how a jury might value the plaintiffs’ claims, the court shouldn’t determine to a legal certainty that they fail to meet the requirement.
The 7th Circuit ruled it does not estimate jury awards to determine the amount in controversy, but instead analyzes whether governing laws would allow an award for the jurisdictional minimum.
Cook also asked the 7th Circuit to reach the merits and hold the plaintiffs’ claims aren’t legally cognizable, believing that would give the district court “the tool it has lacked up to this point” to assess the amount in controversy in the MDL.
“Convenience, however,” the opinion says, “does not control our jurisdictional analysis.”
While it determined the pleadings don’t establish jurisdiction, the 7th Circuit said its analysis needed to continue because the pleadings alone didn’t establish the amount in controversy.
The court next turned to post-filing events, including evidence during discovery.
Parton and Sykes presented five categories of evidence: medical records, a medical expert’s declaration, medical journal articles, a Food and Drug administration communication and Sykes’ declaration. The declaration and medical journal articles applied to Sykes only.
The court wasn’t convinced.
In the case of the medical expert’s declaration, for example, which came from a cardiothoracic surgeon, the 7th Circuit determined that while the declaration established the plaintiffs experienced blood clots and other issues, it didn’t “allow either plaintiff to allege damages based on any particular impairment due to her IVC perforation.”
Discussing relevant state laws for each plaintiff, the 7th Circuit found a verdict for the jurisdictional minimum would be set aside as excessive for Parton’s Kentucky and Sykes’ Texas.
The case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the cases without prejudice.
Judge Amy St. Eve wrote the opinion.
This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.