Pfizer lawsuit (re Nigeria)

In 1996, Pfizer conducted a drug trial in Kano, Nigeria during an epidemic of bacterial meningitis.  The company tested an experimental antibiotic drug, Trovan, on about 200 children during this time.

United States lawsuits 
In 2001, a group of Nigerian minors and their guardians sued Pfizer in US federal court under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) alleging that the company violated customary international law by administering Trovan to minors in Kano during the meningitis outbreak.  The plaintiffs in Abdullahi v. Pfizer claim that the drug was given without the informed consent of the children and their parents.  The plaintiffs further claim that the drug trial led to the deaths of 11 children and serious injuries to many others.  A second US lawsuit was filed against Pfizer, Adamu v. Pfizer, in November 2002.  These plaintiffs were also a group of Nigerians injured in the Trovan drug trial.  The Adamu plaintiffs alleged similar violations under ATCA and violations of Connecticut law.  Both of these cases were dismissed in 2005 on grounds of forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum – information on this legal doctrine available here) and failure to state a claim under ATCA.  According to the judge, the plaintiffs had failed to show a sufficient legal source for an international prohibition of non-consensual medical treatment.

In January 2009, the US court of appeals reversed the lower courts’ dismissal of the case. (The two lawsuits have been consolidated.)  A divided court found that the prohibition of non-consensual medical experimentation on humans is binding under customary international law.  In July 2009, Pfizer petitioned the US Supreme Court asking it to hear an appeal of the Court of Appeals' January 2009 ruling.  In November 2009 the Supreme Court asked the US Solicitor General to submit a brief to the court in this case.  In May 2010 the Solicitor General submitted this brief to the court urging the court to deny Pfizer's petition.

On February 23, 2011, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement in this lawsuit.  The terms of the settlement are confidential.  A joint statement issued by the parties explained that the plaintiffs in the US lawsuit will join the ongoing Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund process which is being managed by an independent board of trustees in Kano, Nigeria. 

Nigerian legal proceedings 
In 2001 a group of Nigerians sued Pfizer in the Federal High Court in Kano.  The plaintiffs in this case, Zango v. Pfizer International, alleged that Pfizer’s drug trials were illegal.  However, after severe delays, the plaintiffs elected to withdraw this case.  Some of the Zango plaintiffs were part of the Adamu action in the US. 

In May 2007, the state of Kano brought criminal charges and civil claims against Pfizer seeking over $2 billion in damages and restitution.  Settlement talks have been ongoing since November 2007.  In late January 2009, the state court adjourned the case until late February to allow more time for the parties to reach a settlement out of court.  In a separate action, the Nigerian federal government filed suit against Pfizer and several of its employees in June 2007 seeking nearly $7 billion in damages for the deaths of children involved in the Trovan drug trial.  In late January 2009, the Nigerian federal government informed the court that it has agreed with Pfizer to settle the lawsuit out of court.  In April 2009, the Kano state government and Pfizer announced that they have reached an agreement on the broad terms of an out-of-court settlement.  Pfizer and Kano state reached a final settlement in August 2009.  The parties agreed to a settlement figure of $75 million.  The amount of the settlement will be broken down as follows: $35 million to establish a fund for people that participated in the drug trial, $30 million will underwrite health care initiatives in Kano state and $10 million will be allocated to pay the state's legal costs.

Following reports of problems in the distribution of the settlement funds to families of the victims, Pfizer announced in August 2011 that it had made its first payments to families of four children who had died following the Trovan clinical trial. 

In November 2013, 186 victims filed a new lawsuit in a Federal High Court in Kano in which they argue Pfizer is allegedly in breach of the 2009 settlement agreement for limiting the criteria for compensation.  The hearings started in May 2014. In November 2014, Pfizer paid out compensation to victims of the 1996 Trovan clinical trial as set forth in the 2009 settlement agreement.

- "Pfizer pays out to Nigerian families of drug trial victims", David Smith, Guardian [UK], 12 Aug 2011
- "Pfizer Settles Lawsuits Over Drug Trials on Children in Nigeria", Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel, 23 Feb 2011
- "Pfizer settles drug testing case with Nigerian state for $75 million", Ross Todd, American Lawyer, 3 Aug 2009
- "Pfizer reaches settlement in notorious Nigerian drug trial", Joe Stephens, Washington Post, 4 Apr 2009
- “Attorney Continues Long Battle With Pfizer Over Nigerian Drug Experiments”, Douglas S. Malan, Connecticut Law Tribune [USA], 12 Feb 2009 
- “Split 2nd Circuit Revives Nigerian Families' Claims Against Pfizer Over Drug Tests”, Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal, 2 Feb 2009 
- “Fed Govt, Pfizer opt for out-of-court settlement”, The Nation [Nigeria], 27 Jan 2009 
- “Pfizer Drug Trial Case In Nigeria To Restart Feb 25”, AFP, 28 Jan 2009
- “Nigeria sues drugs giant Pfizer”, BBC News, 5 Jun 2007 
- “Pfizer faces criminal charges in Nigeria”, Joe Stephens, Washington Post, 30 May 2007

- Pfizer: [PDF] Pfizer responds to divided ruling by U.S. Court of appeals for 2nd circuit in cases related to Trovan study in Nigeria, 30 Jan 2009 
- Pfizer: [PDF] Pfizer issued the following statement in response to legal action taken against the company by the Nigerian government, 29 May 2007

- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief for the United States as amicus curiae, Solicitor General, US Department of Justice, 30 May 2010
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Reply Brief for Petitioner, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP, 25 Aug 2009
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief in Opposition, Altschuler & Altschuler, Milberg LLP, 10 Aug 2009
- [PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP, 8 jul 2009
- US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: [PDF] Rabi Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc., 30 Jan 2009 [decision reversing lower court’s dismissals] 
- US District Court for the Southern District of New York: 
     - [PDF] Adamu v. Pfizer, Inc., 8 Nov 2005 [dismissal] 
     - [PDF] Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc., 9 Aug 2005 [dismissal]

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30 May 2010

[PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae

Author: Solicitor General, US Department of Justice

This brief is filed in response to the Court’s order inviting the Solicitor General to express the views of the United States. In the view of the United States, the petition for a writ of certiorari should be denied…Neither of the questions presented warrants this Court’s review…Moreover, the procedural posture of the case counsels strongly against further review at this time. Not only is it possible that a decision by this Court would not even resolve the viability of respondents’ ATS claim for purposes of this case, but petitioner may still prevail on other dispositive questions…In addition, it is possible that the settlement process in Nigeria may render moot the claims in this case of some respondents. Review is thus unwarranted at this stage of the case.

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26 May 2010

Nigerian court orders halt to Pfizer DNA test

Author: AFP

A Nigerian court has ordered…Pfizer to halt DNA tests to determine compensation related to children who died or were deformed during a drug trial, court papers showed…The temporary order was in response to a case filed by lawyers of families of 192 victims of the drug test who want a halt to the DNA tests that are needed for identification of victims and relatives. The High Court…granted an interim order barring Pfizer from "continuing to conduct any tests . . . particularly DNA tests on any of the applicants," it said…Pfizer denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the trial was conducted with the consent of the Nigerian government and conformed to ethical guidelines.

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11 May 2010

Nigerians reject Pfizer payout over drug trial: lawyers

Author: AFP

Nigerian families have refused 35 million dollars in compensation from US firm Pfizer over a drug trial blamed for children's deaths due to a DNA testing dispute, their lawyers said Tuesday. An out-of-court settlement over a 1996 meningitis drug trial that allegedly left 11 children dead and 189 others deformed was reached last year, but the families' lawyers have now called for a halt to the payouts. A letter written by the lawyers…asked a board of trustees appointed by the US pharmaceutical giant and Kano state government to immediately cease processing the compensation.

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19 April 2010

ERI Submits Reports to the U.N. on U.S. Corporate Accountability and Human Rights Litigation

Author: EarthRights International

EarthRights International submitted two reports to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights today, in connection with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s periodic review of the human rights obligations of the United States. The first submission, a coalition report coauthored by ERI, the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Western Shoshone Defense Project, evaluates the United States’ performance on corporate accountability for activities abroad or affecting indigenous people’s rights, including the areas of protecting against human rights abuses by corporations and providing remedies for corporate abuses. The second report, submitted by ERI alone, focuses on the United States government’s approach in human rights litigation in U.S. courts.

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19 April 2010

[PDF] Stakeholder Submission on United States Obligations to Respect, Protect and Remedy Human Rights in the Context of Business Activities

Author: Center for Constitutional Rights, EarthRights International, Western Shoshone Defense Project, ESCR-Net

This joint stakeholder submission analyzes the United States’ record in discharging its obligations to respect, protect and remedy in the context of human rights abuses involving business enterprises acting abroad and on or near indigenous lands in the United States.1 Businesses under U.S. domestic and extraterritorial jurisdiction…across the spectrum of industries have been implicated in, or found culpable for, inter alia, child labor, forced labor, extrajudicial killings and torture, abuses to the right to information, labor rights abuses, environmental abuses, gender discrimination, severe impacts to human health, and abuses to indigenous peoples’ rights…The State party is not doing enough to ensure that government agencies monitor and respect human rights in their dealings with private business projects. [refers to Blackwater (now Xe Services), Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Chiquita, KBR, Pfizer, Titan (now L-3 Titan, part of L-3 Communications), Unocal (part of Chevron)

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1 January 2010

Informed consent: Enforcing pharmaceutical companies’ obligations abroad

Author: Stacey B Lee, lecturer of business law and ethics in the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, USA, Health and Human Rights Journal

The past several years have seen an evolution in the obligations of pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical trials abroad. Key players, such as international human rights organizations, multinational pharmaceutical companies, the United States government and courts, and the media, have played a significant role in defining these obligations…This article suggests that, no matter how robust obligations appear, they will continue to fall short of providing meaningful protection until they are accompanied by a substantive enforcement mechanism that holds multinational pharmaceutical companies accountable for their conduct…This article argues that, rather than continuing to pursue an untenable international approach, the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) offers a viable enforcement mechanism, at least for US-based pharmaceutical companies…[refers to Pfizer, Hoffmann-La Roche (part of Roche), Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Coca-Cola]

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2 November 2009

US High Court Asks Administration To Comment On Nigeria Drug Trial Case

Author: Brent Kendall, Dow Jones

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the Obama administration's solicitor general to weigh in on Pfizer Inc.'s (PFE) challenge to a pair of lawsuits alleging the drug maker illegally tested an antibiotic drug on children in Nigeria in 1996. Two groups of Nigerian families alleged that Pfizer violated international law when it tested the experimental drug Trovan on 200 Nigerian children during an outbreak of bacterial meningitis... Pfizer said the study, conducted in the Nigerian state of Kano, took place with the approval of the Nigerian government and the consent of the children's parents.

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15 October 2009

Pfizer - Victims Threaten to Go Back to Court [Nigeria]

Author: Mansur Sani Malam, Leadership [Nigeria]

Members of the 1996 Kano Pfizer Trovan Victims Forum have warned that they may seek the permission and cooperation of the Kano State government to go back to court and re-open their case against Pfizer. In a press release signed by the chairman of the forum, Alhaji Mustapha Garba Maisikeli, described as unfortunate the attitude of the Pfizer's attorney, adding that his actions were trying to re-open a can of worms again, saying they had received some reports which stated that some associates of Mr. Nelson Nzegwu were planning to instigate a section of some settlers in Kano to invent a new dubious list in order to counter the real victims list of those who actually proved beyond reasonable doubt that they are the real victims of the unfortunate Trovan drug trial in 1996.

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24 August 2009

Big Penalties Loom for Chevron in Ecuador

Author: Michael Orey, BusinessWeek

Sixteen years after it was first filed and seven years after it was tossed out of U.S. courts, an environmental contamination lawsuit growing out of Texaco's oil drilling in Ecuador has become a giant legal and public relations headache for Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001. The suit was refiled in Ecuador, and a judge there is expected to issue a ruling later this year or early in 2010…Chevron's experience calls into question a near-reflexive response by businesses that are sued in the U.S. over matters involving their operations abroad: They prefer to argue that the claims would best be pursued where the alleged harm occurred. [also refers to Dole, Pfizer]

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10 August 2009

[PDF] Pfizer Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al. - Brief in Opposition

Author: Altschuler & Altschuler, Milberg LLP

Respondents, Nigerian children (and their guardians), have properly alleged that Petitioner Pfizer Inc. ("Pfizer") conducted medical experiments on them without informed consent in 1996, and that this illegal activity was undertaken in concert with the Nigerian government…Respondents have brought claims in United States courts, asserting those courts have jurisdiction pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute…Pfizer’s Petition should be denied. The Second Circuit’s decision breaks no new ground, but, rather, represents a faithful application of Sosa v. Alvarez- Machain…to a unique and limited set of facts.

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