Chantix Recall Lawsuits Over Cancer Risk Consolidated in Southern District of New York

The Chantix lawsuits all involve similar claims stemming from the discovery of cancer-causing nitrosamine-based impurities in 2021.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established centralized pretrial proceedings last month for all federal lawsuits over Chantix recalls, involving allegations that the stop-smoking drug was distributed with cancer-causing chemicals. Given common questions of fact and law, Chantix lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide will be transferred to the Southern District of New York, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings before one judge.

Chantix (varenicline) was introduced by Pfizer in 2006, as a prescription medication designed to help people quit smoking. However, problems with Chantix began to surface last year, when it was discovered that pills may contain dangerous levels of nitrosamines, which are believed to be a byproduct of the drug manufacturing process and may expose users to a risk of cancer.

Between June and September 2021, Pfizer announced a series of Chantix recalls, starting with limited batches of the medication sold, and later expanding the recall to include all lots of Chantix 0.5 mg and 1 mg tablets, all due to the same problems with high levels of the cancer-causing chemicals being detected in pills.

As a result of the recalls, multiple Chantix lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer, seeking class action status to pursue damages for consumers who paid for the expensive smoking cessation drug, which was adulterated and unfit for its intended purpose.

Chantix Recall Cancer Lawsuits Centralized in New MDL

In August, the County of Monmouth, New Jersey filed a motion seeking to consolidate all Chantix lawsuits in an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, indicating that all claims being pursued against Pfizer, Inc. throughout the federal court system should be centralized in the District of New Jersey, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues and avoid conflicting pretrial rulings.

Pfizer indicated that it opposed centralization on September 22, arguing that there were too few cases to justify centralization proceedings in a Chantix MDL. However, the drug maker did ask that if the panel did determine consolidation was appropriate, the litigation should be managed out of the Southern District of New York.

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Following oral arguments held last month, the JPML issued a transfer order (PDF) on December 22, agreeing with plaintiffs that the cases should be consolidated, but choosing to place them in the Southern District of New York, as Pfizer suggested, under U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla for coordinated and pretrial proceedings.

“On the basis of the papers filed and the hearing session held, we find that these actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization in the Southern District of New York will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” the panel wrote. “These putative class actions present common factual questions arising out of allegations that Pfizer voluntarily recalled the smoking cessation drug Chantix in 2021 after discovering that the product contained a nitrosamine impurity known as N-nitroso-varenicline, a probable human carcinogen.”

In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who suffered similar injuries as a result of the same or similar products, it is common for the federal court system to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings.

The order to consolidate the Chantix lawsuits comes after the JPML has formed several other coordinated proceedings for Zantac lawsuits and valsartan lawsuits filed over the same chemical impurities that contaminated the popular heartburn and blood pressure drugs.

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