Merrell Dow v. Thompson

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(Redirected from Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson)
Merrell Dow v. Thompson
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Citation 478 U.S. 804
Date decided July 7, 1986
Appealed from 6th Circuit
Overturned Smith v. Kansas City Title & Trust
Cited Franchise Tax Board v. Laborers Trust
Cited by
Grable v. Darue Engineering


  • Plaintiffs = 2 familes: Thompsons & MacTavishes = "Thompson"
  • "Merrell" (Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals) sold a product called Bendectin, which allegedly caused birth defects to the children of the Thompsons and the MacTavishes.

Procedural History

  • Thompson (private plaintiff) sued a drug manufacturer (Merrell Dow) in an Ohio state court.
  • Thompson sued based on a state-law negligence claim
    • However, 1 of the claims alleged that Merrell had violated the labeling requirements of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)
      • The FD&C Act didn't allow private parties like Thompson to sue for violations of the FD&C Act
  • Merrell filed a petition for removal from state to federal court.
  • Plaintiffs (Thompson) filed to remand back to state forum on the ground that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.
  • The federal District Court held that complaint alleged a cause of action arising under federal law, & denied motion to remand. So, Thompson lost
  • Court of Appeals of the 6th Circuit reversed; Thompson won.


Is the incorporation of a federal standard in a state-law claim [the negligence claim] always enough to create federal-question jurisdiction over the state-law claim?


Whether the claim arises under federal law and thus establishes federal jurisdiction. Could the plaintiffs originally have filed in federal court as a federal question action?


The private plaintiff contended that there was tort liability under state law because of the violation of the federal drug-handling statute.


Holding: No federal jurisdiction.

No; the incorporation of a federal standard in a state-law claim creates federal-law jurisdiction over the state-law claim only if the federal issue is substantial.




  • William J. Brennan Jr. & 3 other justices dissented: the state's interpretation of the FD&C Act was more than a mere "colorable issue"; a federal jurisdiction is created in this case.