Wednesday, January 8, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Lauren Wenke is seen here in her 2011 arrest photo.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed a judgment on the pleadings in favor of a pharmaceutical company sued by a woman who was found guilty of the attempted murder of her estranged husband and wants to blame her actions on the effects of an antidepressant drug she was taking.
In a 2-1 memorandum opinion, the appeals court affirmed the judgment by District Court Judge Edward J. Davila of the Northern District of California. Circuit Judges Consuelo M. Callahan and Ronald M. Gould signed the opinion.
District Court Judge Stephen R. Bough of the Western District of Missouri, sitting by designation, wrote, “I respectfully dissent,” and provided no explanation.
The appellant, Laura Wenke—who was sentenced in 2014 to 11 years to life in prison for the 2011 stabbing of her husband at their Redwood City construction company—seeks damages from Allergan Sales, LLC (successor to Forest Laboratories) in a products liability action based on her use of Lexapro. The case was tried in federal court, applying California law, based on diversity of citizenship.
‘Identical Factual Allegations’
The Ninth Circuit’s majority agreed with Davila that the civil action is barred by collateral estoppel because the criminal proceeding and her civil action are based on “identical factual allegations.”
Yesterday’s opinion says:
“There is a substantial overlap in the evidence and arguments advanced in the two proceedings. The evidence presented in the criminal trial included expert testimony on the possible effect of Lexapro on Wenke’s mental state and evidence of whether the attack was willful and premeditated. Wenke argued that she should not be held responsible because Lexapro rendered her legally insane. The same evidence and arguments would be advanced in this proceeding because Wenke again argues that she should not be held responsible for the attempted murder because of Lexapro’s effect on her mental state. Wenke says she would introduce new expert testimony to support the irresistible impulse defense, but new testimony does not detract from the substantial overlap in the evidence.”
Different Legal Rules
The opinion notes that in the criminal proceeding, Wenke invoked the M’Naghten Rule—under which she lacked criminal culpability because she lacked cognitive capacity—while in the civil case, she is relying on the irresistible impulse theory, entailing an inability to control conduct even if cognitive capacity does exist.
“These are different rules of law, but the underlying issues are the same and the conclusions from the criminal proceeding undercut Wenke’s theories in the civil action,” the majority opinion says. “The determination of premeditation is inconsistent with an argument that Lexapro created an uncontrollable impulse to kill her husband, and the determination that Wenke acted willfully, with the specific intent to murder her husband, is irreconcilable with the argument that Lexapro made Wenke unable to control her conduct.”
It adds that the public policies underlying collateral estoppel support the disallowance of the civil action.
The case is Wenke v. Forest Laboratories, Inc., 18-15936.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company