OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A federal judicial panel is sending two federal opioid lawsuits back to federal courts in Oklahoma and California where they were initially filed in an effort to streamline the cases that are among nearly 2,700 now pending in federal court in Ohio.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation accepted a November recommendation from U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland and last week returned the lawsuits by the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation and the City and County of San Francisco to federal courts in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and the Northern District of California.
Polster is overseeing the nearly 2,700 lawsuits brought by local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and unions against various manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies over the opioid crisis that is blamed for more than 400,000 deaths since 2000.
“The Cherokee Nation looks forward to having a trial date set and bringing closure to this case and healing for our tribe and tribal citizens who have been affected by the opioid epidemic,” Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said Monday in a statement to The Associated Press.
The tribe’s attorney general, Sara Hill, said the tribe can now present its claims at trial.
“We are pleased (Polster) recognized the importance of selecting the Cherokee Nation’s case,” Hill said in the statement. “We think this will be an important case for all Indian tribes.”
John Coté, spokesman for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the judicial panel’s ruling allows the city and county to move forward with its claims.
“San Francisco is facing a drug addiction crisis on its streets. Our office is going to ensure that these defendants are held accountable for their roles in the opioids epidemic and take steps to address and abate the community crises it has caused,” Coté said in a statement to the AP.
Attorneys for the companies either declined comment or did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
In court filings, the companies opposed the move, noting the size of the Cherokee Nation, which includes all or parts of 14 counties and various state and local governmental jurisdictions in Oklahoma. In California, the companies argued, there are pending cases that could conflict with the court’s rulings and that the California attorney general is considering taking control of opioid cases brought by municipalities.
“Having reviewed carefully all of the parties’ proposals,” the panel wrote that it “believes resolution of substantial portions of the (lawsuits) will be speeded up and aided by strategic remand of certain cases at this time.”
The Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit names CVS, Walgreen’s, Walmart and drug distributors while San Francisco’s lawsuit names Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals and more than three dozen other companies.
Johnson & Johnson is appealing an Oklahoma judge’s order that it pay the state $465 million to address the state’s opioid crisis.
Prior to the Oklahoma trial against Johnson & Johnson, Purdue and Teva were dropped from the lawsuit and agreed to a $355 million settlement with the state.