Is There a Legal Duty to Have a Medication in Stock?

Pharmacy Times, July 2016 Digestive Health, Volume 82, Issue 7

A patient pursuing a legal claim on his own, without benefit of the services of an attorney, alleged that a pharmacy has a legal duty to maintain an inventory containing all medications, so his would be available when needed. May such a claim go forward through the court system?

ISSUE OF THE CASE

A patient pursuing a legal claim on his own, without benefit of the services of an attorney, alleged that a pharmacy has a legal duty to maintain an inventory containing all medications, so his would be available when needed. May such a claim go forward through the court system?

FACTS OF THE CASE

A patient filed a complaint to launch a lawsuit in a state court in a southern state. He alleged that he had suffered various injuries because the pharmacy chain with which he dealt did not have his medications in stock when he needed them. He alleged that he had ordered several medications, “which must be taken together,” that they were not on hand in the pharmacy when he requested them, and that, as a result, he suffered injuries when the pharmacy failed to supply them within 2 weeks. He characterized the pharmacy’s legal duty as being a “duty to provide his medications when requested.”

The pharmacy advanced a motion with the court to have the lawsuit dismissed, the basis being that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The pharmacy chain submitted to the court a memorandum outlining its arguments and the legal authorities supporting its position.

The plaintiff had also submitted what the court described as “numerous pleadings” to support his position. The pharmacy chain denied many of the factual allegations in a response. It also argued that “even if the allegations were true, the allegations amounted to nothing more than a criticism as to the level of service” its staff provided to the plaintiff—not a cognizable claim under the law of the state where the matter arose.

The state court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, so he turned to federal court, focusing on the fact that the chain was headquartered out of state, thereby identifying diversity of citizenship as a basis for getting into federal court. He used almost identical claims to launch his lawsuit in the new venue.

The plaintiff engaged in a variety of machinations to prolong the proceeding, including sending a variety of questionnaires to staff members at the pharmacy chain. When he received no responses, he asked the court to compel responses. In answer to that, the defendant pharmacy chain made a motion to dismiss the federal court matter entirely. Such a motion asks the judge to assess the legal sufficiency of the allegations contained in the complaint.

THE COURT’S RULING

The court granted the motion of the defendant pharmacy chain and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning that it is dismissed permanently. It is completed and done.

THE COURT’S REASONING

The court began by emphasizing that when evaluating such a motion, it has a duty to “review the legal sufficiency of a complaint,” and when this is done, it is to view the factual allegations in the complaint “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”

The defendants made 2 arguments: first, the matter had been dismissed with prejudice by a state court earlier, and this court should honor that decision; second, the complaint fails to identify any cognizable legal duty owed to the plaintiff. This federal court turned to the US Constitution and its provision known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” which dictates that judicial decisions at the state level must be recognized and honored. The state court had granted a motion for dismissal for failure to state a claim on which a remedy could be based. That doctrine alone would require the federal court to agree with the state court with regard to the outcome.

Nonetheless, the federal judge continued his review of the matter, focusing on the second argument of the defendant. He concluded that all the submissions by the plaintiff failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because it fails to state any cognizable duty owed to plaintiff by defendants or any facts upon which such a duty could be founded.” He emphasized that “a review of the applicable case law located no case that holds that a retail pharmacy has a duty to have certain medications in stock at all times, nor has the plaintiff cited any such case.” In this, he agreed with the state court judge who had dismissed the matter. That judge said, “They do not have a duty to have available every drug that someone might request.”

The federal judge concluded the matter with this: “Even if the federal complaint was not precluded as a result of the state court dismissal, it would be dismissed because it fails to state any cognizable duty owed to plaintiff by defendants or any facts upon which such a duty could be founded.”

Dr. Fink is a professor of pharmacy law and policy and the Kentucky Pharmacists Association Endowed Professor of Leadership at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, Lexington.