Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Connors, No. 20-15515 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
After the State of Hawaii filed suit against several pharmaceutical companies in state court for allegedly deceptive drug marketing related to the medication Plavix, the companies turned to federal court, seeking an injunction against the state court litigation based on a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the state court litigation is a quasi-criminal enforcement proceeding and that Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), bars a federal court from interfering with such a proceeding. The panel explained that, even though the state proceeding is being litigated by private counsel, it is still an action brought by the State of Hawaii. The panel stated that what matters for Younger abstention is whether the state proceeding falls within the general class of quasi-criminal enforcement actions—not whether the proceeding satisfies specific factual criteria. Looking to the general class of cases of which this state proceeding is a member, the panel concluded that Younger abstention is appropriate here. In this case, the State's action has been brought under a statute that punishes those who engage in deceptive acts in commerce, and the State seeks civil penalties and punitive damages to sanction the companies for their allegedly deceptive labeling practices. Because the companies' First Amendment concerns do not bring this case within the scope of Younger's extraordinary circumstances exception, they have no bearing on the application of Younger. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action.