Litigation Division of the 12 months, Merchandise Legal responsibility/Mass Torts: Dechert


Photo: Ryland West / ALM

What are some of the department’s most satisfying achievements over the past year, and why? It has been an extremely satisfactory year for Dechert. After sustained success in 2018 with high-profile court wins for Pfizer in the Zoloft and Lipitor cases and for State Farm in a breach of contract against a Connecticut homeowner, we continued the momentum with a number of notable wins over the next 12 months. In September 2019, as Purdue Pharma’s national defender, we led the first proposed comprehensive global resolution of all state and federal cases against a defendant in the opioid litigation. When several attorneys general and hundreds of counties and communities filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, Purdue faced 2,800 cases related to its prescription pain reliever, OxyContin. Just weeks before the initial trial, the company announced a $ 10 billion to $ 12 billion preliminary settlement backed by 24 state-owned corporations, five U.S. territories, and the lead plaintiff’s attorney. Consistent with the proposed settlement, Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the intention of ultimately converting its assets into a new public trust operated for the public benefit. As a result, Purdue was disconnected from the first MDL trial and the proceedings against it remained in place. The bankruptcy court has since allowed all opioid-related litigation against Purdue through October 2020. The team also scored key wins for long-time client Pfizer in litigation related to its best-selling statin, Lipitor. After securing the MDL’s release in June 2018, we received key judgments in Michigan and Missouri states and, more recently, in the southern borough of New York, where a federal judge has all claims by federal preliminary ruling and by New York’s three one-year statute of limitations . We have also moved to sack Saint-Gobain in a lawsuit related to the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower in 2017. A number of UK residents and their lands have filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania over allegations that Saint-Gobain and other US companies manufactured and supplied products that caused or contributed to the fire. SaintGobain received a dismissal notice in March 2020 for not being involved in the fire or the products in question.

A potential customer in a crisis calls and asks why your team should be kept. What’s your answer Dechert’s 70-strong PLMT group has a reputation for creating new defense strategies and postponing the law. The two co-leads Mark Cheffo and Sheila Birnbaum are seen by the bank and the bar as national experts who can creatively solve the most complex cases. What sets Dechert apart is its unusually deep bank of senior litigation attorneys, each of whom have built a deep understanding of plaintiffs’ game books and a network of close relationships with judges, experts, and other stakeholders that impact results in the area. The team has won many landmark cases in state and federal appeals courts – including the US Supreme Court – and has a long history of securing the pre-trial dismissal of entire MDLs.

Which traits do you respect most in opposing law firms and lawyers? At Dechert we believe that we have earned the trust and confidence of the courts and the respect of the opposing lawyer to keep our word, to act professionally and to remain polite even under pressure. We respect those who act similarly and are fortunate to have good working relationships with those who hold leadership roles for plaintiffs in many product liability cases.

What is the company doing to ensure that future generations of litigators are ready to take the helm? Dechert’s culture of success is based on leadership and training. Young lawyers regularly take part in seminars on procedural and content-related topics and at the same time take part in external programs to learn from other specialists. Young lawyers are invited to court cases and client meetings early and are expected to testify and file motions in court much earlier than anywhere else.

Hayden Coleman Rachel Passaretti-WuAnswers prepared by Hayden Coleman and Rachel Passaretti-Wu, Partner in the company.