Federal Judge Overrules Abbott Labs’ “Absurd” Use of Legal Loophole, Remands Infant Formula Cases Back to Illinois State Court

J. Gerard Stranch IV, founding and managing member for Stranch, Jennings & Garvey (formerly Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings), successfully defeated Abbott Laboratories’ attempt to circumvent state-level litigation in Illinois cases alleging that its Similac® formula contributed to a deadly illness in premature infants.

On June 22, 2022, Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the Northern District of Illinois is presiding over multidistrict litigation (MDL), which includes several dozen claims alleging that Similac® caused severe illness or death from necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies. The federal MDL currently includes 89 lawsuits, with similar lawsuits filed in state court.

In the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Abbott attempted to utilize a loophole known as “snap removal.” Using this method, defendants monitor electronically available dockets to spot state-level complaints and then race to remove them before a sheriff’s deputy or court-appointed representative has a chance to serve them. If a defendant is successful in doing so, the case can then be “snapped” to federal court, a venue favored by large corporations. 

Using this tactic, Abbott initially removed four related Cook County lawsuits to the federal level, an action contested by Stranch. Judge Pallmeyer rejected Abbott’s use of snap removal, calling it “absurd,” and sent the four suits back to state court. 

“Abbott’s interpretation … would create a race between the Cook County Sheriff and forum-state defendants, totally divorced from plaintiff’s intent to properly serve and join those defendants,” Judge Pallmeyer wrote. “A few hours or even a few minutes’ difference in timing of service — a matter wholly outside the plaintiff’s control — cannot be a basis for federal court action.”

“We are very pleased that the court viewed Abbott’s interpretation as absurd as we did,” Stranch said. “We look forward to trying these cases in the courts where they were initially filed, and to presenting the evidence to a jury of the plaintiffs’ peers.”

The four remanded cases are:

  • Rinehart et al. v. Abbott Laboratories et al., case number 1:22-cv-00192
  • Gshwend et al. v. Abbott Laboratories et al., case number 1:22-cv-00197
  • Taylor et al. v. Abbott Laboratories et al., case number 1:22-cv-00203
  • Stuper et al. v. Abbott Laboratories et al., case number 1:22-cv-00204 

The MDL is In Re: Abbott Laboratories et al. Preterm Infant Nutrition Products Liability Litigation, case number 3026, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.