Second Circuit Affirms Exclusion of Plaintiffs’ Experts – and Summary Judgment for Defendant – in Mirena MDL

by Reed Smith
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As we write this, our fair city remains in a blissful haze following our Eagles’ 33-10 rout of the 49’ers to go 7-1 in the NFC East, so it might be appropriate to call today’s opinion a “touchdown.” On the other hand, the World Series approaches Game 6, following a game in which twenty-five runs were scored.  So maybe the opinion is a “home run.”  In any event, the Second Circuit’s (regrettably) unpublished affirmance in In re Mirena IUD Prods. Liab. Litig., Mirena MDL, Plaintiffs v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 20875 (2d. Cir. Oct. 24, 2017) is very, very good.

More than a year ago , we reported that the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the defendant’s motion to exclude the plaintiffs’ general causation expert in the Mirena MDL.  In the absence of expert causation testimony, the court granted summary judgment for the defendant on all pending cases, holding that the plaintiffs could not satisfy their burden of proof without expert causation testimony.  The plaintiffs appealed to the Second Circuit.

Mirena is an implanted intrauterine birth control device. (As we have commented before, plaintiff lawyers persist in choosing contraceptive devices as their targets, despite the general absence of any basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.)  The Mirena MDL plaintiffs alleged that they were injured when their Mirena devices perforated their uteruses.  As the Court explained, “At bottom, the [Mirena] MDL is about when Mirena perforated Plaintiffs’ uteruses.  Both parties agree – and [the defendant] has warned – that Mirena can injure a woman’s uterus during insertion and afterward migrate outside the uterus (what is called “primary perforation”). Mirena, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 20875 at *2 (emphasis in original).  But the plaintiffs alleged that their Mirena devices perforated and migrated outside their uteruses at some later time (so-called “secondary perforation”).  The defendant did not warn of “secondary perforation,” so, the Court stated, it was “exposed to liability if secondary perforation in fact occurred.” Id.

The plaintiffs offered three general causation experts to testify that secondary perforation was possible. The District Court excluded all three pursuant to Daubert, holding that their testimony was “not reliable and, thus, not helpful to the trier of fact.”

Affirmance of Exclusion of Plaintiffs’ General Causation Experts

On review of the District Court’s Daubert decision, the Second Circuit focused on three “particularly noteworthy” problems with the opinions of the plaintiffs’ experts. Id. at *5.  First, the experts’ theories were not accepted in the relevant scientific community. “Not only [did] the experts fail to identify any authorities that directly support the existence of secondary perforation, but what scientific authority there is casts doubt on the phenomenon’s existence.” Id. Second, all of the experts developed their “secondary perforation” theories solely for purposes of the litigation and lacked in the supposed phenomenon before the litigation began.  One had no specialized expertise in Mirena or uterine perforation before being hired, one had no experience with IUDs, and the third “had not even heard of secondary perforation before consulting in the litigation.” Id. at *8.  Third, “finding no direct support in the literature for secondary perforation and having conducted no prior research on the subject, the experts all assumed the existence of the very phenomenon in dispute and then hypothesized how it could occur.” Id.

In response to the third point, the plaintiffs argued that their experts were no different than experts in Kumho Tire v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), who were asked to determine the mechanism that caused the blowout of a tire.  The Court gave this argument the back of its figurative hand, emphasizing, “. . . [I]n Kumho, there was no dispute about whether the tire had blown, only how it happened. . . . Here, by contrast, the parties dispute whether the secondary perforation has ever occurred.  The experts thus begged the very question they were trying to answer.”   Id. (citations omitted).

And so the Court affirmed the exclusion of all three general causation experts.   Next, the Court considered whether the plaintiffs could escape summary judgment despite the lack of expert causation testimony.

Affirmance of Summary Judgment for Defendants

Arguing that their cases could survive the exclusion of their experts, the plaintiffs “identif[ied] dicta from several cases suggesting that party admissions can sometimes substitute for expert testimony on general causation.” Id. at *9-10.  The plaintiffs proffered four categories of such supposed admissions:

  • Three short excerpts of emails authored by the defendant’s employees that purportedly “admitted” that secondary perforation could occur. But the excerpts were from emails in which the employees “reported, without necessarily endorsing, adverse event reports,” which, as a category, are “anecdotal, and thus of very limited probative value.” Id.
  • One sentence from a PowerPoint presentation suggesting that spontaneous perforation could occur unrelated to insertion. The Court agreed with the District Court that, with no knowledge of the context in which the slide was presented or what was said at the meeting, and no details of any causes of the supposed secondary perforation, the excerpt could not substitute for expert testimony.
  • Testimony from the defendant’s Global Medical Expert that “a perforation unrelated to insertion, rare as it may be . . . could happen.” The Court held that “acknowledgment of the possibility of causation does not establish that causation is more likely than not, as the District Court correctly found.” Id. at *11.
  • In 2014, the defendant changed the Mirena label to warn that perforation “may occur most often during insertion, although the perforation may not be detected until sometime later.” The plaintiff’s argued that this was an admission that secondary perforation could occur, but the Court observed that “the grammatical structure [of the warning was] cryptic at best,” at most “suggest[ing] the hypothetical possibility of secondary perforation,” and could not substitute for expert testimony. Id. at *11-12.

And so, the Court held, “We need not reach the question of whether party admissions could ever substitute for expert testimony.   Assuming arguendo that they could, the putative admissions proffered by Plaintiffs are simply not enough to establish general causation.” Id. at *10.  Summary judgment for the defendant affirmed.

Daubert embodies real standards. And the Rules of Evidence are more than suggestions.  In this case, in the hands of a decisive District Court, both contributed to a decision that was unassailable on appeal.  We will keep you posted on similar – and hopefully published – decisions.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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