Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson
478 U.S. 804, 106 S. Ct. 3229, 92, L. Ed. 2d 650 (1986)
A pregnant Mrs. Thompson took
some drugs manufactured by Merrell that caused her kids to have birth
defects. The Thompsons sued.
The Thompsons sued for
negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability and fraud.
They also claimed that
Merrell violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA)(a Federal law).
Merrell moved the case from
State Court to Federal Court. The Thompsons appealed to get the case
moved back to State Court.
Merrell argued that there
was federal question jurisdiction
(under 28 USC § 1331), since Thompson was suing for
violation of a Federal law (the FDCA),
the case should be heard in a Federal Court.
Merrell knew that the local
Federal judge had recently dismissed a similar case!
The Federal Trial Court denied
the Thompson's motion. The Thompsons appealed.
The Federal Appellate Court
reversed. Merrell appealed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed
and sent the case back to State Court.
The US Supreme Court found
that there wasn't sufficient federal question jurisdiction for the Federal Court to hear the case.
The Court found that federal
question jurisdiction exists only if
the plaintiff's right of relief depended necessarily on a substantial question of Federal law.
In this case, it wasn't
really the violation of the FDCA
that the Thompsons were depending on to win, it was more that they were
claiming negligence. They didn't need the FDCA to make their case.
The Court found that
Congress never intended to create a private cause of action under FDCA. The fact that there may be a violation of FDCA by Merrell does not give the Thompsons a
private Federal cause of action under this Statute.
So, in the Court's opinion,
the Thompsons couldn't have gotten to a Federal court by using the FDCA even if that's what they were actively
trying to do.
The basic point of this case
is that just because there may be a violation of some Federal law, there
is no federal question jurisdiction,
unless Congress specifically says that there is.