MEDTRONIC INC. v. LOHR

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
95-754
Petitioner 
Medtronic Inc.
Respondent 
Lohr
Consolidation 
Lohr et vir v. Medtronic, Inc., No. 95-886
Advocates
(Department of Justice, argued the cause on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, in support of Lora Lohr, et vir)
(Argued the cause on behalf of Medtronic, Inc)
(Argued the cause on behalf of Lora Lohr, et vir)
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Facts of the Case 

The Medical Device Amendments of 1976 (MDA) provides for "the safety and effectiveness of medical devices intended for human use," and classifies such devices based on their level of risk. Class III devices pose the greatest risk and, thus, are subject to a rigorous premarket approval (PMA) process. However, two statutory exceptions to this process exist. Because Medtronic, Inc.'s pacemaker is a Class III device found substantially equivalent to a pre-existing device, it can avoid the PMA process. In 1990, Lora Lohr's Medtronic pacemaker failed, allegedly according to a defect. Lohr and her spouse filed a Florida state-court suit, alleging both negligence and strict- liability claims. Medtronic removed the case to federal district court. The court then dismissed the case as pre-empted by 21 USC section 360k(a), which provides that "no State...may establish or continue in effect with respect to a device intended for human use any requirement (1) which is different from, or in addition to, any requirement applicable under [the MDA] to the device, and (2) which relates to the safety or effectiveness of the device or to any other matter included in a requirement applicable to the device under [the Act]." Reversing and affirming in part, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Lohrs' negligent design claims were not pre-empted, but that their negligent manufacturing and failure to warn claims were. (This case was decided together with 95-886, Lohr et vir v. Medtronic, Inc.)

Question 

Do the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 pre-empt a state common-law negligence action against the manufacturer of an allegedly defective medical device?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Lohr, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic, and related statutes

No. In an opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the Court of Appeals decision was reversed insofar as it held that any of the claims were pre-empted and affirmed insofar as it rejected any pre-emption defense. In a 9-0 vote, the Court allowed the lawsuit based on alleged defects in the pacemaker's design to proceed. In a 5-4 vote, the Court allowed the lawsuit to proceed on its claims of alleged defects in its manufacturing and failure to warn. Justice Stevens reasoned that the MDA was not intended to pre-empt "traditional common-law remedies against manufacturers and distributors of defective devices," as long as they paralleled federal requirements.

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MEDTRONIC INC. v. LOHR. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_754>.
MEDTRONIC INC. v. LOHR, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_754 (last visited November 10, 2014).
"MEDTRONIC INC. v. LOHR," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_754.