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Abdullahi vs.

Pfizer Case Case Digest

A group of Nigerian children and their guardians alleged that Pfizer experimented on
200 children suffering from meningitis without their consent or knowledge. At the time
of the 1996 meningitis epidemic in northern Nigeria, Pfizer was attempting to obtain
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a new antibiotic Trovafloxacin
Mesylate (Trovan). The complainants further alleged that Pfizer purposefully under-
dosed the children treated with the well-established and FDA-approved drug
Ceftriaxone in order to skew the trial results in favour of Trovan. 11 children died as a
result of the trial and many others were left blind, paralysed or brain-damaged.
The complainants filed a claim under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) grounded in the
prohibitions of the Nuremberg Code, the World Medical Association's Declaration of
Helsinki, the guidelines of the Council for International Organisations of Medical
Services and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which categorically
forbid medical experimentation without consent.
Pfizer filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under the ATS which the
United States District Court granted for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the
Issue: Whether or not the prohibition on medical experimentation on non-consenting
human subjects is covered by the Alien Tort Statute.
Although the US has not ratified or adopted the above international instruments, the
ATS provides that District Courts have jurisdiction in civil actions committed in
contravention of the law of nations, or customary international law. The Second Circuit
Court of Appeal held that the restriction on medical experimentation without consent is
a norm of international law and is capable of being enforced under the ATS. The case
was subsequently referred back to the District Court for further proceedings.
The Court held that the three-part test to determine whether the restriction was an
obligation under customary international law was satisfied. The test required the
restriction to be (1) universal in nature; (2) specific and definable; and (3) of mutual
concern. The Court gave the following reason for each strand of the test:
(1) The legal principles of the Nuremberg Code and the International Convention on Civil
and Political Rights are examples of the normality and universality of this restriction;
(2) The allegations stated that Pfizer carried out these experiments knowingly and
purposefully which went beyond a simple isolated case of failing to obtain consent, and
would therefore be clearly covered by the restriction on experimentation on non-
consenting human beings; and
(3) The case was of mutual concern to both the US and Nigeria as such conduct could
foster distrust, reduce co-operation between nations and generate substantial anti-
American feeling in the region.
In July 2009, Pfizer petitioned the US Supreme Court to appeal this ruling. In November,
the Supreme Court asked the US Solicitor General to file a brief, which he did in May
2010, denying Pfizer's petition. On 23 February 2011, the parties announced that they
had reached a confidential settlement in the lawsuit.
Following various proceedings in Nigeria, Pfizer and the Kano state government came to
an out-of-court settlement worth $75 million in August 2009. A new lawsuit was filed by
the victims in November 2013 in the Federal High Court in Kano who complained that,
by restricting the criteria for compensation, Pfizer had breached the terms of the 2009
agreement. In November 2014, Pfizer paid out full and final compensation to the 14
victims who passed the DNA tests in accordance with the terms of the 2009 settlement.

Foreign Element - factual situation cutting across territorial lines, affected by diverse
laws of two or more States. The presence of foreign element in a case determines the
existence of a Conflict of Laws situation. Where there is no foreign element, no Conflict
of Laws exists.

Phases in Conflict Resolution

1. Jurisdiction – concerns the authority of a court of law to take cognizance of a
case. (Where can or should litigation be initiated?
2. Choice of Law – refers to the applicable law to the problem. (Which law will the
court apply?)
3. Recognition and Enforcement – concerns the enforcement of foreign laws and
judgments in another jurisdiction (Where can the resulting judgment be


Agpalo (2004) Conflicts of Law (Private International Law)

Pe Benito, G. (2016) Conflicts of Law