Attorneys for Carroll County say they have refiled a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers in Carroll County Circuit Court as of Tuesday.
The case had been temporarily withdrawn after it was moved to federal court at the request of the defendants. Carroll’s legal team decided to regroup and refile Tuesday to try and prevent the case from reaching the federal level.
“Every time a city or county tries to file one of these cases in its local jurisdiction, which is where my clients want to have the cases adjudicated, the defendants very much recoil against that,” said Jeff Reeves, of the California-based firm Theodora Oringher, which is is working with Baltimore-based Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler to represent Carroll County in the case.
“They want all of these cases shipped to a faraway courtroom in Cleveland, Ohio, where they will languish in purgatory for years."
More than 2,000 lawsuits against opioid drug makers are now part of the multidistrict litigation, or MDL, before a federal judge in Ohio. Rather than be one case among those thousands, Reeves and his team dismissed their original suit in order to refile.
That lawsuit was originally filed on July 25 in Carroll County Circuit Court, alleging that more than 25 named pharmaceutical companies and their subsidiaries contributed to and profited from an opioid drug addiction epidemic that has claimed 260 lives in Carroll from 2012 through the first half of 2019. The lawsuit, which sought compensatory damages, also named individual members of the Sackler family, owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, the company that in 2007 pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of understating the risks of OxyContin and paid more than $600 million in penalties.
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In Tuesday’s filing, the complaint was changed in two major ways in an effort to make sure the case stays local, according to Reeves.
First, certain claims against Purdue Pharma have been dropped from the complaint in light of Purdue filing for bankruptcy, though Reeves said they will pursue those claims in bankruptcy court.
“Any defendant that files bankruptcy doesn’t avoid responsibility,” he said. “It’s just a question of where you go in court to get relief.”
The second change was the inclusion of multiple defendants in Maryland, including CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies, whose roles in distributing opioids were made explicit by access to the federal Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS, a database that tracks controlled substance medication distribution, according to Reeves. Access to that previously unpublished data was won in court over the summer by The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia.
“That allowed all of us to get a closer look. So we took the opportunity to access that data and look at it very carefully for Carroll County,” Reeves said. “We added some defendants that we could now identify that we couldn’t identify earlier.”
If the case can be kept in Carroll County Circuit Court, Reeves said, then any settlement or other outcome in the federal cases in Ohio will not be able to keep Carroll’s case from moving forward.
“That’s one of the main reasons we are in state court,” he said. “We want to have our own case, our own judge, our own trial.”