CLEVELAND – The cases filed by Cabell County and the City of Huntington against opioid distributors are one step closer to be being heard in a West Virginia federal court.
In a Dec. 16 order, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster granted a motion by the plaintiffs to split their claims against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson from the others.
The next step, according to attorney Anthony Majestro, is to file a motion to dismiss all other claims other than common law public nuisance, civil conspiracy and punitive damages against the three remaining defendants.
Then, the following step would be to ask Polster to send the cases back to West Virginia.
“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling today,” Majestro, a Charleston attorney who is one of the lawyers representing Cabell County in its case, told The West Virginia Record. “We are looking forward to having these cases remanded and having them heard early next year in West Virginia.”
Last month, Polster 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. He indicated the Cabell-Huntington cases are headed that way.
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.”
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 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 Record. “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. …
“It seems like he wants to release the Cabell and Huntington cases like he did the ones for San Francisco, Chicago and Cherokee Nation.”
In October, 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.