Supremes reject Pfizer appeal on hormone cases

In the long saga that is hormone-therapy litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from several drugmakers who wanted state court lawsuits over the controversial drugs moved to federal court. That means the cases will proceed in Minnesota, where they were originally filed.

It sounds like a minor legal maneuver, but the high court's refusal to hear pharma's case is another blow to the industry's attempts to keep as many liability suits as possible out of state court. The general belief is that federal courts are more sympathetic to the corporate view, if only because state-court juries tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs.

Drugmakers were on the vanguard of the pre-emption debate. FDA approval, so the argument goes, should protect pharma companies from state liability suits, because federal law trumps state law. Last year, a big lawsuit--Wyeth v. Levine--knocked at least part of that argument aside as the Supreme Court let state litigation over a Wyeth drug stand.

Now comes this decision. Drugmakers including Pfizer, Novartis and Abbott Laboratories had argued that the plaintiffs' lawyers purposely structured the lawsuits to keep them out of federal court. At the trial level, a judge agreed, but an appeals court overturned that ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to consider the case. So it's back to state court with more than 100 suits.

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