Blake Sends Brain-Cancer Suits To State Court
RCR Wireless News
Journalist: Jeffrey Silva
July 20, 2004
stunning turnabout, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled
six brain-cancer suits against the mobile-phone industry do
not belong in federal court and remanded the cases to state
Until Monday’s ruling, the Baltimore
federal judge had consistently ruled in industry’s favor in
wireless health litigation on substantive legal and scientific
issues. In particular, Blake has given significant weight to
industry arguments that mobile-phone cancer suits are
pre-empted by federal law.
Plaintiffs in the six brain
cancer suits are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in
damages. Lead defendants in the suits include Motorola Inc.,
Matsushita Electric Inc., Audiovox Corp., Nokia Corp. and
Qualcomm Inc. The plaintiffs are represented by Morganroth
& Morganroth, a Detroit law firm that has taken on
high-profile clients such as John DeLorean and Dr. Jack
“We are pleased with the remand decision
and certainly look forward to moving the cases to the next
stage,” said Jeffrey Morganroth.
The six suits were
filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia in
2001. The suits were subsequently moved to the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia and assigned to Judge
Thomas Penfield Jackson. Later, the Morganroth actions and
other cancer suits against industry were consolidated and
assigned to Blake in Baltimore federal court.
26-page ruling, Blake sought to differentiate her previous
support for industry’s federal pre-emption argument in headset
litigation from Monday’s decision to return six brain cancer
suits to the D.C. Superior Court.
“While the [headset]
plaintiffs’ requests for relief were focused on the provision
of headsets for use with the cell phones, the Morganroth
plaintiffs seek compensatory and consequential damages for the
lead plaintiffs’ brain injuries,” stated Blake.
January, Blake approved a request to withdraw a lawsuit filed
by Atlanta's Brian Barrett against Nokia Corp. and others.
Barrett, who died in November 2002, alleged mobile-phone use
caused his brain tumor.
One of Morganroth’s clients,
former Motorola technician Michael Murry, died in April 2003.
Blake apparently struggled with the ruling. “The
gravamen of the Morganroth complaints is that federal safety
regulations governing wireless cell phones permit the sale of
a product that is unreasonably dangerous to consumers,” she
wrote. “In many respects the arguments in favor of exercising
[federal] jurisdiction over the complaints are just as strong
as in the [headset] actions. The Morganroth complaints involve
distinguishable facts, however, requiring remand to state
Blake’s latest ruling comes at a time when the
cell phone industry appeared to have regained control of the
combustible health issue.
“Changing the venue doesn't
change the facts. The claim at issue in these cases has been
considered by scientific experts, public health authorities,
government agencies and the courts on numerous occasions. All
have concluded that the allegation has no credible scientific
basis. We do not expect the lawyers bringing these cases to
turn science on its head,” said Norm Sandler, director of
global strategic issues at Motorola.
In 2002, Blake
threw out an $800 million brain cancer lawsuit against
Motorola Inc. and others, concluding scientific evidence
offered by lawyers for Christopher Newman was not strong
enough to send the case to trial. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals affirmed the Newman dismissal last year.
The Newman suit began in Maryland state court, but
industry lawyers moved the litigation to federal court. The
law firm of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, which
represented Newman, failed to persuade Blake to remand that
case to state court.
The 4th Circuit, in Richmond,
Va., is considering an appeal of Blake’s 2003 dismissal of
five class-action wireless product liability suits. In that
litigation, plaintiffs sued to force carriers to supply
consumers with headsets to reduce exposure to phone radiation.
Blake previously hinted that she might await the 4th
Circuit’s ruling on the federal pre-emption question before
deciding whether to send the brain-cancer lawsuits pending
before her back to state court.
The courts have upheld
mobile-phone radiation guidelines used by the Federal
Communications Commission. Government health officials here
and overseas say research does not point to health risks from
mobile phones, but they stop short of guaranteeing their
safety. Research, much of it sponsored by cell-phone
companies, is being conducted in the United States, Europe and