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In re Pfizer

February 28, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis A. Kaplan, District Judge.


On December 2, 2006, Pfizer, Inc. ("Pfizer") announced that it was halting clinical trials of the developmental drug torcetrapib.*fn1 By the close of the next trading day, the price of Pfizer common stock had declined by 10.62 percent.*fn2 Plaintiffs then brought a class action against Pfizer and three of its current and former officers and directors (collectively, the "Individual Defendants").*fn3 Plaintiffs seek recovery against defendants under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act")*fn4 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.*fn5 They assert an additional claim against the Individual Defendants under Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act.*fn6 The case is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss.


The lead plaintiff in this action is the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association Compensation Accrual Fund. It purports to represent a class of all individuals and entities who purchased Pfizer securities between January 19, 2005, and December 2, 2006, (the "Class Period"). Pfizer is a Delaware corporation that develops, manufactures, and markets prescription medicines and consumer healthcare products.*fn7

During the class period, Pfizer was developing torcetrapib, a drug intended to reduce coronary heart disease ("CHD") by raising so-called "good" cholesterol.

In colloquial terms, there are two varieties of cholesterol: "good" and "bad" cholesterol. Whether cholesterol is good or bad is defined by the type of lipoprotein to which the cholesterol is attached. Low density lipoproteins ("LDLs") carry cholesterol into arteries, where excess cholesterol often is deposited as plaque on arterial walls. The deposition of plaque -- a process known as atherogenesis*fn8 -- narrows arteries and restricts the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.*fn9 Thus, the cholesterol attached to LDLs ("LDL-cholesterol") is known popularly as bad cholesterol. In contrast, high density lipoproteins ("HDLs") remove cholesterol from the blood, transporting it to the liver for excretion, a process known as reverse cholesterol transport ("RCT").*fn10

Thus, the cholesterol attached to HDLs ("HDL-cholesterol") is known popularly as good cholesterol.

High HDL-cholesterol levels correlate generally with low cardiovascular risk,*fn11 a fact attributed to HDL's role in RCT.*fn12 Pfizer developed torcetrapib to raise HDL-cholesterol. It anticipated that torcetrapib would accomplish this by inhibiting the cholesterol ester transfer protein ("CETP"), which transfers cholesterol between HDLs and LDLs. This was intended to raise HDL- cholesterol levels by causing cholesterol to accumulate on HDL particles. Ultimately, Pfizer hoped artificially raising HDL-cholesterol would increase RCT and correlate with low cardiovascular risk.*fn13

Phase II clinical tests of torcetrapib were designed to determine whether torcetrapib raised HDL-cholesterol levels.*fn14 Those trials showed that torcetrapib was effective at raising HDLcholesterol, but they showed also a 2-3 mm increase in systolic blood pressure.*fn15

By 2004, Pfizer began Phase III of the clinical trials. As the clinical trials progressed, Pfizer updated the medical and financial communities on torcetrapib's development through public statements and press releases.

On December 2, 2006, Pfizer announced that it was "stopping all torcetrapib clinical trials" based on the recommendation of the Data Safety Monitoring Board ("DSMB") that monitored the trials. The recommendation was made "because of an imbalance of mortality and cardiovascular events."*fn16 Following this announcement, shares of Pfizer common stock declined by $2.96 per share, from a closing price of $27.86 per share on December 1, 2006, to a closing price of $24.90 per share on December 4, 2006.*fn17

Plaintiffs allege that defendants, in the period prior to the cessation of Phase III trials, intentionally or recklessly made statements that were misleading because they failed to disclose facts that lessened the likelihood that torcetrapib ultimately would prove safe and efficacious. The misleading statements, plaintiffs claim, were "designed to artificially inflate the price of Pfizer securities" and were part of a "desperate effort to avert significant market loss due to the impending loss of patent protection by principal Pfizer drugs . . . ."*fn18 Plaintiffs allege that defendant McKinnell was motivated to maximize his severance package, but do not allege that any Individual Defendant sold stock during the class period.*fn19


I. Standard Governing Motions to Dismiss

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court ordinarily accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor.*fn20 In order to survive such a motion, however, "the plaintiff must provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient 'to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'"*fn21

Although this motion is addressed to the face of the pleadings, the Court may consider also the full text of "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice."*fn22 Defendants have submitted many exhibits in support of their motion, including Pfizer press releases and analyst call transcripts, academic literature, and analyst reports. The parties agreed that all of these documents could be considered on this motion to dismiss,*fn23 and the Court considers those documents that the complaint incorporates by reference or are amenable to judicial notice.

As this is a securities fraud case, the complaint must satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of Rule 9(b) and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act ("PSLRA").*fn24 It must state the circumstances constituting fraud with particularity. In particular, it "must: (1) specify the statements that the plaintiff contends were fraudulent, (2) identify the speaker, (3) state where and when the statements were made, and (4) explain why the statements were fraudulent."*fn25 Where an allegation regarding a misstatement or omission is made on information and belief, "the complaint shall state with particularity all facts on which that belief is formed."*fn26 Finally, the complaint must "state with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind."*fn27

II. Plaintiffs' Section 10(b) Claims

A. Elements of a 10(b) Claim

Section 10(b) makes it unlawful "for any person, directly or indirectly . . . [t]o use or employ, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security . . ., any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention of such rules and regulations as the Commission may prescribe as necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors." Rule 10b-5 in turn provides:

"It shall be unlawful for any person . . . "(a) To employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud, "(b) To make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading, or "(c) To engage in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person, "in connection with the purchase or sale of any security."*fn28

To state a claim based on a misrepresentation or omission in violation of Rule 10b-5, as plaintiffs purport to do here, one must allege that a defendant "(1) made misstatements or omissions of material fact; (2) with scienter; (3) in connection with the purchase or sale of securities; (4) upon which plaintiffs ...

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