April 8, 2020

Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson | Case Brief - US Supreme Court - 478 U.S. 804, 106 S.Ct. 3229 (1986)

FACTS: Respondents are families in Canada and Scotland who filed complaint against the Ohio-based company which sells Bendectin (a drug). They each had a mother injecting the drug during pregnancy. Plaintiff's allege the drug was misbranded in violation of FDCA regulations.

HISTORY: Petitioner moved from state court to Federal District "Court alleging the "action was... arising under the laws of the United States." District Court held the cause of action was alleged to arise under federal law and denied respondents motive to remand. Court of Appeals for 6th Circuit reversed saying FDCA does not create or imply a private right of action for individuals. In this case P's could also find remedy in respect to negligence.

ISSUE: Can you incorporate a federal standard in a state-law private cause of action when Congress has intended that there not be a federal private action for violations of that federal standard, makes the action one arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the U.S.?


RATIONALE: Both parties agree there is no federal cause of action for FDCA violations. 

Some combination of the following factors are present to reach this conclusion: 

1) P's are not part of the class for whose special benefit the statute was passed

2) the indicia of legislative intent revealed no congressional purpose to proved a private cause of action

3) federal cause of action would not further the underlying purposes to provide a private cause of action

4) the respondents cause of action is a subject traditionally relegated to state law

Petitioners 3 arguments to support its position:

1) federal jurisdiction appropriate when it appears that some substantial, disputed question of federal law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded state claims

2) federal interest to insure uniform review

3) it is unclear whether FDCA applies to sales in Canada and Scotland 

Rejected on:

1) significance to avoid using federal private remedies for elements of a state tort

2) court retains power to review the decisions of a federal issue in state cause of action

3) question shouldn't depend on novelty of law 


DISSENT: Court doesn't explain basis for concluding that when there is no private cause of action there is no federal jurisdiction over their P's claim

Congress makes laws which are essential to state law claims b/c state courts shape the law which shapes federal jurisdiction