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Martin v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
Jul 20, 1988
851 F.2d 703 (3d Cir. 1988)

Summary

holding that in instances of confusion or mistake, an affidavit may correct sworn deposition testimony and can be sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact

Summary of this case from Brown v. Showboat Atlantic City Propco, LLC

Opinion

No. 87-3753.

Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit Rule 12(6) June 6, 1988.

Decided July 20, 1988.

Louis M. Tarasi, Jr., Joseph J. Hinchliffe, Tarasi Johnson, P.C., Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellants.

Frank C. Woodside, III, John E. Schlosser, Thomas C. Donnelly, Frederick M. Erny, Dinsmore Shohl, Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond G. Hasley, C. Andrew McGhee, Rose, Schmimdt, Hasley Disalle, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Before STAPLETON, GREENBERG, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.


OPINION OF THE COURT


Appellant Theodora Martin was born with serious birth defects. In this suit, she and her parents, Louise and William Martin, seek damages from Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical Inc. (Merrell Dow), the manufacturer of Bendectin, a drug prescribed for treatment of nausea associated with pregnancy. The Martins allege that Theodora's birth defects resulted from Louise's ingestion of Bendectin during her pregnancy. The district court granted summary judgment to Merrell Dow. We will affirm.

Merrell Dow sought summary judgment on the basis of a "timing of ingestion" defense. In support of the motion, Merrell Dow submitted competent evidence showing that the human embryo and each of its component parts develop in distinct and identifiable stages, and that only during the critical period of the development of a particular organ or anatomical system can its development be deranged. As a result, a pharmaceutical product, assuming it is capable of causing birth defects, must be ingested during the critical period in order to cause such defects; any drug ingested after the critical period cannot cause such defects. Thus, a defendant in a particular case may be able to demonstrate the absence of proximate cause by establishing the date of conception, the date of first ingestion, the type or types of birth defects, and the critical period of development for the affected organ or organs. The Martins do not dispute any of this scientific evidence.

On June 11, 1986, Louise Martin testified as follows during her deposition:

QUESTION: Did you suffer from morning sickness?

ANSWER: Yes.

QUESTION: When did that begin?

ANSWER: Probably at the beginning of my second month, maybe earlier, I don't know, I can't remember.

* * * * * *

QUESTION: Did you try anything yourself at home to try and alleviate the nausea?

ANSWER: No.

QUESTION: Did you go to Dr. Staurus [sic] to get something to alleviate that nausea?

ANSWER: Yes. I went to him to see [sic] find out if I was pregnant and to ask him for something, yes.

QUESTION: What did he give you?

ANSWER: Bendectin.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you remember when he prescribed it?

ANSWER: Well, the visit that I had was May 19, so — that's on the record sheet, so I don't remember but that's — I don't know what to say, probably the date, because it's on there.

* * * * * *

QUESTION: Did you begin taking Bendectin right away after he prescribed it?

ANSWER: Yes.

* * * * * *

QUESTION: Did you have any of the Bendectin left over from your pregnancy with Kimerblee.

ANSWER: I don't think so.

In their answers to interrogatories, dated August 13, 1985, the Martins stated the following under oath:

11. Identify each physician who prescribed Bendectin and state the date the prescription was issued.

ANSWER: Walter E. Starz, M.D., OGMA, Limited, Suite 227, Central Medical Hospital, Center Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. This prescription was issued on or about May 19, 1966.

12. As to each Bendectin prescription, state the date it was first filled, the date(s) of each subsequent refill, and the number of pills received each time.

ANSWER: Precription first filled 5/19/66. Dates of subsequent refills and number of tablets received are unknown to Plaintiff.

14. State whether the mother at any time obtained Bendectin in any way other than by her own, current prescription(s) ( e.g., from friend, relative, left over from prior pregnancy).

ANSWER: To the best of her knowledge, information and belief, mother plaintiff didn't obtain Bendectin other than by prescription.

17. State the number of Bendectin pills ingested by the mother each day, the time of day the Bendectin pills were taken and the number of days the Bendectin pills were taken by the mother. If the mother's routine varied, indicate at which times and in what way the ingestion varied.

ANSWER: Mother plaintiff took Bendectin several times per day, but the exact number is unknown. She took Bendectin in the morning and as needed throughout the day from approximately the second month of her pregnancy until the birth of Theodora.

18. State the dates the mother first began taking Bendectin and when she stopped.

ANSWER: Mother plaintiff began taking Bendectin in approximately the second month of her pregnancy and took it until pregnancy terminated.

On July 10, 1987, Merrell Dow moved for summary judgment based on the foregoing discovery and an affidavit of Dr. Keith L. Moore, a leading expert in the fields of prenatal developmental anatomy, embryology, and teratology. Dr. Moore's affidavit established that the critical periods of development for the relevant organs ended on Day 31, Day 42, and Day 43. Dr. Moore further opined that, based on the pleadings, medical records and discovery materials indicating that Bendectin was not ingested until the 53rd day following conception, Theodora's birth defects were already in existence when Bendectin was ingested.

In response to Merrell Dow's papers, the plaintiffs filed an affidavit of Louise Martin on August 19, 1987, one year after her sworn answers to interrogatories and 14 months after her deposition. In this affidavit she stated for the first time that she had taken Bendectin much earlier than May 19, 1966:

Subsequent to March 15, 1966 but prior to my first visit with Dr. Starz on May 19, 1966, I felt myself pregnant with a child later named Theodora. I had morning sickness and I remember taking Bendectin that I had left over from an earlier pregnancy.

I do not remember the date that I began taking Bendectin but I remember that I stopped taking it for a few days before I saw Dr. Starz for a new Bendectin prescription. I also remember that I began taking Bendectin at approximately the time I should have had my first period, but for my pregnancy, or very shortly thereafter.

The Martins also filed an expert affidavit expressing the view that if Louise Martin first ingested Bendectin on or about Day 11 as represented in her affidavit, Bendectin increased the risk of Theodora's having birth defects.

Merrell Dow, on September 4, 1987, asked that the district court strike or refuse to consider Louise Martin's affidavit because it squarely contradicted her earlier sworn statements. On October 14, 1987, the district court granted summary judgment to Merrell Dow, holding that Louise Martin's affidavit did not create a material dispute of fact as to the date of first ingestion.

We are asked to decide whether the district court erred in disregarding Louise Martin's affidavit. We recognize that there are situations in which sworn testimony can quite properly be corrected by a subsequent affidavit. Where the witness was confused at the earlier deposition or for some other reason misspoke, the subsequent correcting or clarifying affidavit may be sufficient to create a material dispute of fact. See e.g., Lane v. Celotex Corp., 782 F.2d 1526 (11th Cir. 1986). The case before us, however, does not present such a situation. The date of Louise Martin's first ingestion of Bendectin, a fact of considerable importance, was the subject of repeated questioning. Plaintiff's affidavit, submitted only after she faced almost certain defeat in summary judgment, flatly contradicted no less than eight of her prior sworn statements:

Plaintiffs simultaneously filed a notice of appeal and a motion for reconsideration twenty-nine days after the district court's decision. The court properly declined to rule upon the motion, holding that it was untimely and that, by virtue of the appeal, the court lacked jurisdiction to consider it.

She started experiencing morning sickness for the first time in the second month of her pregnancy.

She did not try anything herself at home to try and alleviate the nausea.

She first sought relief for her morning sickness when she went to Dr. Starz on May 19, 1966.

Her prescription for Bendectin, the source for all of the product she took, was issued by Dr. Starz on May 19, 1966.

She first began taking Bendectin right after Dr. Starz had prescribed it on May 19, 1966.

She first ingested Bendectin in the second month of her pregnancy.

Her only source of Bendectin during her pregnancy with Theodora was through a prescription.

She did not have any Bendectin left over from a prior pregnancy.

Moreover, no explanation was offered in the affidavit for the contradictions. As a result, we conclude that it was permissible for the district court to disregard the affidavit for purposes of determining whether there was a material dispute of fact.

Attached to Plaintiff's motion to reconsider was a second affidavit of Louise Martin in which she averred:

During January 1987, as I was unpacking old medicines which my family had accumulated, I recalled that I had taken Bendectin from an old prescription. I was sorting through these medicines throwing some of them away and retaining others.

Handling the old medicines stirred my memory as I thought about my case. When my attorney contacted me about Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, I advised him of this recollection which I had had in January, 1987.

We, of course, review the district court's grant of summary judgment on the basis of the record before it when the motion was submitted and decided. United States v. Alldredge, 432 F.2d 1248 (3rd Cir. 1970); Jaconski v. Avisun Corp., 359 F.2d 931 (3rd Cir. 1966). Because the second affidavit was never properly before the district court, we do not consider the relevance, if any, of the proffered explanation therein.

The numerous other courts of appeals that have considered the situation in which a party contradicts, without satisfactory explanation, his or her prior testimony, have reached the same decision. Each court has concluded that the objectives of summary judgment would be seriously impaired if the district court were not free to disregard the conflicting affidavit. Franks v. Nimmo, 796 F.2d 1230 (10th Cir. 1986); Miller v. A.H. Robins Co., 766 F.2d 1102 (7th Cir. 1985); Van T. Junkins and Associates v. United States Industries, 736 F.2d 656 (11th Cir. 1984); Camfield Tires, Inc. v. Michelin Tire Corp., 719 F.2d 1361 (8th Cir. 1983); Radobenko v. Automated Equip. Corp., 520 F.2d 540 (9th Cir. 1975); Perma Research and Dev. Co. v. Singer Co., 410 F.2d 572 (2d Cir. 1969). Indeed, the reasoning advanced by the Second Circuit in Perma Research applies with equal force to the present case:

If a party who has been examined at length on deposition could raise an issue of fact simply by submitting an affidavit contradicting his own prior testimony, this would greatly diminish the utility of summary judgment as a procedure for screening out sham issues of fact.

410 F.2d at 578. When, as in the present case, the affiant was carefully questioned on the issue, had access to the relevant information at that time, and provided no satisfactory explanation for the later contradiction, the courts of appeals are in agreement that the subsequent affidavit does not create a genuine issue of material fact.

The judgment of the district court will be affirmed.

We have considered and find to be without merit the Martins' alternative contention that Merrell Dow is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress whether or not its conduct caused Theodora's birth defects.


Summaries of

Martin v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
Jul 20, 1988
851 F.2d 703 (3d Cir. 1988)

holding that in instances of confusion or mistake, an affidavit may correct sworn deposition testimony and can be sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact

Summary of this case from Brown v. Showboat Atlantic City Propco, LLC

finding that a party cannot create a dispute of material fact by "flatly contradict[ing]" earlier sworn statements

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finding that a court's disposition of summary judgment motions would be "seriously impaired" if it could not strike contradictory affidavits proffered by a non-movant to survive the summary judgment motion

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adopting "sham affidavit doctrine" where a "flatly contradictory affidavit [submitted solely to defeat summary judgment] did not contain an explanation"

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affirming district court's disregard of plaintiff's affidavit submitted after facing almost certain defeat in summary judgment that flatly contradicted no less than eight of her prior sworn statements.

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affirming district court's decision to disregard plaintiff's affidavit which squarely contradicted earlier sworn statements and was submitted one year later in the face of almost certain defeat in summary judgment

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affirming district court's holding that no genuine issue of material fact existed where party contradicted his own prior sworn testimony

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affirming trial court's disregard of an affidavit submitted "only after [plaintiff] faced almost certain defeat in summary judgment" because it "flatly contradicted no less than eight of her prior sworn statements" in deposition and answers to interrogatories concerning date she first ingested manufacturer's drug

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rejecting an affidavit filed only after plaintiff "faced almost certain defeat in summary judgment" where it contradicted earlier deposition testimony

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noting that the doctrine applies to contradictions of " prior testimony"

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endorsing the sham affidavit doctrine

Summary of this case from Overall v. University of Pennsylvania

In Martin v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 851 F.2d 703 (3d Cir. 1988), the plaintiff was the mother of a child born with birth defects who made eight sworn factual statements tending to negate the defendant drug manufacturer's liability.

Summary of this case from Baer v. Chase

In Martin, the mother of a child born with birth defects made eight sworn factual statements tending to negate liability on the part of the defendant drug manufacturer.

Summary of this case from Armour v. County of Beaver

In Martin, the mother of a child born with birth defects made eight sworn factual statements tending to negate liability on the part of the defendant drug manufacturer.

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In Martin, the plaintiff in a products liability drug case submitted an affidavit in opposition to a motion for summary judgment a year after answering interrogatories and 14 months after her deposition that "flatly contradicted no less than eight of her prior sworn statements."

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authorizing the district court to disregard a party's affidavit when it contradicts prior testimony and that party provides no satisfactory explanation for the contradiction

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In Martin, the plaintiff had made numerous sworn statements which precluded her from establishing the defendants' liability.Id. at 704-05.

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discussing the inability of party to contradict prior deposition testimony with a later-filed affidavit to defeat summary judgment and holding that "the objectives of summary judgment would be seriously impaired if the district court were not free to disregard the conflicting affidavit"

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In Merrell Dow, the Third Circuit held that the district court properly disregarded an affidavit plaintiff submitted during summary judgment which "squarely contradicted her earlier sworn statements."

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In Martin v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 851 F.2d 703, 706 (3d Cir. 1988), the Third Circuit ruled that a district court can disregard an affidavit that contradicts prior testimony without satisfactory explanation when determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists.

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discussing inability of party to contradict prior deposition testimony within later-filed affidavit to defeat summary judgment and holding that "the objectives of summary judgment would be seriously impaired if the district court were not free to disregard the conflicting affidavit."

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collecting circuit court decisions

Summary of this case from John Beaudette, Inc. v. Sentry Insurance a Mutual Company

In Martin, the plaintiff brought suit alleging that she took the drug Bendectin during her pregnancy and that it caused birth defects.

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In Martin, the parents of a child with birth defects sought damages from the manufacturer of a drug and contended the drug taken by the mother during her pregnancy caused the defects.

Summary of this case from Maietta v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

In Merrell Dow, the plaintiff, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, submitted an affidavit directly contradicting her sworn deposition testimony concerning drugs she took while pregnant.

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Case details for

Martin v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Case Details

Full title:THEODORA HOPE MARTIN, AN INDIVIDUAL WILLIAM MARTIN, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND…

Court:United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

Date published: Jul 20, 1988

Citations

851 F.2d 703 (3d Cir. 1988)

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