In re Rezulin Products Liability Litigation

Decision Date29 September 2005
Docket NumberMDL No. 1348.,No. 00 Civ.2843(LAK).,00 Civ.2843(LAK).
Citation392 F.Supp.2d 597
PartiesIn re REZULIN PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION. This Document Relates to: 00 Civ. 8064, 01 Civ. 2466.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Dannenberg Bemporad & Selinger, P.C., New York City, for Plaintiffs Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Company and Edgar Romney, as trustee of Eastern States Health and Welfare Fund.

David Klingsberg, Steven Glickstein, Robert Grass, Laurie Sternberg, Bert L. Slonim, Kaye Scholer LLP, Quentin F. Urquhart, Jr., Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC, New York City, for Defendant Warner-Lambert Company.


KAPLAN, District Judge.

Sponsors of group health benefit plans ("Health Benefit Providers" or "HBPs") typically contract with pharmacy benefit managers ("PBMs"), which then administer their prescription drug programs. At least some PBMs operate mail-order pharmacy services as well as networks of participating retail pharmacies. Each time a patient sends a prescription to a PBM's mail-order service, or presents a prescription in a retail pharmacy that belongs to the PBM's network, the pharmacy or mail order department enters the patient's information into an electronic system operated by the PBM. The system verifies the patient's prescription drug coverage and determines the amounts owed by the HBP and the patient. In addition, the PBM typically develops a list of drugs covered under an HBP's plans, known as a formulary. One consequence of this system is that pharmaceutical manufacturers direct a great deal of their promotional efforts at PBMs rather than at the PBMs' clients, the HBPs.

The plaintiffs in the present suits are HBPs.1 They claim that defendant Warner-Lambert Company ("WL")2 misrepresented the safety and efficacy of Rezulin, an oral drug for treating type 2 diabetes that was introduced in March 1997 and withdrawn in March 2000 after the FDA determined that its risk of causing liver injury was unacceptable given the existence of safer alternatives.3 The premise of the suit is that the plaintiffs would have excluded Rezulin from their formularies and thus paid less for type 2 diabetes drugs from March 1997 to March 2000 (the "Relevant Period") if WL had not made those alleged misrepresentations. The plaintiffs sue for what they describe as "the benefit of the bargain — the difference between the amounts they paid for Rezulin and the lesser amounts they would have paid for better alternative drugs."4

The matter is before the Court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. It presents, among other issues, the questions whether the HBPs can recover for breach of warranty and under consumer protection statutes when they never had any form of ownership of the drugs and all of the alleged misconduct at issue was directed not at them or their beneficiaries, but at the PBMs with which they had contracted.

I. Facts

The defendant's motion is based largely on undisputed facts.5

A. The Health Benefit Providers: Eastern States and Louisiana Blue Cross

Eastern States Health and Welfare Fund (together with its predecessor,6 "ES") provides medical benefits for past and present members of UNITE!, formerly known as the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.7 Plaintiff Edgar Romney is chairman of ES's committee of trustees.8 He is a citizen of New York,9 the state in which ES is located.10 ES's funds are contributed by employers under collective bargaining agreements.11 ES has no employees. During the Relevant Period, it was administered by employees and officers of UNITE!, which ES paid for those services.12

Plaintiff Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Company ("LBC"), which does business as Bluecross and Blueshield of Louisiana, is a health insurer with its principal place of business in Louisiana.13 LBC offers health plans through which Louisiana-based employers provide health benefits to employees and offers health coverage to others.14

B. The Pharmacy Benefit Manager: Medco

Medco Health Solutions, Inc. (together with predecessors, subsidiaries and affiliates, "Medco" or "PAID") during the Relevant Period was a large national PBM with its principal place of business in New Jersey.15 ES and LBC each contracted with Medco to manage the prescription drug component of its plans.

Medco operated a mail service and maintained a network of participating retail pharmacies. Its electronic system determined claims submitted by the retail pharmacies at the time the patients presented prescriptions, and determined the amounts owed by the patient as "copayments" and by the HBP. In the case of ES, most medications, including Rezulin, were covered only through the mail service. In the case of LBC, medications could be obtained both through mail service and retail pharmacies. Medco, among other services that it provided to the HBPs and their beneficiaries, furnished utilization reports to the HBPs, supplied plan members with identification cards,16 and operated a toll-free customer service telephone line.17

ES's18 and LBC's master contracts with Medco each specified formulas for calculating the total amounts owed to Medco for each prescription filled. Under the contracts with ES, Medco typically was owed for each prescription a flat rate set forth in the contract, which was $42.80 at the start of the Relevant Period and $48.67 by the end.19 The exceptions were Rezulin during part of the Relevant Period and a small number of other drugs specially designated by the FDA as an advance over existing therapies, for which Medco was owed the drug's average wholesale price, as set forth in nationally recognized pricing sources ("AWP"), discounted by 17 percent.20 Under LBC's contract, the amount owed for prescriptions dispensed by mail service was AWP discounted by a standard percentage, which was 22 percent for brand name drugs and 45 percent for generic drugs, plus a dispensing fee of $2.50. For retail service, LBC owed the lowest of (1) "the pharmacy's usual and customary price, as submitted," (2) "the PAID maximum allowable cost" plus a dispensing fee of $2.00 for brand name drugs and $2.50 for generic drugs, and (3) AWP discounted by 13 percent, plus the dispensing fee.21

The copayments owed by the patients generally were specified in the individual plans offered to employers and not set forth in the master contracts between the HBP and Medco.22 Except in the case of LBC's retail program, the copayments were deducted from the total amount owed Medco as described above to arrive at the portion of that amount owed by the HBP.23 In the case of LBC's retail program, the copayment did not reduce the amount derived from the formula described above.24

Two pertinent invoicing arrangements were in effect during the Relevant Period. Under the first, which applied to ES during 1997 and perhaps for some time thereafter,25 ES prepaid Medco $360,000 each week. Each month, one party would pay the other, as applicable, the difference between the amount ES prepaid the month before and the amount ES owed for prescription drugs dispensed to its members during that month.26 Under the second invoicing arrangement, which applied to ES for the remainder of and to LBC throughout the Relevant Period, every two weeks Medco provided the HBPs with a consolidated invoice for all medications dispensed to plan members through Medco's retail and mail service programs.27

LBC's contract specified as well a per-prescription "Base Administrative Fee" of $0.28, $0.29, or $0.35, depending on the time period and the LBC plan in question. Medco invoiced LBC for these fees on a monthly basis.28

ES and LBC never possessed, stored or insured medications against loss. The HBPs were not involved in Medco's and the retail pharmacies' purchases of Rezulin and other medications.29 Indeed, neither Medco's dealings with participating retail pharmacies and wholesalers, nor the retail pharmacies' relationships with wholesalers, nor the wholesalers' relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers such as WL, are illuminated in any significant way by the present record.30

The contracts provided that Medco and the HBPs were independent contractors. In particular, ES's contract stated:

"The relationship among PAID, [PAID's affiliated mail-order pharmacy company] and the PLAN shall solely be that of independent contractors engaged in the operation of their own respective businesses. No party is or shall be deemed or construed to be an employee, agent, representative or joint venturer of any other party for any purpose whatsoever."31

LBC's contract stated:

"The relationship among PAID, [PAID's affiliated mail-order pharmacy company] and [LBC] shall solely be that of independent contractors engaged in the operation of their own respective businesses."32

By way of summary and illustration, the following chart summarizes the flow of drugs and funds among the relevant players:


C. The Formularies

A formulary is a list of FDA-approved drugs covered by an HBP's plan. Medco maintained proprietary formularies, which it modified from time to time "as a result of factors including, but not limited to, medical appropriateness, manufacturer rebate arrangements and patent expirations."33 Decisions about whether to include drugs in its formularies were made by a Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee composed of allegedly independent medical and pharmacological experts (the "P & T Committee"). The P & T Committee reviewed each drug for safety, efficacy, and cost.34 Medco reserved the right to modify or replace its formularies during the contract term. In ES's case, that right as relevant here was subject to "the consent of [ES] which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld."35

Before entering into a contract with Medco, the HBPs reviewed the formularies and could...

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