By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $ 465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in a state lawsuit alleging the drugmaker fueled the opioid epidemic through commercialization misleading painkillers.
The move marked the latest setback for states and local governments pursuing lawsuits to hold drug companies accountable for a drug addiction crisis that the U.S. government says has resulted in nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths in two decades.
The court ruled https://tmsnrt.rs/3bSrnrj that state nuisance law does not extend to the manufacture, marketing and sale of prescription opioids and that a judge trial had gone too far in holding the company liable under it.
“As serious as the problem of adding opioids is in Oklahoma, the Nuisances Act does not provide a cure for this harm,” Judge James Winchester wrote.
J&J, based in New Brunswick and New Jersey, said in a statement he sympathizes with those affected by the outbreak, but the court “appropriately and categorically rejected the erroneous and unprecedented expansion of the law on public nuisances “.
A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor did not respond to requests for comment. His office appealed to J&J for $ 9.3 billion on appeal to fund treatment and other programs to fight the epidemic.
The Oklahoma lawsuit was the first of more than 3,300 opioid crisis lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug distributors and pharmacies to stand trial.
The lawsuit predated a deal this year between J&J and America’s three largest drug distributors – McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen – to pay up to $ 26 billion to settle thousands of opioid-related cases at against them.
PUBLIC NUISANCE LAWS
Tuesday’s decision came days after a similar lawsuit in California pitting several major counties against J&J and three other drugmakers resulted in an interim ruling in favor of the companies.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ruled in August 2019 that J&J had engaged in deceptive marketing about the benefits of pain relievers Duragesic and Nucynta, and found their addiction risks to be causing a public nuisance.
J&J had argued that there was scientific backing for the marketing claims and said Duragesic and Nucynta made up a tiny fraction of the opioids sold in Oklahoma.
The company, which no longer promotes the drugs, also argued that the state’s public nuisance law should not apply.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Winchester agreed the law only applied to discrete and localized issues involving criminal or property-related disputes, not policy issues.
“The expansion of the public nuisance law by the district court enables the courts to manage public policy issues that should be dealt with by the legislative and executive branches,” Winchester wrote.
Paul Geller, a plaintiffs attorney at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd law firm who helped draft the $ 26 billion nationwide settlement proposal, said Oklahoma’s decision could lead to a increased participation in the settlement.
“Perhaps the realization that, despite the severity of the epidemic, trials are inherently risky and that appellate courts are largely unpredictable will ultimately help increase turnout,” he said. -he declares.
Eight states refused to sign the deal with J&J, which agreed to pay up to $ 5 billion. Local governments in states that have joined have until January to sign. The final payment depends on the participation.
Oklahoma’s decision, paired with the California decision, could prompt states and communities that did not support the proposed national settlement to rethink their positions, said Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, professor of law at the University of Georgia .
âTo the extent that people are reluctant to go into this regulation, it definitely changes the risk profile,â said Burch.
(Report by Nate Raymond in Boston, edited by Noeleen Walder, Bernadette Baum, Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)