I smell something fishy.
LOS ANGELES, April 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. district in New Jersey on Thursday dismissed as "untimely" a securities class-action lawsuit filed against Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) after the company withdrew its Vioxx painkiller from the market in 2004.
The court said the earliest securities fraud complaint was filed on Nov. 6, 2003, while Merck had warned of the potential safety issues by early October 2001.
The class action, filed by shareholders against Merck and its executives, alleged misrepresentations about the safety profile of Vioxx, which was taken off the market after being linked to heart risk.
Given that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had published a warning letter on Vioxx in September 2001, "the court finds that it is clear that storm warnings of fraud existed more than two years before this complaint was filed," U.S. district judge Stanley Chesler said in his ruling.
Separately on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Texas judge is expected to issue a ruling as soon as Monday that could invalidate all 1,000 Texas lawsuits involving Vioxx.
Harris County District Court Judge Randy Wilson has informed both sides in a state-court Vioxx case filed by Ruby Ledbetter that he will dismiss it based on a recently finalized U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule, the newspaper said, citing a person familiar with the matter.
He also told attorneys involved in some of the other Texas Vioxx cases that his ruling could affect the whole group and he will suspend the lawsuits until the state's appeals court rules on his judgment, the report said.
"We can't confirm or deny the report, but we will analyze it once we see what the Judge actually says in his decision," Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Merck's outside counsel, told Reuters.
The journal said Judge Wilson cited an FDA policy rule issued in February 2006 that says the agency's approval process "preempts conflicting or contrary state law" -- meaning that manufacturers of health-care products are immune from state requirements to warn consumers about potential risks if they've followed FDA guidelines.
Merck faces some 28,000 cases around the country, and Texas is one of three states that have consolidated the litigation in an effort to streamline the proceedings.
More than half of the 28,000 cases are consolidated in New Jersey, where Merck is headquartered. There are roughly 4,500 cases consolidated in California.