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Northern District of Indiana in Hammond Issues Stay in Testosterone Replacement Therapy Case Pending Likely Transfer to Ongoing Multidistrict Litigation

In Estate of Hoholek v. AbbVie, Inc., a man apparently used testosterone replacement therapy medication prior to his death. Later, the man’s estate and his spouse filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug, its parent company, and two unnamed doctors in an Indiana court. Since the corporate defendants were based in Delaware and Illinois, the medical product manufacturers successfully removed the case to the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond based on diversity of citizenship. A federal court may normally exercise diversity jurisdiction where the defendant in a lawsuit hails from a different state than the plaintiff, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

After the case was removed to federal court, the defendants filed a motion to stay the proceedings and withdraw appearances made by certain counsel. In addition, the drug companies asked the court to provide them with more time to respond to the plaintiffs’ complaint. According to the defendants, the plaintiffs’ case was similar to that of nearly 500 other individuals involved in ongoing multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) over testosterone replacement therapy. In general, MDL is a unique legal proceeding designed to promote judicial economy by combining complex lawsuits with overlapping issues that are pending across federal districts into a single case. A few days after the case was removed to federal court, the ongoing action was conditionally transferred to the MDL.

In their motion to stay proceedings, the drug manufacturers claimed that the lawsuit should be temporarily put on hold because the plaintiffs’ case would likely be officially transferred to the MDL. The defendants stated the issues in the ongoing MDL focused on the same allegedly undisclosed risks associated with the use of testosterone replacement products. The companies argued that a stay in the current case was merited because proceeding would likely force the defendants to argue the same issues twice before two different federal courts. Additionally, the defendants asserted that granting a stay would result in little or no prejudice to the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs responded by claiming that removal to federal court was improper, since the defendant physicians were known to them, and disclosing their names would defeat diversity jurisdiction. They also filed a notice to oppose the conditional transfer to the MDL and argued that issuing a stay in the proceedings was premature. The defendants countered by stating federal courts often grant a stay in cases where a conditional transfer order is pending or federal jurisdiction is questioned. In addition, the drug manufacturers stressed that the MDL panel was expected to rule on the proposed transfer of the case at any time.

First, the Northern District of Indiana said a conditional transfer order is only effective once it has been filed with the transferee court. Until then, any decisions regarding whether or not to grant a stay rest with the court in which the motion was filed. The court then examined whether removal was proper in the case.

According to the federal court, relevant Indiana precedent states that removal in situations where an anonymous doctor is named as a defendant is proper. The court added that remand is not required as long as the medical provider remains anonymous at the time of a plaintiff’s motion. Since the physician defendants remained unnamed in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, the Northern District of Indiana said there was “no reason to presume that removal was improper.”

Despite this, the court declined to rule on the federal diversity jurisdiction question. The Indiana federal court instead held that it would stay the case, pending the decision of the MDL panel, in the interest of judicial economy.  The federal court also granted the defendants’ other motions.

If you were harmed or a loved one has died due to an unsafe medical device or product, you should discuss your rights with a hardworking products liability attorney as soon as you are able. To speak with a veteran Merrillville medical malpractice lawyer, do not hesitate to call Theodoros & Rooth, P.C. at (219) 212-2462 today or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Estate of Hoholek v. AbbVie, Inc., Dist. Court, ND Indiana 2014