U.S. Supreme Court Gives Go-Ahead to West Virginia Baycol Class Action Lawsuit

Two West Virginia plaintiffs will be able to move forward with a <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/baycol">Baycol class action lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. In a near-unanimous opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said lower federal courts had overstepped their authority in blocking a state court from granting the Baycol lawsuit class action status.

Bayer AG pulled the cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol from the market in 2001 after it was linked to a potentially fatal type of muscle toxicity called <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/rhabdomyolysis">rhabdomyolysis. At the time of the Baycol recall, 31 deaths had been attributed to the drug.

Keith Smith and Shirley Sperlazza had filed their Baycol lawsuit in September 2001 seeking economic losses, alleging in part that Bayer violated a state consumer protection law by selling them a hazardous product. According to a Reuters report, Bayer had argued Smith and Sperlazza had waited too long – 7 years – to seek class action status for their lawsuit, and that the issue had already been resolved when the judge overseeing the Baycol multidistrict litigation in Minnesota federal court denied another West Virginia lawsuit class action status. But Smith and Sperlazza asserted that they did not know of the other lawsuit and had the right to proceed in state court.

The judge in the Baycol multidistrict ligation agreed with Bayer. His 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.

In her opinion, Kagan wrote that the federal judge had exceeded his authority under the Anti-Injunction Act. According to Reuters, she asserted that the issue presented in state court was not identical to the one decided by the federal court. Furthermore, Kagan said the state court plaintiffs did not have the required connection to the federal suit to be bound by the federal court judgment.

“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.”

Justice Clarence Thomas joined in all but the majority’s second conclusion.

According to Dow Jones Newswire, Bayer says it has paid $1.17 billion to resolve claims from users who allegedly suffered serious side effects because of Baycol.

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