The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently ruled in favor of consolidating 18 class action lawsuits currently pending against Abbott Laboratories in response to contamination found in batches of infant formula. The discovery of the contamination led to nationwide shortages of the formula. At the height of the crisis, nearly 30% of the nation’s infant formula supply showed as out of stock.
The panel chose the Northern District of Illinois as the court for the MDL and proceedings will be presided over by Judge Matthew F. Kennelly. In rendering its decision, the Panel called Judge Kennelly a “skilled jurist who is well-versed in the nuances of complex, multidistrict litigation,” and noted that it was “confident” in his ability to “steer this controversy on a prudent course.”
The crisis started earlier this year when several infants fell ill, including at least two fatalities, after consuming formula manufactured under the Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare brands. All formula in question was produced out of one facility: Abbott Laboratories’ manufacturing plant located in Sturgis, Michigan.
An investigation into the facility yielded sickening results. On the government’s radar since at least autumn of 2019, the facility had already racked up a number of infractions, including those that focused on the cleanliness of the surfaces used in manufacturing infant formula. At least eight instances of contamination had been noted at the plant between fall of 2019 and February of 2022. As Abbott worked to remedy the hundreds of issues noted at the Sturgis plant, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf testified that the plant would remain closed until all issues had been remedied to the agency’s satisfaction. “Abbott actually did start remediating the plant,” he said in testimony to Congress, “but it was so bad.”
Summer saw a limited release of product that had not undergone additional testing put in place as a result of the recall that was reserved for those needing “urgent, life-sustaining supplies.”
Abbott is currently defending itself in a second, separate MDL related to its infant formula products. The company is at the center of accusations that its products are more likely to cause necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants than those from other brands because of the way they are produced.