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Franklin v. Wal-Mart, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 1, 2019

JOANN FRANKLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff JoAnn Franklin brings this action against Defendants Wal-Mart, Inc., Wal-Mart Associates, Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (collectively, “Walmart”), alleging claims of negligence and informed consent claims. ECF No. 1-6. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). ECF No. 5. No. hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2014 and 2015, Franklin filled her prescriptions for lithium carb at the Walmart pharmacy located at 1 Frankel Way, Cockeysville, Maryland. ECF No. 1-6 ¶¶ 7, 9-10. On March 24, 2015, Franklin's doctor prescribed her hydrochlorothiazide and sent the order to the Walmart pharmacy on Frankel Way. Id. ¶ 11. Approximately four days later, the pharmacy filled the prescription for hydrochlorothiazide. Id. ¶ 12.

         Franklin alleges that when she picked up the hydrochlorothiazide, the Walmart pharmacist failed to warn her of the dangers associated with taking hydrochlorothiazide and lithium together, such as lithium toxicity. Id. ¶ 13. She also alleges that the pharmacist failed to confirm with her primary care provider that it was appropriate for her to be on the two medications at the same time. Id. ¶ 14.

         On April 3, 2015, Franklin was admitted to St. Joseph Medical Center with a diagnosis of lithium toxicity and hydrochlorothiazide-induced pancreatitis. Id. ¶ 16. After being placed on IV fluids and given anti-nausea medication, she was discharged and instructed not to take either medication. Id. ¶ 17. In the following weeks, Franklin continued to suffer from the effects of lithium toxicity and developed “a variety of severe and life-threatening conditions.” Id. ¶¶ 18, 22.

         Franklin alleges that the pharmaceutical warnings for hydrochlorothiazide include that it should not be taken in combination with lithium due to the combination causing increased lithium levels. Id. ¶ 20. She further asserts that the warnings indicate that patients should be closely monitored for toxicities if the two medications are administered together. Id.

         On March 29, 2018, Franklin filed her initial Complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland. ECF No. 1-2. She filed her Amended Complaint on August 6, 2018. ECF No. 1-6. Defendants then removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, and moved to dismiss Count II (Informed Consent) of the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 5.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.”)).

         The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Franklin alleges that Walmart, through its pharmacist, failed to obtain her informed consent to the use of hydrochlorothiazide by not warning her of the risks associated with taking it and lithium at the same time. ECF No. 1-6 ¶¶ 24(D), 27. Defendants argue that Franklin's informed consent claim fails as a matter of law because they did not have a physician-patient relationship with Franklin and thus had no duty to obtain informed consent. ECF No. 5-1 at 4. Franklin responds that the informed consent doctrine applies not only to physicians, but to pharmacists too. ECF No. 8-1 at 2-10. Because the Maryland Pharmacy Act and relevant case law do not support extending the informed consent doctrine to pharmacists, Franklin's informed consent claim is dismissed.

         A. The Maryland Pharmacy Act Does Not Impose a Duty on ...


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