By Nicholas Kaster, J.D.
A products liability action brought by a patient against pharmaceutical companies arising from the side effects of taking Mirapex®, a drug used for treating Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, was time-barred by the applicable California statute of limitations, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled, affirming the district court. The appellate panel rejected the patient’s contentions that the district court erred in not tolling the statute of limitations based on his insanity and that each ingestion of the drug gave rise to a separate and distinct claim (In re: Mirapex Products Liability Litigation (Mancini v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), January 10, 2019, Loken, M.).
The patient was a resident of California and a successful educator and travel industry speaker and consultant. In June 2004, doctors noted symptoms consistent with mild idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. In January 2006, the patient’s treating neurologist prescribed Mirapex, an FDA-approved drug for treating adults with Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders.
On January 3, 2008, the patient told the neurologist that he had experienced increased gambling and other compulsive behaviors after taking Mirapex. The physician informed him of a possible association between Mirapex and compulsive behaviors such as gambling. On April 23, 2008, the patient again reported gambling and other compulsive behaviors. He continued to take Mirapex until mid-July 2010, when his family learned of substantial debts resulting from gambling. Three days after he stopped taking Mirapex, his physician noted worsening tremors but advised him to stay off the medication.
On December 30, 2010, the patient filed a products liability suit against the pharmaceutical companies, alleging that they were liable for the substantial financial losses that resulted from the gambling and other compulsive behaviors. The action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota as part of the multi-district Mirapex Products Liability Litigation.
There was no dispute that California law governed the statute of limitations issue and that California’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims resulting from the ingestion of pharmaceutical drugs applied. The patient’s claims initially accrued no later than April 23, 2008, because he suspected or should have suspected that he had been wronged as the result of his doctor visits in January and April 2008. Thus, the claims filed in December 2010 appeared to be time-barred. However, the patient argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because: (1) the statute of limitations was tolled until July 2010; and (2) "continuing violations" are not time-barred.
The tolling issue. Under California law, if the patient was "insane" when his claim accrued in early 2008, the two-year statute of limitations would be tolled, presumably until he stopped taking Mirapex in July 2010. However, the appeals court noted that when his cause of action accrued in early 2008, the patient was a full-time college professor, was serving as the chair of his department, and owned and operated two rental properties. He had never been diagnosed with or treated for mental illness or psychological disorder. When he reported his gambling and other compulsive behaviors to the doctor in January and April 2008, he was advised that this behavior might be a side effect of taking Mirapex. The doctor suggested that the patient consider "cutting back," a suggestion he "resisted" for more than two years. At no point did the doctor question the patient’s competence to care for himself or manage his affairs, nor was there evidence that anyone questioned his legal competence.
The patient submitted the doctor’s visit notes from July 2010 indicating that while on the drug, he was disconnected from his actions. He also submitted an affidavit from 2012 stating that he was "not fully based in reality." The affidavit listed ways in which his gambling and "unreliable behavior" had injured client relations, hastened his retirement as a college professor, tarnished his reputation as a speaker, and caused him to make a poor investment.
The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that the July 2010 opinion of the doctor, who was a treating neurologist (not a psychiatrist), and the assertions in the affidavit failed to meet the patient’s burden of showing that he was insane at the time his cause of action accrued.
The continuing violations issue. The patient next argued that each ingestion of Mirapex gave rise to a separate and distinct claim. Therefore, he reasoned, damages for injuries suffered due to dosages of Mirapex taken within two years of December 30, 2010, were not barred by the statute of limitations. In effect, he contended that taking each dose of Mirapex gave rise to nearly 5,000 distinct and separate claims. The appeals court found that this "counter-intuitive argument" was without merit.
Although the patient invoked this principle in arguing to the district court and on appeal, he failed to identify what present, ongoing violation existed after his cause of action had accrued. His claims were based on the theory that the defendants’ failure to adequately warn him of the behavioral side effects of taking Mirapex led to compulsive gambling and financial ruin. However, the appellate panel noted that Mirapex was FDA-approved for treating Parkinson’s disease, and was prescribed by his treating neurologist for this purpose. Under these circumstances, the court said, it was logical to conclude that there was a single wrongdoing that ended—accrued—in early 2008 when the patient learned that his compulsive behaviors may have been caused by taking Mirapex. Thus, although his alleged injuries increased when he persisted in voluntarily taking Mirapex for another two years, those later injuries were time-barred, the court concluded.
This case is No. 17-2204.
Attorneys: Will D. Nefzger (William D. Nefzger, PLLC) for Marc Mancini. Bruce R. Parker (Venable LLP) and Scott A. Smith (Smith Legal PLLC) for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Lori B. Leskin (Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP) and Joseph Michael Price (Faegre Baker Daniels LLP) for Pfizer, Inc. and Pharmacia Corp.
Companies: Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Pfizer, Inc.; Pharmacia Corp.
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