On September 18, 2018, Lieff Cabraser and California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones sued AbbVie, Inc. for violations of the Insurance Frauds Prevention Act (“IFPA”) by providing kickbacks to healthcare providers throughout California relating to sale of the immunosuppressive drug Humira. Defendant AbbVie removed the case to federal court, arguing that the State of California should be disregarded as a nominal for jurisdictional purposes.
On July 25, 2019, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order in response to plaintiffs’ request to remand the case back to California Superior Court, noting that plaintiffs brought suit against AbbVie only for its conduct in California, that of pursuing two illicit schemes to “pump up” the sales of Humira in California.
The Judge’s order provided a summary of plaintiffs’ allegations: “One scheme involved ‘classic kickbacks’ in the form of substantial cash payments, gifts, trips and vacations, meals at ‘fancy restaurants’ and wineries, and other bribes given to California healthcare providers, including providers employed by the University of California…. The other scheme took the form of AbbVie’s ‘Ambassador Program,’ which was a network of nurses AbbVie made available at no cost to healthcare providers who prescribed Humira for their patients.”
The Judge noted that plaintiffs further alleged that AbbVie’s illegal scheming “dramatically increased the number of prescriptions for Humira that are filled and refilled” in California, a practice that was “particularly pernicious because Humira is an expensive drug with serious potential health hazards.” Judge Donato found that California is indeed a real party in interest in the lawsuit, and held that the case was therefore removed “improvidently and without jurisdiction.” Judge Donato thereafter remanded the case back to the Superior Court.