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Thursday, June 16, 2011

US Supreme Court Advances the Rights of Injured

Workers who become ill from defective medications prescribed to treat occupational conditions will now be afforded the opportunity to seek compensation by way of State class action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies who manufacturer drugs that make them sicker. The Court expanded the rights of the injured today when it held that State class action law suits were not prohibited even though a Federal Court denied class certification in a pending similar case.

Workers' Compensation benefits are notoriously inadequate to compensation ill workers adequately from the harms resulting from the adverse effects of  defective medications. Third party actions by the employees against the ultimate wrongdoers, in this case the pharmaceutical manufactures, have become a vehicle to receive supplemental benefits.

The Supreme Court's decision afford the workers an opportunity to proceed with a class action in a State Court even though a similar clase may have not received class action certification in Federal Court.

"Respondent (Bayer) moved in Federal District Court for an injunction ordering a West Virginia state court not to consider a motion for class certification filed by petitioners (Smith), who were plaintiffs in the state-court action. Bayer thought such an injunction warranted because, in a separate case, Bayer had persuaded the same Federal District Court to deny a similar class-certification motion that had been filed against Bayer by a different plaintiff, George McCollins. The District Court had denied McCollins’ certification motion under Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23.

"The District Court’s injunction was independently improper because Smith was not a party to the federal suit and was not covered by any exception to the rule against nonparty preclusion. Generally, a party “is ‘[o]ne by or against whom a lawsuit is brought,’ ” United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York , 556 U. S. ___, ___, or who “become[s] a party by intervention, substitution, or third-party practice,” Karcher v. May , 484 U. S. 72 . The definition of “party” cannot be stretched so far as to cover a person like Smith, whom McCollins was denied leave to represent. The only exception to the rule against nonparty preclusion potentially relevant here is the exception that binds non-named members of “properly conducted class actions” to judgments entered in such proceedings. Taylor v. Sturgell , 553 U. S. 880 . But McCollins’ suit was not a proper class action. Indeed, the very ruling that Bayer argues should have preclusive effect is the District Court’s decision not to certify a class. Absent certification of a class under Federal Rule 23, the precondition for binding Smith was not met. Neither a proposed, nor a rejected, class action may bind nonparties. See id., at 901. Bayer claims that this Court’s approach to class actions would permit class counsel to try repeatedly to certify the same class simply by changing plaintiffs. But principles of stare decisis and comity among courts generally suffice to mitigate the sometimes substantial costs of similar litigation brought by different plaintiffs. The right approach does not lie in binding nonparties to a judgment. And to the extent class actions raise special relitigation problems, the federal Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 provides a remedy that does not involve departing from the usual preclusion rules.

Amith v Bayer, No. 09-1205 (Decided June 16, 2011)