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Medtronic, Inc.; Medtronic Sofamor Dankek Usa, Inc. v. Ralph Royer and Melody Royer

April 4, 2013



This matter is before the Court on a motion by Plaintiffs Medtronic, Inc. and Medtronic Sofamor Dankeke USA, Inc. for declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202; and injunctive relief [DN 18]. Pursuant to court order, also before the Court are briefs regarding the Court's exercise of jurisdiction [DN 35, 36]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.


In February of 2007, Dr. Clark Bernard performed a three level corpectomy on Ralph Royer.The surgery required the removal of multiple disks, and the installation of a Medtronic manufactured device called a VerteStack.Another Medtronic manufactured product, Infuse, was also used during the surgery as a bone growth stimulator. Following the surgery, it was discovered that the VerteStack was not properly installed or had come apart, requiring additional surgery and rehabilitation. Ralph Royer filed an action against Dr. Bernard and Medtronicdue to the complications with the VerteStack. The claim against Medtronic was settled by a confidential release and settlement agreement on May 3, 2010 (the "Release").

Meanwhile, Royer's condition, again, began to deteriorate, and a boney overgrowth was discovered. Due to the boney overgrowth, Ralph Royer has undergone several more surgeries, with potential for more, and continues to endure pain and suffering. The Royers allege that Infuse caused unusual boney growths as evidenced by an article published in The Spine Journal. Additionally, the Royers have alleged that Infuse was approved by the FDA for single level lumbar surgeries, but never approved for use in cervical spine fusions, similar to the one that Ralph Royer underwent. With this knowledge, the Royers filed a cause of action in Jefferson Circuit Court on May 30, 2012 against Medtronic, and its sale representatives, Toby Wilcox and Tony Whitlow ("the Royer Action"). In the Royer Action Complaint, the Royers state that the release signed on May 3, 2010, "purports to release all claims known and unknown," however, "[t]he sole consideration for the Release . . . was alleged defect or defects in a medical device known as a VerteStatck . . . . At no time was there any consideration given for releasing the Medtronic Defendants from liability for the defects as described in Infuse." (Royer Action Complaint, 3:12-cv-00367)

Medtronic, Inc., and Medtronic Sofamor Danek USA, Inc. (collectively "Medtronic") removed the Royer Action from Jefferson Circuit Court case to the Western District of Kentucky on July 2, 2012 claiming fraudulent joinder of Medtronic sales representatives, Wilcox and Whitlow. (Case No. 3:12-cv-00367). They then filed this cause of action asking the Court to (1) declare that the May 3, 2010 Release bars any and all claims arising from Ralph Royer's surgeries that took place on February 5, 6, and 14, 2007 and March 3, 2008; (2) compel the Royers to dismiss the 2012 action with prejudice; and (3) indemnify Medtronic of the costs, attorneys' fees, and other expenses that they have incurred. In a Memorandum Opinion Order dated January 23, 2013, this Court remandedthe Royer Action (Royer v. Medtronic, case no. 3:12-cv-00367) back to Jefferson Circuit Court. Medtronic has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings [DN 18] and on January 23, 2013, the Court ordered the parties to file simultaneous briefs on the issue of whether the Court should exercise its discretion to accept jurisdiction over this action under the Declaratory Judgment Act. (Order, DN 34].)


Even if a federal court does have jurisdiction over a cause of action asking for relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, it may decline to exercise that jurisdiction. See Adrian Energy Associates v. Michigan Public Service Com'n, 481 F.3d 414, 421 (6th Cir. 2007). However, Medtronic reasons that because it also asks for injunctive relief and damages, claims which the Court must address, and the issues are closely intertwined with the declaratory relief claim, the Court should exercise its jurisdiction over all three claims.

A. Declaratory Judgment

The Federal Declaratory Judgment Act provides in relevant part:

In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought.

28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). Exercise of jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act is not mandatory. Bituminous Casualty Corp. v. J & L Lumber Col, Inc. 373 F.3d 807, 812 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Brillhart v. Excess Ins. Co. of America, 316 U.S. 491, 494 (1942)). See also Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Bowling Green Professional Associates, et al., 495 F.3d 266 (6th Cir. 2007). Therefore, the Court must decide whether it should exercise jurisdiction over this claim. See Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co. v. Willenbrink, 924 F.2d 104, 105 (6th Cir. 1991). "In determining the propriety of entertaining a declaratory judgment action, competing state and federal interests weigh in the balance, with courts particularly reluctant to entertain federal declaratory judgment actions premised on diversity jurisdiction in the face of a previously-filed state court action." Adrian Energy, 481 F.3d at 422.

It is necessary to examine five factors to determine whether a case is appropriate for a declaratory judgment. Bituminous, 373 F.3d at 813. In determining whether such exercise is appropriate, the Sixth Circuit instructs a district court to examine:

(1) whether the judgment would settle the controversy;

(2) whether the declaratory judgment action would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the ...

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