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Desranleau v. Hyland's, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

October 21, 2019

TANESSA DESRANLEAU, individually and as the Personal Representative of the ESTATE of JAYBREON DESRANLEAU, Appellant,

          Mann, A.C.J.

         Tanassa Desranleau appeals the trial court's decision on summary judgment dismissing her claims against Hyland's, Inc., and its parent companies Standard Homepathic Laboratories, Inc., and Standard Homepathic Company (collectively, Hyland's) alleging that it caused the death of Desranleau's infant son Jay'Breon. Desranleau argued that Hyland's manufacturing process is flawed resulting in individual tablets containing toxic levels of chemical components and that Jay'Breon's ingestion of such a toxic tablet caused his death.

         The trial court dismissed Desranleau's claims after it determined that there was no admissible evidence that Jay'Breon actually ingested Hyland's cold medicine or that the cold medicine was the probable cause of his death. Because when viewed in the light most favorable to Desranleau there are material questions of fact, we reverse the dismissal of Desranleau's claims under the Washington Products Liability Act (WPLA), ch. 7.72 RCW. We affirm dismissal of Desranleau's claims under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), ch. 19.86 RCW and her request for punitive damages under California law.


         On January 18, 2014, 13-month-old Jay'Breon was found dead in his crib. Prior to his death, Jay'Breon had been suffering from a cold, so his caregiver Michelle Reid-Jay'Breon's father's girlfriend-gave him cold medicine earlier that morning. At about 6 a.m. on January 18th, Reid awoke to hear that Jay'Breon's chest was still congested. She gave him a dose of children's Tylenol and a banana before going back to sleep. Reid and Jimi Williams, Jay'Breon's father, awoke at 9:15 a.m. and saw that Jay'Breon was still asleep. Reid did not specifically check on him to avoid waking him up. Reid and Williams were in the living room for about 30 minutes when Reid went back into the bedroom to get ready for work. Reid found Jay'Breon face down in his crib, with his head covered by a blanket. Reid immediately noticed Jay'Breon was blueish in color and not breathing. Reid, her roommate Nageisha Tramble, and a neighbor, attempted to do CPR on Jay'Breon until the ambulance arrived. By this time, Williams had left the scene. The fire department attempted CPR on Jay'Breon but determined that he was deceased. Reid told police officers that "she was giving [Jay'Breon] Highlands (sic) tablets, children's cold medicine, for the same amount of time that he'd been having symptoms of a cold . . . she had been giving him about 8 tablets per day and that the last time she gave him 2 tablets was the night prior at [9 p.m.]" Reid fully cooperated with police and consented to a taped interview.

         The King County Medical Examiner investigated Jay'Breon's death. After an autopsy, the medical examiner concluded that Jay'Breon's body was normally developed, but waited to determine an official cause of death until his toxicology screening was finished. The toxicology report for Jay'Breon came back unremarkable, so the medical examiner concluded that Jay'Breon's official cause of death was sudden unexpected infant death.

         Three years later, Desranleau sued Hyland's and Reid. Desranleau alleged that Hyland's knowingly sold toxic and dangerous homeopathic medicines for children, the ingestion of which caused Jay'Breon's death. This, Desranleau alleged, was a violation of the WPLA and the CPA. Desranleau requested punitive damages under California law.

         Hyland's manufacturers various types of homeopathic medicines, using the same general manufacturing process. Hyland's dilutes various products using a dry-dilution process, where a quantity of an ingredient is mixed with a "diluent" over and over again until the desired concentration is achieved.

         In 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informed Hyland's that it was concerned with Hyland's dilution process related to a separate product. The FDA wrote that Hyland's dilution process may lead to batch stratification- where some tablets within a single batch have significantly higher concentrations of an ingredient than others. The FDA recommended a liquid dilution process rather than a dry dilution process. These concerns remained in 2017, when the FDA again informed Hyland's that it was concerned with their manufacturing process. The FDA wrote:

You manufacture drug products . . . from ingredients that pose potentially toxic effects. Specifically, Hyland's Baby Teething Tablets and Hyland's Baby Nighttime Teething Tablets contain belladonna[1] and are marketed for vulnerable patient populations, including infants and children. . . .

FDA's analysis of samples of your [products]. . . found that the alkaloid content far exceeded the claim on your label.... The testing found inconsistency in levels of belladonna, a toxic substance, and reveals that your manufacturing process is poorly controlled and may pose unnecessary risk to infants and children.

         Though the FDA's concerns were specifically related to stratification of belladonna in Hyland's teething products, and belladonna is not contained in Hyland's cold medicines, Hyland's admitted that its manufacturing process is substantially similar in all of its products. Therefore, Desranleau alleges that stratification of the alkaloid gelsemium sempervirens, which can be toxic in high doses and is found in Hyland's cold medicines, likely also occurs. The possibility of stratification coupled with the potential for gelsemium sempervirens to be toxic in high doses is what Desranleau alleges caused Jay'Breon's death.

         Hyland's moved for summary judgment arguing primarily that Desranleau was unable to provide any admissible evidence that Hyland's medicines caused Jay'Breon's death. Hyland's also argued that Desranleau could not recover punitive damages under either California or Washington law, and that she could not recover under the CPA.

         The trial court heard argument on Hyland's motion on April 13, 2018. The court began the hearing by warning "the most serious issue here is that we don't have admissible evidence . . . that this child even consumed the [Hyland's] cold pills." Consistent with its warning, the court ruled in Hyland's favor upon finding that Desranleau had not produced any admissible evidence that "Reid actually provided the Hyland's Tiny Cold tablets to Jay'Breon."[2]

         Desranleau appeals.


         We review summary judgment orders de novo, engaging in the same inquiry as the trial court. Summary judgment is warranted only when there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c). The facts and all reasonable inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the ...

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