Posted by Scott Stein and Catherine Kim
In August, we wrote about a decision in which a court rejected the government’s theory that submission of claims for services that failed to comply with industry guidelines were “false.” Last week, another plaintiff seeking to impose FCA liability based on violation of voluntary guidelines suffered a similar defeat.
On November 14, Judge Brian Cogan of the Eastern District of New York dismissed the relator’s Fifth Amended Complaint in United States ex rel. Polansky v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 04-cv-0704 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 14, 2012) alleging that Pfizer engaged in off-label marketing of its popular statin Lipitor in violation of the False Claims Act. The complaint alleged that Pfizer engaged in off-label marketing by encouraging physicians to prescribe Lipitor to lower the cholesterol of patients whose risk factors for heart disease and cholesterol levels did not fall within the National Cholesterol Education Program (“NCEP”) Guidelines. Specifically, the relator contended that the publication of an NCEP Guidelines chart in Lipitor’s 2005 label prohibited Pfizer from marketing the drug to physicians for use on patients who fell outside the parameters of the guidelines. Though such guidelines were not republished in the 2009 label, the relator noted that they were still referenced in the Dosage and Administration section.
Concluding that “[o]ff-guideline use does not equate to off-label[,]” the court dismissed the complaint, holding that the NCEP Guidelines did not constitute a legal restriction, but were “merely informational and advisory[.]” The court noted that had the FDA desired to limit Lipitor use to patients falling within the NCEP guidelines, it could have done so expressly. Yet the 2009 label, as read by the court, contained no restrictions regarding the appropriate patient population for Lipitor. Indeed, the only reference to the guidelines appeared in a four-word parenthetical in the label’s dosage instructions.
For these reasons, the court held that the relator’s off-label claims failed under the 2009 label. And since the relator conceded that the changes to the 2009 label from the earlier label were not substantive, the court concluded that the relator’s claims must fail under the 2005 label as well.
“The False Claims Act, even in its broadest application, was never intended to be used as a back-door regulatory regime to restrict practices that the relevant federal and state agencies have chosen not to prohibit through their regulatory authority,” wrote Judge Cogan. “I cannot accept plaintiff’s theory that what the scientists at the [NCEP] clearly intended to be advisory guidance is transformed into a legal restriction simply because the FDA has determined to pass along that advice through the label.”