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Henry v. Richardson-Merrell Inc.

decided: January 22, 1975.

DENIS HENRY, A MINOR, BY GASTON HENRY AND LORRAINE HENRY, HIS NATURAL PARENTS AND GUARDIANS, GASTON HENRY, INDIVIDUALLY AND LORRAINE HENRY, INDIVIDUALLY, APPELLEES,
v.
RICHARDSON-MERRELL, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, AND MERRELL-NATIONAL LABORATORIES, DIVISION OF RICHARDSON-MERRELL, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, APPELLANTS



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY. (D.C. Civil Action No. 289-73).

Van Dusen, Hunter and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

This is a diversity case in which plaintiff-appellee seeks damages for personal injuries suffered as a result of his mother's ingestion of thalidomide during pregnancy. In the present appeal, appellant drug company challenges the district court of New Jersey's application of the New Jersey statute of limitation and consequent denial of its motion for summary judgment. Henry v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc., 366 F. Supp. 1192 (D. N.J., 1973).*fn1 The district court's interlocutory order was certified for appeal under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1292(b).

Twelve-year old appellee, Denis Henry, is a citizen and resident of Quebec, Canada. Appellant Richardson-Merrell, Inc., is a Delaware corporation with principal offices in New York which engages in national and international drug sales. Richardson-Merrell does transact some business in New Jersey.*fn2

Plaintiffs originally filed this suit in the New Jersey State courts, at which time service of process was effected on Richardson-Merrell's registered agent in New Jersey. Defendant subsequently removed the suit to federal court on grounds of diversity of citizenship.

The present controversy deals with the statute of limitation to be applied in the case at bar. Quebec prescribes a one-year delictual limitation*fn3 which is not tolled for minors. New Jersey's two year personal injury limitation is tolled for minors until two years after the minor attains the age of 21.*fn4 The law of no other jurisdiction was pleaded by the parties.

Appellant contends that the trial court's application of the New Jersey limitation must be reversed since the expired Quebec prescription properly applies.

After careful consideration of appellant's contention, the judgment of the district court will be reversed. The suit will be dismissed as timebarred under the applicable Quebec limitation since this court concludes that the choice of law principles of New Jersey, the forum state, mandate such a result.*fn5

I

The facts alleged by plaintiff are as follows. Lorraine Henry, mother of the infant appellee, ingested Kevadon, Richardson-Merrell's brand of thalidomide, in July of 1961 during the first trimester of pregnancy. The drug was prescribed by a Quebec physician while Mrs. Henry was a patient in a Quebec hospital. In March of 1962, plaintiff-appellee, Denis Henry, was born in the same hospital with severe and permanent birth defects.*fn6

In 1961 appellant, Richardson-Merrell, was engaged in testing, manufacturing and marketing its thalidomide tablet, Kevadon. The complaint alleges that Denis Henry's injuries resulted from Richardson-Merrell's negligent, fraudulent, willful, wanton and reckless conduct in failing properly to test, label and market the drug, in improperly obtaining government permission to market the drug, in refusing to heed and supply adequate warnings, in failing to comply with the Canadian and United States food and drug laws, in manufacturing a defective drug and in violating express and implied warranties of fitness and merchantability.

Thalidomide was developed in Germany as a sleeping pill and was licensed by the German developer to Richardson-Merrell in 1958 for manufacture and distribution in North America. Although the Canadian Drug Directorate approved use of the drug in April of 1961, the United States Food and Drug Administration withheld approval because it found testing data, supportive of the new drug application, insufficient.

During the late 1950's defendant-appellant imported the active ingredient into the United States from Germany. The ingredient was synthesized into tablets and packed at Merrell-National Laboratories in Ohio. Sometime in 1961,*fn7 Richardson-Merrell's subsidiary, Baker, began production of the active ingredient of Kevadon at its New Jersey plant. This ingredient was then shipped to Ohio where it was formed into Kevadon tablets and packed ...


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