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Kristie Pagan, Esther Alexander, Bridgett Herrera, Velicia Mata, and Ashley v. Abbott Laboratories

October 20, 2012

KRISTIE PAGAN, ESTHER ALEXANDER, BRIDGETT HERRERA, VELICIA MATA, AND ASHLEY SULLIVAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF THEIR MINOR CHILDREN AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ABBOTT LABORATORIES, INC.,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

This case arises from the recall by Abbott Laboratories, Inc. ("Abbott" or "the Defendant") of five million containers of its Similac brand infant powder formula that were potentially contaminated with beetle parts and larvae, which could cause gastrointestinal discomfort and refusal to eat. The Plaintiffs allege that Abbott engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by misrepresenting the safety of Similac and failing to timely warn consumers of the dangers associated with the contaminated product in violation of the consumer protection statutes in New York and New Hampshire.

Presently before the Court is a motion by the Plaintiffs for class certification and a motion by the Defendant to strike the Plaintiffs' reply or, in the alternative, to file a sur-reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Court (1) denies the Defendant's motion to strike the Plaintiffs' reply; (2) grants the Defendant's motion to file a sur-reply; and (3) denies the Plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

I. BACKGROUND

Abbott formulates, designs, manufactures, markets, advertises, distributes and sells infant powder formulas under the brand name Similac. In September 2010, during an internal quality review at its Sturgis, Michigan facility ("the Sturgis Facility"), Abbott detected the presence of a common warehouse beetle and its larvae in its powdered formula. Subsequently, on September 20, 2010, Abbott notified the United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") "that based on its facility inspection, root cause investigation, and finished and in-process infant formula powder test results they would be initiating a product recall." (Def. Opp., Ex. E.) As a result, on September 22, 2010, Abbott recalled five million containers of Similac infant formula products (Def. Opp., Exh. F).

The original plaintiffs in this case were Shelley A. Leonard, a resident and citizen of the State of New York ("the New York Plaintiff"); residents and citizens of the State of Texas Esther Alexander, Bridgett Herrera, and Velicia Mata ("the Texas Plaintiffs"); LeRon Davis, a resident and citizen of the State of Ohio ("the Ohio Plaintiff"); and Ashley Sullivan, a resident and citizen of New Hampshire ("the New Hampshire Plaintiff" and collectively "the Plaintiffs"). According to the Plaintiffs, they each purchased the recalled formula during an undefined "relevant time period," rather than purchasing a less expensive alternative, based on various statements by Abbott that indicated that Similac was safe for consumption by infants. The Plaintiffs also allege that their infant children became ill after consuming the contaminated Similac formula.

On October 10, 2010, the Plaintiffs commenced this action against Abbott in their individual capacity, as parents and natural guardians of their minor children, and as representatives of putative classes of similarly situated individuals from their respective states. In the original complaint, and the first amended class action complaint filed on December 2, 2010, the Plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. The relief is based on Abbott's alleged unfair and deceptive acts and practices in misrepresenting that Similac was "safe for the consumption by infants" and failing to warn consumers or recall the contaminated formula sooner, in violation of: (1) New York General Business Law § 349 ("NYGBL"); (2) the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act ("TDTPA"), Tex. Code. Bus. & Com. § 17.41, et seq.; (3) the Ohio Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act ("ODTPA"), Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4165, et seq., and Uniform Consumer Sales Practices Act ("OCSPA" and together with the ODTPA the "Ohio statutes"), Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 1345, e. seq.; and (4) the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act ("NHCPA"), N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 358-A, e. seq. (collectively the "consumer protection statutes").

On March 15, 2011, Abbott filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings seeking, among other things, the dismissal of the Plaintiffs' claims under the consumer protection statutes and the cause of action seeking injunctive relief for failure to state a claim. On September 21, 2011, the Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to: (1) include Kristie Pagan in the caption of this matter as a party plaintiff and potential representative of the putative New York class; (2) remove plaintiff Shelly A. Leonard from the caption in this matter and dismiss her claims without prejudice with leave to renew her individual claims or any claims on behalf of her infant/child in the event the Court certifies a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P.") 23; (3) include additional factual contentions concerning the alleged false, misleading, fraudulent and deceptive business practices of the Defendant; and (4) to remove the allegation expressly waiving the New York Plaintiffs' right to seek punitive damages under New York General Business Law § 349. Attached to the Plaintiffs' motion to amend was a proposed second amended complaint containing these changes. Subsequently, on January 20, 2012, the Court directed the parties to submit supplemental briefing on whether the Recall program instituted by Abbott mooted the Plaintiffs' claims under the consumer protection statutes, which was an issue raised by Abbott in opposition to the motion to amend.

On March 5, 2012, the Court issued an Order in which it (1) dismissed the plaintiff Shelly A. Leonard's claims pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2) without prejudice with leave to renew her individual claims or any claims on behalf of her infant/child in the event the Court certified a class under the Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; (2) granted the Plaintiffs' motion to add Kristie Pagan as a plaintiff and putative New York class representative; (3) denied the Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint to remove the New York Plaintiff's express waiver of punitive damages under the NYGBL; (4) granted the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) dismissing the Ohio Plaintiff's claims under the OCSPA and ODTPA; (5) directed the Texas Plaintiffs to provide notice to Abbott within twenty days of the date of the Order and notify the Court when they had done so and abated the Texas Plaintiffs' TDTPA claim for sixty days after the Texas Plaintiffs served written notice; (6) denied the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) as to the Plaintiffs' claims under the NYGBL, NHCPA, and TDTPA; (7) granted the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) as to the Plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief; (8) directed the Plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint consistent with the rulings contained within the Order within 20 days of the date of the Order and advised that if the Texas Plaintiffs did not comply with the notice requirement within twenty days of the date of the Order, the Court would consider a motion by the Defendant to dismiss any claims asserted on behalf of the Texas Plaintiffs in the second amended complaint. See Leonard v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 10-CV-4676(ADS)(WDW), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30608 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 5, 2012).

On March 13, 2012, the Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in compliance with the Court's March 5, 2012 Order. The Defendant answered the Plaintiffs' second amended complaint on March 27, 2012.

On March 23, 2012, the Plaintiffs' moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 for an Order certifying this civil litigation as a Class Action with respect to the New York and New Hampshire subclasses. They defined the putative class as (1) "all New York residents who purchased Similac products subject to the recall" and (2) "all New Hampshire residents who purchased Similac products subject to the recall." (Pl. Mem. in Support, pg. 20.) The Plaintiffs further moved to certify the plaintiff Kristie Pagan as the representative of the New York Class and the plaintiff Ashley Sullivan as the representative of the New Hampshire Class. On May 9, 2012, the Defendant submitted opposition papers to the Plaintiffs' motion contending that the Plaintiffs had not met their burden of affirmatively demonstrating that they had met the requirements of Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b)(3). On May 30, 2012, the Plaintiffs submitted a reply in support of their motion on May 30, 2012, which included ten exhibits not previously cited in their original motion papers.

On June 5, 2012, the Defendant moved to strike certain portions of the Plaintiffs' reply or, in the alternative, for leave to file a sur-reply on the ground that the Plaintiffs' reply improperly included new factual assertions, legal claims and exhibits not contained in their initial moving papers. The Plaintiffs submitted opposition papers to this motion on July 2, 2012 and the Defendant submitted its reply in support on July 9, 2012.

The Court addresses the two motions below. However, because the Court cannot analyze the Plaintiffs' motion for class certification without first resolving the Defendant's motion to strike certain portions of the Plaintiffs' reply or, in the alternative, for leave to file a sur-reply, the Court will first consider the Defendant's motion before proceeding to consideration of the Plaintiffs' motion.

II. THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE CERTAIN PORTIONS OF THE PLAINTIFFS' REPLY OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR LEAVE TO FILE A SUR- REPLY

"Although it is plainly improper to submit on reply evidentiary information that was available to the moving party at the time that it filed its motion and that is necessary in order for that party to meet its burden, this Court has discretion to consider documents filed in violation of procedural rules." Church & Dwight Co. v. Kaloti Enters. of Mich., L.L.C., 07 Civ. 0612 (BMC), 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110955, at *6 n. 1 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Likewise, "[m]otions for leave to file sur-reply information and to strike are subject to the sound discretion of the court." De Pedrero v. Schweizer Aircraft Corp., 635 F. Supp. 2d 251, 258 (W.D.N.Y. 2009).

In this case, the Plaintiffs' reply clearly raised new factual and legal issues. However, as the Defendant has submitted a sur-reply as well as supporting documentation, the Court is persuaded that they have suffered no prejudice. Toure v. Cent. Parking Sys., 05 Civ. 5237 (WHP), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74056, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2007). Therefore, exercising its discretion, the Court will consider the Defendant's sur-reply and will not strike the Plaintiffs' reply. See Revise Clothing, Inc. v. Joe's Jeans Subsidiary, Inc., 687 F. Sup. 2d 381, 387 (S.D.N.Y. 2010); Sevenson Envtl. Servs. v. Shaw Envtl., Inc., 246 F.R.D. 151, 154 (W.D.N.Y. 2007).

III. THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR RULE 23 CLASS CERTIFICATION

A. Legal Standard

Before certifying a putative class, the Court must determine (1) whether the class meets the four Rule 23(a) requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy; and if so, (2) whether the class satisfies one of the three categories listed in Rule 23(b). See Brown v. Kelly, 609 F.3d 467, 476 (2d Cir. 2010); Teamsters Local 445 Freight Div. Pension Fund v. Bombardier, Inc., 546 F.3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 2008); City of Livonia Employees' Ret. Sys. v. Wyeth, No. 07 Civ. 10329 (RJS), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134854, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2012). "The party seeking class certification bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that each of Rule 23's requirements has been met." Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 547 (2d Cir. 2010).

As the Supreme Court recently observed:

Rule 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard. A party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule--that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc . . . [S]ometimes it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, and [] certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. Frequently that rigorous analysis will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That cannot be helped.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, __ U.S. __, __, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 2551, 180 L. Ed. 2d 374, 390 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Secs. Litig. v. Gen. Reinsurance Corp. (In re Am. Int'l Group Inc.), 689 F.3d 229, 237 (2d Cir. 2012); Oakley v. Verizon Comm'ns., Inc., No. 09 Civ. 9175 (CM), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12975, at *34 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 1, 2012) (holding that while "[t]he certifying court should not make any factual findings or merits determinations that are not necessary to the Rule 23 analysis, . . . where merits issues cannot be avoided they must be addressed"). Thus, "the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that courts cannot certify classes where Rule 23 requirements are not met, and should not contort the requirements in order to certify." Oakley, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS at *35.

However, in deciding certification, courts must still take a liberal rather than a restrictive approach in determining whether the plaintiff satisfies Rule 23's requirements and may exercise broad discretion when determining whether to certify a class. See Flores v. Anjost Corp., No. 11 Civ. 1531 (CM), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85171, at *20-21 (S.D.N.Y. June 19, 2012); Pecere v. Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 194 F.R.D. 66, 69 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). Further, "[t]he dispositive question is not whether the plaintiff has stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met." Kowalski v. YellowPages.com, LLC, 10 Civ. 7318 (PGG), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46539, at *37 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2012).

1. Rule 23(a) Requirements

To qualify for class certification, the Plaintiff must first prove that the putative class meets the four threshold requirements of Rule 23(a):

1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative ...


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