Hicks v. Charles Pfizer & Co. Inc., Civ.A. 1:04-CV-201.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
Citation466 F.Supp.2d 799
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. 1:04-CV-201.,Civ.A. 1:04-CV-201.
PartiesKaren F. HICKS and Benny J. Hicks, Plaintiffs, v. CHARLES PFIZER & COMPANY INC. aka Charles Pfizer & Company, Pfizer, Ltd. aka Charles Pfizer Ltd., and Pfizer Inc. aka Pfizer, individually and as successor in interest to Charles Pfizer & Company and Pfizer, Ltd., Defendants.
Decision Date29 September 2005

Page 799

466 F.Supp.2d 799
Karen F. HICKS and Benny J. Hicks, Plaintiffs,
CHARLES PFIZER & COMPANY INC. aka Charles Pfizer & Company, Pfizer, Ltd. aka Charles Pfizer Ltd., and Pfizer Inc. aka Pfizer, individually and as successor in interest to Charles Pfizer & Company and Pfizer, Ltd., Defendants.
No. Civ.A. 1:04-CV-201.
United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division.
September 29, 2005.

Page 800

Glen W. Morgan, Thomas Nave Kiehnhoff, Reaud Morgan & Quinn, Beaumont, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Lisa Gaye Mann, Phillips & Akers, Joseph Samuel Cohen, Beirne Maynard & Parsons, Houston, TX, for Defendants.


CRONE, District Judge.

Pending before the court is Defendants Charles Pfizer & Company Inc., Pfizer, Ltd., and Pfizer Inc.'s (collectively, "Pfizer") Motion for Summary Judgment (# 126). Pfizer seeks summary judgment on Plaintiffs Karen Hicks and Benny Hicks's ("the Hicks") personal injury action asserting claims for, products, liability, negligence, fraud, and breach of warranty,

Page 801

arising out of Karen Hicks's ("Karen") ingestion of oral polio vaccine ("OPV"). The Hicks contend that the vaccine caused Karen to develop two, non-malignant, brain tumors. Having reviewed the pending motion, the submissions of the parties, the pleadings, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that summary judgment is not warranted.

I. Background

In June 2001, Karen was diagnosed with a brain tumor that she alleges was caused by OPV administered to her as a child. She was subsequently diagnosed with a second brain tumor. The Hicks contend that, during the manufacturing process, the OPV was contaminated with simian virus 40 ("SV 40") while being cultured in tissue from monkey kidneys. SV 40 has allegedly been linked to brain tumor formation and cancer in humans. The Hicks maintain that tests on the tissue of Karen's first tumor revealed the presence of SV 40 deoxyribo-nucleic acid.

In 1962, the Jefferson County, Texas, Medical Society ("Medical Society") sponsored a massive public health campaign, Project XP, to vaccinate the public against polio. Free OPV was provided to any resident over six weeks of age who wished to receive the vaccine. The Project XP campaign was administered in three phases in 1962: September 9 (Type I), October. 21 (Type III), and December 2 (Type II). Three drops of OPV were placed on a sugar cube that was then ingested by the recipient. Karen claims to have participated in Project XP and ingested three separate sugar cube vaccinations in 1962, when she was approximately five-years-old. Karen further alleges that she received one or two more doses of OPV from plastic dispettes at her physician's office in 1968 and 1971.

The Hicks filed suit in the 58th Judicial District Court of Jefferson County, Texas, on February 19, 2004, asserting that one or more of thirty-three named defendants manufactured the OPV Karen received. On April 8, 2004, the case was removed to federal court based on the diversity of citizenship of the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The court held a status conference on July 9, 2004, during which the parties agreed to an interim discovery schedule designed to ascertain which, if any, of the named defendants manufactured the vaccine Karen ingested. The court's order directed the Hicks to disclose all information and documents in their possession "relevant to the product identification issue" and allowed the defendants to depose Karen on the limited issue of product identification. Additionally, the court ordered the defendants to provide all documents in their possession relating to the distribution or sale of their polio vaccines in Jefferson County, Texas, during the time periods identified by the Hicks.

As a result of the product identification discovery, the Hicks dismissed all but ten of the defendants from this action. The remaining defendants were corporate entities related through acquisition or merger to Wyeth. Wyeth moved for summary judgment on the grounds that, after extensive product identification `discovery, the Hicks could not identify who manufactured the OPV Karen received, and therefore, could not establish that Wyeth produced the vaccine in question. On March 8, 2005, this court granted Wyeth's motion for summary judgment on the basis of product identification. The court permitted the Hicks to amend their complaint to name additional defendants, specifically certain Pfizer entities. Pfizer now argues that there is no competent evidence that Karen received its products, thus defeating the causation element of the Hicks' claims.

Page 802

II. Analysis

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any; show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV. P. 56(c). The parties seeking summary judgment bear the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for their motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits, if any, which they believe demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co. v. Reyna, 401 F.3d 347, 349 (5th Cir.2005); Martinez v. Schlumberger, Ltd., 338 F.3d 407, 411 (5th Cir.2003); Terrebonne Parish Sch. Bd. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 310 F.3d 870, 877 (5th Cir.2002). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505; accord Harken Exploration Co. v. Sphere Drake Ins. PLC, 261 F.3d 466, 471 (5th Cir.2001); Merritt-Campbell, Inc. v. RxP Prods., Inc., 164 F.3d 957, 961 (5th Cir.1999). The moving parties, however, need not negate the elements of the nonmovants' case. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir.2005); Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir.1996) (citing Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994)).

Once a proper motion has been made, the nonmoving parties may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings but must present affirmative evidence, setting forth specific facts, to show the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Smith ex rel. Estate of Smith v. United States, 391 F.3d 621, 625 (5th Cir.2004); Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 404 (5th Cir.2003) (citing Celestine v. Petroleos de Venezuella SA, 266 F.3d 343, 349 (5th Cir.2001)); Rushing v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 185 F.3d 496, 505 (5th Cir.1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1160, 120 S.Ct. 1171, 145 L.Ed.2d 1080 (2000). "[T]he court must review the record `taken as a whole.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348). All the evidence must be construed "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party without weighing the evidence, assessing its probative value, or resolving any factual disputes." Williams v. Time Warner Operation, Inc., 98 F.3d 179, 181 (5th Cir.1996); see Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097; Malacara, 353 F.3d at 398; Brown v. City of Houston, 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th Cir.2003); Harken Exploration Co., 261 F.3d at 471; Daniels v. City of Arlington, 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 951, 122 S.Ct. 347, 151 L.Ed.2d 262 (2001). The evidence of the nonmovants is to be believed, with all justifiable inferences drawn and all reasonable doubts resolved in their favor. See Palmer v. BRG. of Ga., Inc., 498 U.S. 46, 49 n. 5, 111 S.Ct. 401, 112 L.Ed.2d 349 (1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505); Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co., 401 F.3d at 349; Martin v. Alamo Cmty. Coll.

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Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir.2003); Martinez, 338 F.3d at 411; Gowesky v. Singing River Hosp. Sys., 321 F.3d 503, 507 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 815, 124 S.Ct. 66, 157 L.Ed.2d 30 (2003); Chaplin v. NationsCredit Corp., 307 F.3d 368, 372 (5th Cir.2002).

Summary judgment is mandated if the nonmovants fail to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to their case on which they bear the burden of proof at trial. See Nebraska v. Wyoming, 507 U.S. 584, 590, 113 S.Ct. 1689, 123 L.Ed.2d 317 (1993); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Wenner v. Texas Lottery Comm'n, 123 F.3d 321, 324 (5th Cir.1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1073, 118 S.Ct. 1514, 140 L.Ed.2d 667 (1998). "In such a situation, there can be `no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

B. Product Identification

1. Causation

The Hicks pleaded this case as one arising in strict liability, negligence, fraud, and breach of warranty. In order to recover under any of these theories, the Hicks must establish the element of causation. See In re Norplant Contraceptive Prods. Litig., 215 F.Supp.2d 795, 830 (E.D.Tex. 2002) (as with any tort claim, causation is an essential element of a products liability claim); IHS Cedars Treatment Ctr. of De-Soto, Tex., Inc. v. Mason, 143 S.W.3d 794, 798-99 (Tex.2003) (the elements of a negligence cause of action are the existence of a legal duty, a breach of that...

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