Lawyers in the opioid multidistrict litigation (MDL) debated in a hearing on Nov. 6 over future bellwether trials, a showdown that will closely follow settlements that canceled the MDL’s first trial. The MDL began almost two years ago and covers more than 2,600 cities and counties that blame drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies for an epidemic of painkiller addiction.
The $48 billion settlement proposed by four states’ attorneys general and several of the MDL Defendants fell like a lead balloon almost immediately after it was proposed. It was announced after the bellwether trial was called off when the two counties appointed to test the legal waters in the litigation instead settled with most of the Defendants. The four-state proposal is considered insufficient to even begin to address the harms caused by the opioid Defendants. The proposed settlement purports to be valued at $48 billion, but $23 billion of the total is the donations of drugs many governments can’t use because of preexisting contracts. The $18 billion in cash was to pay for abatement costs and payments would be strung out over 18 years.
At the hearing held to decide on how to proceed with the next bellwether trial, Judge Dan Polster, the Ohio federal judge supervising the MDL, warned lawyers for local governments and drug companies that he would unilaterally select future bellwether trials unless they quickly did so themselves. He kept his word!
After the first scheduled opioid bellwether trial settled mere hours before it was set to begin, Judge Polster has set his eye towards scheduling the next bellwether trials. After the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee and the Defendants failed to come to an agreement over which trials should be next, and how they would be tried, Judge Polster decided the issue for them, ultimately coming down largely on the Plaintiff’s side.
Judge Polster has appointed Cuyahoga and Summit as bellwether for claims against Pharmacy Defendants to be tried before him in October 2020. Claims brought by the County and City of San Francisco; City of Chicago; Cabell County, West Virginia; Monroe County, Michigan; Broward County, Florida and the Cherokee Nation Native American Tribe will all be recommended for remand to their home districts for trial, in order to expedite the bellwether process.
Update on the Alabama and Georgia opioid litigation
The State of Alabama’s claims against Opioid Manufacturer Endo Pharmaceuticals and Wholesale Drug Distributor McKesson survived the Defendants’ motions to dismiss, allowing the State’s case to move forward towards its July 2020 trial date. Judge Gaines’ order allowed all of the state’s claims to stand. The motion was argued on behalf of the state by Rhon Jones, Josh Hayes, and Bob Prince. The State of Alabama is represented by Attorney General Steve Marshall, Assistant Attorney General Michael Dean, Assistant Attorney General Win Sinclair; Beasley Allen lawyers Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton, Parker Miller, Jeff Price, and Tucker Osborne; and Josh Hayes and Robert Prince of Prince Glover Hayes.
The State of Georgia’s claims have also survived motions to dismiss. After the ruling, Gwinnet County Superior Court Judge Randy Rich set a trial date in January of 2022. The State of Georgia is pursuing claims against four pharmaceutical wholesale distributors – McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and JM Smith Drug – and four pharmaceutical manufacturer groups – Endo, Mallinckrodt, Allergan, and Teva – for their role in causing the opioid crisis.
The State of Georgia is represented by Attorney General Chris Carr, Deputy Attorney General Anne Infinger, Assistant Attorney General Christine Hom; Beasley Allen lawyers Parker Miller, Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton, and Jeff Price; Lance Cooper and Pat Dawson of The Cooper Firm; Jimmy Franklin and Rebecca Harris of Franklin Law LLC; Roy Barnes, John Salter, John Bevis, and John Bartholomew of Barnes Law Group.
This story appears in the December 2019 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.