Chief Justice unloads Pfizer shares

A couple of juicy pharma cases are coming up at the Supreme Court, so Chief Justice John Roberts has unloaded his Pfizer stock and is now ready to take part. Roberts has recused himself from previous cases involving Pfizer. His decision to participate this time could be key to the outcome of both cases.

One of those cases is an appeal by several Big Pharma companies, including Pfizer, that seeks to stop a potential class-action suit over drug pricing. A California county says that its public healthcare facilities are entitled to the same discounts given to Medicaid patients, and it's suing on behalf of 14,500 federally funded hospitals and clinics. Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, and several others are fighting their right to sue.

The other case centers on whether federal vaccine-liability law trumps other liability lawsuits. Two Pennsylvania parents had sued Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer), blaming their daughter's seizure disorder on a vaccine made by the company.

Thing is, with Roberts participating and Justice Elena Kagan sitting out--she was involved in both suits while solicitor general--there's the potential for a 4-4 tie in either case. If that happened, the Wall Street Journal points out, the lower court's ruling would stand. Good for Pfizer in the vax case, bad for Pfizer (and the other drugmakers) in the hospital/clinic case.

- read the WSJ piece
- see the Bloomberg story
- get more from Reuters