Judge Denies Request to Dismiss OH Opioid Lawsuit

A magistrate judge has denied a request to fully dismiss a Summit County, Ohio lawsuit filed against the manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies of opioids. This may soon have a major effect on hundreds of active lawsuits, increasingly influencing them to settle.

A Breach of Duty Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970

Magistrate Judge David A. Ruiz wrote a 103-page recommendation early this month. Summit County is one of more than 500 municipalities throughout the country – with several in West Virginia – to file complaints alleging that under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, many drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies breached their duty to monitor, detect, and report any suspicious orders of prescription opioids.

Ruiz dismissed the lawsuit’s nuisance claim as it conflicted with Ohio law, which restricts public nuisance claims in which regulated products are involved. He did however allow other claims to proceed. These include racketeering, negligence, and fraud

The Suits Are Combined for Efficiency

Multidistrict litigation has been administered in order to combine the suits for efficiency’s sake. This responsibility has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster. Should Polster accept Ruiz’s findings, it may incentivize both sides closer to a settlement in order to resolve all cases.

Hundreds of Pain Pills Shipped to West Virginia

The first lawsuits were filed in West Virginia, after a 2016 investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail revealed that between 2007 and 2012, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., three of the biggest distributors, shipped 423 pain pills to West Virginia, also the state with the highest number of deaths due to drug overdoses. The state has about 1.8 million citizens. Eventually the number of pills shipped began to decrease.

Defendants File Motion to Dismiss

In May, the Distributor-Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Summit County lawsuit, explaining that they could not be held responsible for any injuries, which occurred from either illegal use of their products, or the bad prescribing practices of physicians. The defendants also claim that the lawsuit did not include any individually named physicians who were misled by their market information.

However, Ruiz found that the plaintiffs did in fact make their case demonstrating that by producing marketing materials, which minimize the risk of addiction associated with the medications.

Defendants Further Argue Liability

Additionally, the defendants argued that local cost recovery rules preclude them from any responsibility for the costs of services that are usually provided by municipal governments. However, Ruiz found that the rule is shelved so long as the conduct is ongoing. This is the case in regards to the opioid epidemic.