CLEVELAND – The Ohio federal judge overseeing opioid cases soon could release the cases Cabell County and the City of Huntington have filed against opioid distributors to be heard in West Virginia instead.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has started the process to release some of the Multi District Litigation cases originally transferred to him in the Northern District of Ohio to be heard in their respective districts. One that he has indicated might be headed that way is the Cabell-Huntington cases.
On Nov. 19, Polster suggested remands of three cases – San Francisco vs. Purdue Pharma et al., Chicago vs. Purdue Pharma et al., and Cherokee Nation vs. McKesson et al. In that filing, Polster also said he “will probably submit additional suggestions of remand at the appropriate time.”
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That list included City of Huntington and Cabell County, which the court designated as “Track Two” cases almost a year ago. Those cases would focus on the distributor defendants and pharmacy defendants.
“The undersigned will preside over discovery for a short time and then suggest remand,” Polster wrote.
Charleston attorney Rusty Webb, who is one of the lawyers representing Huntington in its case, said the way he understands it, Polster is dividing up these bellwether cases strategically so they can be tried relatively at the same time focusing on different defendants and different causes of action.
“What the judge appears to be doing now is strategically remanding cases, but also limiting the defendants that he recommends each of those plaintiffs will go to trial against, “Webb told The West Virginia Record. “And, he wants Cabell and Huntington to try the cases exclusively against the distributors and pharmacies. He wants each track to sue a defendant to determine liability instead of everybody suing everybody for everything. That could mean a better chance for a universal settlement after these first cases are heard.”
Webb said Polster still has to make some pretrial rulings in the Cabell and Huntington cases before they can be remanded to the Southern District of West Virginia. Those cases would focus on distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health.
“He needs to wrap up a few motions and make a few rulings before he can do that,” Webb said. “But, it seems like he wants to release the Cabell and Huntington cases like he did the ones for San Francisco, Chicago and Cherokee Nation.”
Last month, drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals settled with two Ohio counties just before a trial was set to begin in Cleveland. There was much discussion about other cases settling then, but those plaintiffs mostly have said they want their cases to be heard. That includes those many plaintiffs represented by Huntington attorney Paul Farrell. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also has said he would be opposed to a settlement.