As you know, Pfizer plans to acquire Wyeth, which has a closely watched case before the court involving preemption - the notion that FDA approval supercedes state law claims challenging safety, efficacy, or labeling. The case involves a Vermont musician, Diana Levine, who lost part of her arm after being administered a Wyeth drug, and the ruling will determine whether patients can sue a drugmaker through state law when a product has already been approved by the FDA.
Here's the rub: Chief Justice John Roberts sat out a case involving lawsuits against Pfizer because his May 2007 financial disclosure form indicated he held Pfizer stock between $10,000 and $50,000 (back story). The recusal yielded a 4-4 deadlock that upheld the rights of 27 Michigan residents to sue drugmakers for defrauding the FDA in winning product approvals.
As a result, the court left intact a lower-court ruling allowing the Michigan lawsuits to proceed. Had Roberts not recused himself, some observers believe he may have voted in favor of the pharmaceutical industry. Wyeth apparently fears a repeat in the Levine case, and so a Wyeth attorney wrote a letter on Wednesday to the clerk of the Supreme Court to argue that Roberts' Pfizer stock should not prevent him from voting.
Why? The acquisition won't close until at least July 31, after the court is expected to decide the case. "Wyeth does not believe the proposed acquisition warrants amendment of the corporate disclosure statement in its previously filed briefs," writes Seth Waxman, of Wilmer Hale, who represents Wyeth.
image from flickr user dbking used under a creative commons license.