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Federal Judge: Mississippi Consumer Action Against Plavix Makers Belongs In State Court

The federal multidistrict litigation judge overseeing personal injury claims against the makers of the blood thinner Plavix recently ordered that the State of Mississippi’s consumer protection action against Plavix’s manufacturers be remanded (transferred) back to Mississippi state court where the case was originally filed.

United States District Judge Freda L. Wolfson ruled on July 22, 2014, that the federal courts did not have jurisdiction over the State of Mississippi’s case, which was filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in Chickasaw County, Mississippi in June 2012. Attorney General Hood alleges that Plavix’s manufacturers, Bristol Myers Squibb Co. and others, falsely and deceptively misrepresented the safety and effectiveness of Plavix when they marketed the drug in Mississippi in violation of that state’s Consumer Protection Act.

Shortly after the case was filed, Plavix’s makers used a procedural device under federal law to “remove” (or transfer) the case to federal court from state court. After several months’ effort by the State to have the federal courts send the case back to state court, Judge Wolfson agreed with the State that its case belonged in the Mississippi court system.

“[T]he purpose of Mississippi’s Complaint here is to protect the State’s citizens and uphold the integrity of its law,” wrote Judge Wolfson in her letter opinion and order. “Accordingly, Mississippi – the sole named plaintiff – is the real party in interest in this case . . . . It follows that the parties are not completely diverse, and the case must be remanded.”

In order for federal courts to maintain what is called “diversity jurisdiction,” which Plavix’s makers had alleged as a basis for federal court jurisdiction, plaintiffs and defendants must be citizens of different states. However, under prevailing law, a state like Mississippi cannot legally be considered a “citizen” of any state. Therefore, diversity jurisdiction cannot exist when a state is the only named plaintiff. Judge Wolfson also rejected defendants’ arguments that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the case under the federal Class Action Fairness Act, finding that Mississippi’s case was not a class action.

The case is Hood v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., to be pending in the Circuit Court of Chickasaw County Mississippi. The State is represented by the Office of the Attorney General, as well as the law firms of Bailey Cowan Heckaman in Houston, Texas and W. Howard Gunn of Aberdeen, Mississippi.

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