Mut. Pharma. Co. v. Bartlett,
570 U.S. ___ (2013)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Samuel A. Alito, Jr.)  | 
  • Dissent (Sonia Sotomayor)  | 
  • Dissent (Stephen G. Breyer)

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.



No. 12–142



on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the first circuit

[June 24, 2013]

     Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

     We must decide whether federal law pre-empts the New Hampshire design-defect claim under which respondent Karen Bartlett recovered damages from petitioner Mutual Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of sulindac, a generic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). New Hampshire law imposes a duty on manufacturers to ensure that the drugs they market are not unreasonably unsafe, and a drug’s safety is evaluated by reference to both its chemical properties and the adequacy of its warnings. Because Mutual was unable to change sulindac’s composition as a matter of both federal law and basic chemistry, New Hampshire’s design-defect cause of action effectively required Mutual to change sulindac’s labeling to provide stronger warnings. But, as this Court recognized just two Terms ago in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. ___ (2011), federal law prohibits generic drug manufacturers from independently changing their drugs’ labels. Accordingly, state law imposed a duty on Mutual not to comply with federal law. Under the Supremacy Clause, state laws that require a private party to violate federal law are pre-empted and, thus, are “without effect.” Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U. S. 725, 746 (1981) .

     The Court of Appeals’ solution—that Mutual should simply have pulled sulindac from the market in order to comply with both state and federal law—is no solution. Rather, adopting the Court of Appeals’ stop-selling rationale would render impossibility pre-emption a dead letter and work a revolution in this Court’s pre-emption case law.

     Accordingly, we hold that state-law design-defect claims that turn on the adequacy of a drug’s warnings are pre-empted by federal law under PLIVA. We thus reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals below.


     Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), ch. 675, 52Stat. 1040, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §301 et seq., drug manufacturers must gain approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before marketing any drug in interstate commerce. §355(a). In the case of a new brand-name drug, FDA approval can be secured only by submitting a new-drug application (NDA). An NDA is a compilation of materials that must include “full reports of [all clinical] investigations,” §355(b)(1)(A), relevant nonclinical studies, and “any other data or information relevant to an evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of the drug product obtained or otherwise received by the applicant from any source,” 21 CFR §§314.50(d)(2) and (5)(iv) (2012). The NDA must also include “the labeling proposed to be used for such drug,” 21 U. S. C. §355(b)(1)(F); 21 CFR §314.50(c)(2)(i), and “a discussion of why the [drug’s] benefits exceed the risks under the conditions stated in the labeling,” 21 CFR §314.50(d)(5)(viii); §314.50(c)(2)(ix). The FDA may approve an NDA only if it determines that the drug in question is “safe for use” under “the conditions of use prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the proposed labeling thereof.” 21 U. S. C. §355(d). In order for the FDA to consider a drug safe, the drug’s “probable therapeutic benefits must outweigh its risk of harm.” FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U. S. 120, 140 (2000) .

     The process of submitting an NDA is both onerous and lengthy. See Report to Congressional Requesters, Government Accountability Office, Nov. 2006, New Drug Development, 26 Biotechnology L. Rep. 82, 94 (2007) (A typical NDA spans thousands of pages and is based on clinical trials conducted over several years). In order to provide a swifter route for approval of generic drugs, Congress passed the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, 98Stat. 1585, popularly known as the “Hatch-Waxman Act.” Under Hatch-Waxman, a generic drug may be approved without the same level of clinical testing required for approval of a new brand-name drug, provided the generic drug is identical to the already-approved brand-name drug in several key respects.

     First, the proposed generic drug must be chemically equivalent to the approved brand-name drug: it must have the same “active ingredient” or “active ingredients,” “route of administration,” “dosage form,” and “strength” as its brand-name counterpart. 21 U. S. C. §§355(j)(2)(A)(ii) and (iii). Second, a proposed generic must be “bioequivalent” to an approved brand-name drug. §355(j)(2)(A)(iv). That is, it must have the same “rate and extent of absorption” as the brand-name drug. §355(j)(8)(B). Third, the generic drug manufacturer must show that “the labeling proposed for the new drug is the same as the labeling approved for the [approved brand-name] drug.” §355(j)(2)(A)(v).

     Once a drug—whether generic or brand-name—is approved, the manufacturer is prohibited from making any major changes to the “qualitative or quantitative formulation of the drug product, including active ingredients, or in the specifications provided in the approved application.” 21 CFR §314.70(b)(2)(i). Generic manufacturers are also prohibited from making any unilateral changes to a drug’s label. See §§314.94(a)(8)(iii), 314.150(b)(10) (approval for a generic drug may be withdrawn if the generic drug’s label “is no longer consistent with that for [the brand-name] drug”).


     In 1978, the FDA approved a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain reliever called “sulindac” under the brand name Clinoril. When Clinoril’s patent expired, the FDA approved several generic sulindacs, including one manufactured by Mutual Pharmaceutical. 678 F. 3d 30, 34 (CA1 2012) (case below); App. to Pet. for Cert. 144a–145a. In a very small number of patients, NSAIDs—including both sulindac and popular NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and Cox2-inhibitors—have the serious side effect of causing two hypersensitivity skin reactions characterized by necrosis of the skin and of the mucous membranes: toxic epidermal necrolysis, and its less severe cousin, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. 678 F. 3d, at 34, 43–44; Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1872 (31st ed. 2007); Physicians’ Desk Reference 146–147, 597 (6th ed. 2013); Friedman, Orlet, Still, & Law, Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Due to Administration of Celecobix (Celebrex), 95 Southern Medical J. 1213, 1213–1214 (2002).

     In December 2004, respondent Karen L. Bartlett was prescribed Clinoril for shoulder pain. Her pharmacist dispensed a generic form of sulindac, which was manufactured by petitioner Mutual Pharmaceutical. Respondent soon developed an acute case of toxic epidermal necrolysis. The results were horrific. Sixty to sixty-five percent of the surface of respondent’s body deteriorated, was burned off, or turned into an open wound. She spent months in a medically induced coma, underwent 12 eye surgeries, and was tube-fed for a year. She is now severely disfigured, has a number of physical disabilities, and is nearly blind.

     At the time respondent was prescribed sulindac, the drug’s label did not specifically refer to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome or toxic epidermal necrolysis, but did warn that the drug could cause “severe skin reactions” and “[f]atalities.” App. 553; 731 F. Supp. 2d 135, 142 (NH 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis were listed as potential adverse reactions on the drug’s package insert. 678 F. 3d, at 36, n. 1. In 2005—once respondent was already suffering from toxic epidermal necrolysis—the FDA completed a “comprehensive review of the risks and benefits, [including the risk of toxic epidermal necrolysis], of all approved NSAID products.” Decision Letter, FDA Docket No. 2005P-0072/CP1, p. 2 (June 22, 2006), online at dockets/05p0072/05p-0072-pav0001-vol1.pdf (as visited June 18, 2013, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file). As a result of that review, the FDA recommended changes to the labeling of all NSAIDs, including sulindac, to more explicitly warn against toxic epidermal necrolysis. App. 353–354, 364, 557–561, 580, and n. 8.

     Respondent sued Mutual in New Hampshire state court, and Mutual removed the case to federal court. Respondent initially asserted both failure-to-warn and design-defect claims, but the District Court dismissed her failure-to-warn claim based on her doctor’s “admi[ssion] that he had not read the box label or insert.” 678 F. 3d, at 34. After a 2-week trial on respondent’s design-defect claim, a jury found Mutual liable and awarded respondent over $21 million in damages.

     The Court of Appeals affirmed. 678 F. 3d 30. As relevant, it found that neither the FDCA nor the FDA’s regulations pre-empted respondent’s design-defect claims. It distinguished PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. ___ —in which the Court held that failure-to-warn claims against generic manufacturers are pre-empted by the FDCA’s prohibition on changes to generic drug labels—by arguing that generic manufacturers facing design-defect claims could simply “choose not to make the drug at all” and thus comply with both federal and state law. 678 F. 3d, at 37. We granted certiorari. 568 U. S. ___ (2012).


     The Supremacy Clause provides that the laws and treaties of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Accordingly, it has long been settled that state laws that conflict with federal law are “without effect.” Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U. S., at 746; McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 427 (1819). See also Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Assn., 505 U. S. 88, 108 (1992) (“[U]nder the Supremacy Clause, from which our pre-emption doctrine is derived, any state law, however clearly within a State’s acknowledged power, which interferes with or is contrary to federal law, must yield” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

     Even in the absence of an express pre-emption provision, the Court has found state law to be impliedly pre-empted where it is “impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements.” English v. General Elec. Co., 496 U. S. 72, 79 (1990) . See also Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U. S. 132 –143 (1963) (“A holding of federal exclusion of state law is inescapable and requires no inquiry into congressional design where compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility for one engaged in interstate commerce”).

     In the instant case, it was impossible for Mutual to comply with both its state-law duty to strengthen the warnings on sulindac’s label and its federal-law duty not to alter sulindac’s label. Accordingly, the state law is pre-empted.


     We begin by identifying petitioner’s duties under state law. As an initial matter, respondent is wrong in asserting that the purpose of New Hampshire’s design- defect cause of action “is compensatory, not regulatory.” Brief for Respondent 19. Rather, New Hampshire’s design-defect cause of action imposes affirmative duties on manufacturers.

     Respondent is correct that New Hampshire has adopted the doctrine of strict liability in tort as set forth in Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See 2 Restatement (Second) of Torts §402A (1963 and 1964) (hereinafter Restatement 2d). See Buttrick v. Arthur Lessard & Sons, Inc., 110 N. H. 36, 37–39, 260 A. 2d 111, 112–113 (1969). Under the Restatement—and consequently, under New Hampshire tort law—“[o]ne who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused” even though he “has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of the product.” Restatement 2d §402A, at 347–348.

     But respondent’s argument conflates what we will call a “strict-liability” regime (in which liability does not depend on negligence, but still signals the breach of a duty) with what we will call an “absolute-liability” regime (in which liability does not reflect the breach of any duties at all, but merely serves to spread risk). New Hampshire has adopted the former, not the latter. Indeed, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has consistently held that the manu-facturer of a product has a “duty to design his product reasonably safely for the uses which he can foresee.” Thibault v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 118 N. H. 802, 809, 395 A. 2d 843, 847 (1978). See also Reid v. Spadone Mach. Co., 119 N. H. 457, 465, 404 A. 2d 1094, 1099 (1979) (“In New Hampshire, the manufacturer is under a general duty to design his product reasonably safely for the uses which he can foresee” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Chellman v. Saab-Scania AB, 138 N. H. 73, 78, 637 A. 2d 148, 150 (1993) (“The duty to warn is part of the general duty to design, manufacture and sell products that are reasonably safe for their foreseeable uses”); cf. Simoneau v. South Bend Lathe, Inc., 130 N. H. 466, 469, 543 A. 2d 407, 409 (1988) (“We limit the application of strict tort liability in this jurisdiction by continuing to emphasize that liability without negligence is not liability without fault”); Price v. BIC Corp., 142 N. H. 386, 390, 702 A. 2d 330, 333 (1997) (cautioning “that the term ‘unreasonably dangerous’ should not be interpreted so broadly as to impose absolute liability on manufacturers or make them insurers of their products”). Accordingly, respondent is incorrect in arguing that New Hampshire’s strict-liability system “imposes no substantive duties on manufacturers.” Brief for Respondent 19. [ 1 ]


     That New Hampshire tort law imposes a duty on manufacturers is clear. Determining the content of that duty requires somewhat more analysis. As discussed below in greater detail, New Hampshire requires manufacturers to ensure that the products they design, manufacture, and sell are not “unreasonably dangerous.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court has recognized that this duty can be satisfied either by changing a drug’s design or by changing its labeling. Since Mutual did not have the option of changing sulindac’s design, New Hampshire law ultimately required it to change sulindac’s labeling.

     Respondent argues that, even if New Hampshire law does impose a duty on drug manufacturers, that duty does not encompass either the “duty to change sulindac’s design” or the duty “to change sulindac’s labeling.” Brief for Respondent 30 (capitalization and emphasis deleted). That argument cannot be correct. New Hampshire imposes design-defect liability only where “the design of the product created a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user.” Vautour v. Body Masters Sports Industries, Inc., 147 N. H. 150, 153, 784 A. 2d 1178, 1181 (2001); Chellman, supra, at 77, 637 A. 2d, at 150. To determine whether a product is “unreasonably dangerous,” the New Hampshire Supreme Court employs a “risk-utility approach” under which “a product is defective as designed if the magnitude of the danger outweighs the utility of the product.” Vautour, supra, at 154, 784 A. 2d, at 1182 (internal quotation marks omitted). That risk-utility approach requires a “multifaceted balancing process involving evaluation of many conflicting factors.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Thibault, supra, at 809, 395 A. 2d, at 847 (same).

     While the set of factors to be considered is ultimately an open one, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has repeatedly identified three factors as germane to the risk-utility inquiry: “the usefulness and desirability of the product to the public as a whole, whether the risk of danger could have been reduced without significantly affecting either the product’s effectiveness or manufacturing cost, and the presence and efficacy of a warning to avoid an unreasonable risk of harm from hidden dangers or from foreseeable uses.” Vautour, supra, at 154, 784 A. 2d, at 1182; see also Price, supra, at 389, 702 A. 2d, at 333 (same); Chellman, supra, at 77–78, 637 A. 2d, at 150 (same).

     In the drug context, either increasing the “usefulness” of a product or reducing its “risk of danger” would require redesigning the drug: A drug’s usefulness and its risk of danger are both direct results of its chemical design and, most saliently, its active ingredients. See 21 CFR §201.66(b)(2) (2012) (“Active ingredient means any component that is intended to furnish pharmacological activity or other direct effect in the diagnosis, cure, mitiga- tion, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure of any function of the body of humans” (italics deleted)).

     In the present case, however, redesign was not possible for two reasons. First, the FDCA requires a generic drug to have the same active ingredients, route of adminis-tration, dosage form, strength, and labeling as the brand-name drug on which it is based. 21 U. S. C. §§355(j)(2)(A)(ii)–(v) and (8)(B); 21 CFR §320.1(c). Consequently, the Court of Appeals was correct to recognize that “Mutual cannot legally make sulindac in another composition.” 678 F. 3d, at 37. Indeed, were Mutual to change the composition of its sulindac, the altered chemical would be a new drug that would require its own NDA to be marketed in interstate commerce. See 21 CFR §310.3(h) (giving examples of when the FDA considers a drug to be new, including cases involving “newness for drug use of any substance which composes such drug, in whole or in part”). Second, because of sulindac’s simple composition, the drug is chemically incapable of being redesigned. See 678 F. 3d, at 37 (“Mutual cannot legally make sulindac in another composition (nor it is apparent how it could alter a one-molecule drug anyway)”).

     Given the impossibility of redesigning sulindac, the only way for Mutual to ameliorate the drug’s “risk-utility” profile—and thus to escape liability—was to strengthen “the presence and efficacy of [sulindac’s] warning” in such a way that the warning “avoid[ed] an unreasonable risk of harm from hidden dangers or from foreseeable uses.” Vautour, supra, at 154, 784 A. 2d, at 1182. See also Chellman, 138 N. H., at 78, 637 A. 2d, at 150 (“The duty to warn is part of the general duty to design, manufacture and sell products that are reasonably safe for their foreseeable uses. If the design of a product makes a warning necessary to avoid an unreasonable risk of harm from a foreseeable use, the lack of warning or an ineffective warning causes the product to be defective and unreasonably dangerous” (citation omitted)). Thus, New Hampshire’s design-defect cause of action imposed a duty on Mutual to strengthen sulindac’s warnings.

     For these reasons, it is unsurprising that allegations that sulindac’s label was inadequate featured prominently at trial. Respondent introduced into evidence both the label for Mutual’s sulindac at the time of her injuries and the label as revised in 2005 (after respondent had suffered her injuries). App. 553–556. Her counsel’s opening statement informed the jury that “the evidence will show you that Sulindac was unreasonably dangerous and had an inadequate warning, as well. . . . You will hear much more evidence about why this label was inadequate in relation to this case.” Tr. 110–112 (Aug. 17, 2010). And, the District Court repeatedly instructed the jury that it should evaluate sulindac’s labeling in determining whether Mutual’s sulindac was unreasonably dangerous. See App. 514 (jury instruction that the jury should find “a defect in design” only if it found that “Sulindac was unreasonably dangerous and that a warning was not present and effective to avoid that unreasonable danger”); ibid. (jury instruction that no design defect exists if “a warning was present and effective to avoid that unreasonable danger”). Finally, the District Court clarified in its order and opinion denying Mutual’s motion for judgment as a matter of law that the adequacy of sulindac’s labeling had been part of what the jury was instructed to consider. 760 F. Supp. 2d 220, 231 (2011) (“if the jury found that sulin-dac’s risks outweighed its benefits, then it could consider whether the warning—regardless of its adequacy—re-duced those risks . . . to such an extent that it eliminated the unreasonable danger”). [ 2 ]

     Thus, in accordance with New Hampshire law, the jury was presented with evidence relevant to, and was instructed to consider, whether Mutual had fulfilled its duty to label sulindac adequately so as to render the drug not “unreasonably dangerous.” In holding Mutual liable, the jury determined that Mutual had breached that duty.


     The duty imposed by federal law is far more readily apparent. As PLIVA made clear, federal law prevents generic drug manufacturers from changing their labels. See 564 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 10) (“Federal drug regulations, as interpreted by the FDA, prevented the Manufacturers from independently changing their generic drugs’ safety labels”). See also 21 U. S. C. §355(j)(2)(A)(v) (“[T]he labeling proposed for the new drug is the same as the labeling approved for the [approved brand-name] drug”); 21 CFR §§314.94(a)(8)(iii), 314.150(b)(10) (approval for a generic drug may be withdrawn if the generic drug’s label “is no longer consistent with that for [the brand-name] drug”). Thus, federal law prohibited Mutual from taking the remedial action required to avoid liability under New Hampshire law.


     When federal law forbids an action that state law requires, the state law is “without effect.” Maryland, 451 U. S., at 746. Because it is impossible for Mutual and other similarly situated manufacturers to comply with both state and federal law, [ 3 ] New Hampshire’s warning-based design-defect cause of action is pre-empted with respect to FDA-approved drugs sold in interstate commerce. [ 4 ]


     The Court of Appeals reasoned that Mutual could escape the impossibility of complying with both its federal- and state-law duties by “choos[ing] not to make [sulindac] at all.” 678 F. 3d, at 37. We reject this “stop-selling” rationale as incompatible with our pre-emption jurisprudence. Our pre-emption cases presume that an actor seeking to satisfy both his federal- and state-law obligations is not required to cease acting altogether in order to avoid liability. Indeed, if the option of ceasing to act defeated a claim of impossibility, impossibility pre-emption would be “all but meaningless.” 564 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 14).

     The incoherence of the stop-selling theory becomes plain when viewed through the lens of our previous cases. In every instance in which the Court has found impossibility pre-emption, the “direct conflict” between federal- and state-law duties could easily have been avoided if the regulated actor had simply ceased acting.

     PLIVA is an obvious example: As discussed above, the PLIVA Court held that state failure-to-warn claims were pre-empted by the FDCA because it was impossible for drug manufacturers like PLIVA to comply with both the state-law duty to label their products in a way that rendered them reasonably safe and the federal-law duty not to change their drugs’ labels. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 11). It would, of course, have been possible for drug manufacturers like PLIVA to pull their products from the market altogether. In so doing, they would have avoided liability under both state and federal law: such manufacturers would neither have labeled their products in a way that rendered them unsafe nor impermissibly changed any federally approved label.

     In concluding that “it was impossible for the Manufacturers to comply with both their state-law duty to change the label and their federal law duty to keep the label the same,” id., at ___ (slip op., at 12), the Court was undeterred by the prospect that PLIVA could have complied with both state and federal requirements by simply leaving the market. The Court of Appeals decision below had found that Mensing’s state-law failure-to-warn claims

escaped pre-emption based on the very same stop-selling rationale the First Circuit relied on in this case. See Mensing v. Wyeth, Inc., 588 F. 3d 603, 611 (CA8 2009) (“[G]eneric defendants were not compelled to market metoclopramide. If they realized their label was insufficient . . . they could have simply stopped selling the product”). Moreover, Mensing advanced the stop-selling rationale in its petition for rehearing, which this Court denied. PLIVA, supra; Pet. for Reh’g in No. 09–993 etc., p. 2. Nonetheless, this Court squarely determined that it had been “impossible” for PLIVA to comply with both its state and federal duties. 564 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 12). [ 5 ]

     Adopting the First Circuit’s stop-selling rationale would mean that not only PLIVA, but also the vast majority—if not all—of the cases in which the Court has found impossibility pre-emption, were wrongly decided.      Just as the prospect that a regulated actor could avoid liability under both state and federal law by simply leaving the market did not undermine the impossibility analysis in PLIVA, so it is irrelevant to our analysis here.


     The dreadful injuries from which products liabilities cases arise often engender passionate responses. Today is no exception, as Justice Sotomayor’s dissent (hereinafter the dissent) illustrates. But sympathy for respondent does not relieve us of the responsibility of following the law.

     The dissent accuses us of incorrectly assuming “that federal law gives pharmaceutical companies a right to sell a federally approved drug free from common-law liability,” post, at 1, but we make no such assumption. Rather, as discussed at length above, see supra, at 8–13, we hold that state-law design-defect claims like New Hampshire’s that place a duty on manufacturers to render a drug safer by either altering its composition or altering its labeling are in conflict with federal laws that prohibit manufacturers from unilaterally altering drug composition or labeling. The dissent is quite correct that federal law establishes no safe-harbor for drug companies—but it does prevent them from taking certain remedial measures. Where state law imposes a duty to take such remedial measures, it “actual[ly] conflict[s] with federal law” by making it “ ‘impos-sible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements.’ ” Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U. S. 280, 287 (1995) (quoting English, 496 U. S., at 78–79). The dissent seems to acknowledge that point when it concedes that, “if federal law requires a particular product label to include a complete list of ingredients while state law specifically forbids that labeling practice, there is little question that state law ‘must yield.’ ” Post, at 6–7 (quoting Felder v. Casey, 487 U. S. 131, 138 (1988) ). What the dissent does not see is that that is this case: Federal law requires a very specific label for sulindac, and state law forbids the use of that label.

     The dissent responds that New Hampshire law “merely create[s] an incentive” to alter sulindac’s label or composition, post, at 7, but does not impose any actual “legal obligation,” post, at 13. The contours of that argument are difficult to discern.      Perhaps the dissent is drawing a distinction between common-law “exposure to liability,” post, at 12, and a statutory “legal mandate,” ibid. But the distinction between common law and statutory law is irrelevant to the argument at hand: In violating a common-law duty, as surely as by violating a statutory duty, a party contravenes the law. While it is true that, in a certain sense, common-law duties give a manufacturer the choice “between exiting the market or continuing to sell while knowing it may have to pay compensation to consumers injured by its product,” post, at 16, statutory “mandate[s]” do precisely the same thing: They require a manufacturer to choose between leaving the market and accepting the consequences of its actions (in the form of a fine or other sanction). See generally Calabresi & Melamed, Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral, 85 Harv. L. Rev. 1089 (1972) (discussing liability rules). And, in any event, PLIVA—which the dissent agrees involved a state-law “requirement that conflicted with federal law,” post, at 13—dealt with common-law failure-to-warn claims, see PLIVA, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 4). Because PLIVA controls the instant case, the dissent is reduced to fighting a rearguard action against its reasoning despite ostensibly swearing fealty to its holding.

     To suggest that Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, 544 U. S. 431 (2005) , is to the contrary is simply misleading. The dissent is correct that Bates held a Texas state-law design-defect claim not to be pre-empted. But, it did so because the design-defect claim in question was not a “requirement ‘for labeling or packaging’ ” and thus fell outside the class of claims covered by the express pre-emption provision at issue in that case. Id., at 443–444 (emphasis in original). Indeed, contrary to the impression one might draw from the dissent, post, at 12–13, the Bates Court actually blessed the lower court’s determination that the State’s design-defect claim imposed a pre-emptable “requirement”: “The Court of Appeals did, however, correctly hold that the term ‘requirements’ in §136v(b) reaches beyond positive enactments, such as statutes and regulations, to embrace common-law duties.” Bates, supra, at 443. The dissent offers no compelling reason why the “common-law duty” in this case should not similarly be viewed as a “requirement.” We agree, of course, that “determining precisely what, if any, specific requirement a state common-law claim imposes is important.” Post, at 12, n. 5. As Bates makes clear, “[t]he proper inquiry calls for an examination of the elements of the common-law duty at issue; it does not call for speculation as to whether a jury verdict will prompt the manu-facturer to take any particular action.” 544 U. S., at 445 (citation omitted). Here, as we have tried to make clear, the duty to ensure that one’s products are not “unreasonably dangerous” imposed by New Hampshire’s design-defect cause of action, Vautour, 147 N. H., at 153, 784 A. 2d, at 1181, involves a duty to make one of several changes. In cases where it is impossible—in fact or by law—to alter a product’s design (and thus to increase the product’s “usefulness” or decrease its “risk of danger”), the duty to render a product “reasonably safe” boils down to a duty to ensure “the presence and efficacy of a warning to avoid an unreasonable risk of harm from hidden dangers or from foreseeable uses.” Id., at 154, 784 A. 2d, at 1182. The duty to redesign sulindac’s label was thus a part of the common-law duty at issue—not merely an action Mutual might have been prompted to take by the adverse jury verdict here.

     Finally, the dissent laments that we have ignored “Congress’ explicit efforts to preserve state common-law liability.” Post, at 26. We have not. Suffice to say, the Court would welcome Congress’ “explicit” resolution of the difficult pre-emption questions that arise in the prescription drug context. That issue has repeatedly vexed the Court—and produced widely divergent views—in recent years. See, e.g., Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U. S. 555 (2009) ; PLIVA, 564 U. S. ___. As the dissent concedes, however, the FDCA’s treatment of prescription drugs includes neither an express pre-emption clause (as in the vaccine context, 42 U. S. C. §300aa–22(b)(1)), nor an express non-pre-emption clause (as in the over-the-counter drug context, 21 U. S. C. §§379r(e), 379s(d)). In the absence of that sort of “explicit” expression of congressional intent, we are left to divine Congress’ will from the duties the statute imposes. That federal law forbids Mutual to take actions required of it by state tort law evinces an intent to pre-empt.

*  *  *

     This case arises out of tragic circumstances. A combination of factors combined to produce the rare and devastating injuries that respondent suffered: the FDA’s decision to approve the sale of sulindac and the warnings that accompanied the drug at the time it was prescribed, the decision by respondent’s physician to prescribe sulindac despite its known risks, and Congress’ decision to regulate the manufacture and sale of generic drugs in a way that reduces their cost to patients but leaves generic drug manufacturers incapable of modifying either the drugs’ compositions or their warnings. Respondent’s situation is tragic and evokes deep sympathy, but a straightforward application of pre-emption law requires that the judgment below be reversed.

It is so ordered.


1  We can thus save for another day the question whether a trueabsolute-liability state-law system could give rise to impossibilitypre-emption. As we have noted, most common-law causes of action for negligence and strict liability do not exist merely to spread risk, but rather impose affirmative duties. See Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., –324 (2008) (“In [Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, ], five Justices concluded that common-law causes of action for negligence and strict liability do impose ‘requirement[s]’ and would be pre-empted by federal requirements specific to a medical device. . . . We adhere to that view”); id., at 324 (“Absent other indication, reference to a State’s ‘requirements’ includes its common-law duties. As the plurality opinion said in Cipollone [v. Liggett Group, (1992)], common-law liability is ‘premised on the existence of a legal duty,’ and a tort judgment therefore establishes that the defendant has violated a state-law obligation”).
2  That Mutual’s liability turned on the adequacy of sulindac’s warnings is not unusual. Rather, New Hampshire—like a large majority of States—has adopted comment k to §402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which recognizes that it is “especially common in the field of drugs” for products to be “incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use.” Restatement 2d, at 353; Bellotte v. Zayre Corp.,116 N. H. 52, 54–55, 352 A. 2d 723, 725 (1976). Under comment k, “[s]uch a product, properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directions and warning, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous.” Restatement 2d, at 353–354. This Court has previously noted that, as of 1986, “a large number of courts” took comment k to mean that manufacturers “did not face strict liability for side effects of properly manufactured prescription drugs that were accompanied by adequate warnings.” Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, 562 U. S. ___, ___, n. 41 (2011) (slip op., at 10, n. 41). Mutual withdrew its comment k defense “for purposes of the trial of this matter.” Defendant’s Notice of Withdrawal of Defenses, in Case No. 08–cv–358–JL (D NH), p. 1. However, as noted above, bothrespondent and the trial court injected the broader question of the adequacy of sulindac’s label into the trial proceedings.
3  Justice Breyer argues that it is not “literally impossible” for Mutual to comply with both state and federal law because it could escape liability “either by not doing business in the relevant State or by paying the state penalty, say damages, for failing to comply with, as here, a state-law tort standard.” Post, at 1 (dissenting opinion). But, as dis-cussed below, infra, at 15–16—leaving aside the rare case in which state or federal law actually requires a product to be pulled from the market—our pre-emption cases presume that a manufacturer’s ability to stop selling does not turn impossibility into possibility. See, e.g., Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, (There would be “impossibility of dual compliance” where “federal orders forbade the picking and marketing of any avocado testingmore than 7% oil, while the California test excluded from the State any avocado measuring less than 8% oil content”). And, of course, PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. ___ (2011), forecloses any argument that impossibility is defeated by the prospect that a manufacturer could “pa[y] the state penalty” for violating a state-law duty; that prospect would have defeated impossibility in PLIVA as well. See id., at ___ (slip op., at 12) (“[I]t was impossible for the Manufacturers to comply with both their state-law duty to change the label and their federal law duty to keep the label the same”). To hold otherwise would render impossibility pre-emption “all but meaningless.” Id., at ___ (slip op.,at 14).
4  We do not address state design-defect claims that parallel the federal misbranding statute. The misbranding statute requires a manufac-turer to pull even an FDA-approved drug from the market when it is “dangerous to health” even if “used in the dosage or manner, or with the frequency or duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling thereof.” ; cf. Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, (state-law pesticide labeling requirement not pre-empted under express pre-emption provision, provided it was “equivalent to, and fully consistent with, [federal] misbranding provisions”). The parties and the Government appear to agree that a drug is misbranded under federal law only when liability is based on new and scientifically significant information that was not before the FDA. Because the jury was not asked to find whether new evidence concerning sulindac that had not been made available to the FDA rendered sulindac so dangerous as to be misbranded under the federal misbranding statute, the misbranding provision is not applicable here. Cf. 760 F. Supp. 2d 220, 233 (NH 2011) (most of respondent’s experts’ testimony was “drawn directly from the medical literature or published FDA analyses”).
5  Respondent attempts to distinguish this case from PLIVA, arguing that “[w]here, as in PLIVA, state law imposes an affirmative duty on a manufacturer to improve the product’s label, suspending sales does not comply with the state-law duty; it merely offers an indirect means of avoiding liability for noncompliance with that duty.” Brief for Respondent 39. But that difference is purely semantic: the state-law duty in PLIVA to amend metoclopramide’s label could just as easily have been phrased as a duty not to sell the drug without adequate warnings. At least where a State imposes liability based on a balancing of a product’s harms and benefits in light of its labeling—rather than directly prohibiting the product’s sale—the mere fact that a manufacturer may avoid liability by leaving the market does not defeat a claim of impossibility.
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