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Oklahoma Supreme Court Overturns $465M Opioid Ruling Against Johnson & Johnson

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $465 million opioid ruling towards drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, discovering {that a} decrease courtroom wrongly interpreted the state’s public nuisance legislation within the first case of its type within the U.S. to go to trial.

The ruling was the second blow this month to a authorities case that used an analogous method to attempt to maintain drugmakers liable for the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse. Public nuisance claims are on the coronary heart of some 3,000 lawsuits introduced by state and native governments towards drugmakers, distribution firms and pharmacies, nevertheless it’s not clear that the authorized principle is in hassle with so many extra instances queued as much as check it.

The courtroom dominated in a 5-1 resolution that District Judge Thad Balkman in 2019 was unsuitable to search out that New Jersey-based J&J and its Belgium-based subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals violated the state’s public nuisance statute.

“The court has allowed public nuisance claims to address discrete, localized problems, not policy problems,” in accordance with the opinion written by Justice James R. Winchester.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has overturned a $465 million opioid ruling against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, finding that a lower court wrongly interpreted the state's public nuisance law.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has overturned a $465 million opioid ruling towards drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, discovering {that a} decrease courtroom wrongly interpreted the state’s public nuisance legislation.

AP Photo/Steven Senne, File


“J&J had no control of its products through the multiple levels of distribution, including after it sold the opioids to distributors and wholesalers, which were then disbursed to pharmacies, hospitals, and physicians’ offices, and then prescribed by doctors to patients.” The ruling additionally mentioned the corporate had no management over how sufferers then used the merchandise.

The excessive courtroom mentioned that though it wouldn’t wish to downplay the struggling that hundreds of Oklahomans have gone via due to opioids, the query was whether or not the corporate’s advertising and sale of opioids created a public nuisance.

“J&J no longer promotes any prescription opioids and has not done so for several years,” since 2015, Winchester wrote. “Even with J&J’s marketing practices these … medications amounted to less than 1% of all Oklahoma opioid prescriptions.”

State statistics present that from 2007 to 2017, greater than 4,600 individuals in Oklahoma died from overdoses from opioids of all types, together with prescription painkillers and illicit variations resembling heroin and illegally made fentanyl.


Nationally, opioids have been linked to greater than 500,000 deaths since 2000.
The courtroom additionally rejected the state’s enchantment to extend the damages award. The state was planning to make use of the $465 million to struggle the opioid disaster, however mentioned that wasn’t practically sufficient to pay for the hurt it has finished.

The ruling comes per week after a California choose issued a tentative ruling that mentioned native governments had not confirmed that Johnson & Johnson and different drugmakers used misleading advertising to inflate prescriptions of their painkillers, resulting in a public nuisance.

Although the Oklahoma lawsuit filed by former state Attorney General Mike Hunter was the primary of hundreds of comparable lawsuits to go to trial, the state Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t essentially spell doom for the others.

Elizabeth Burch, a University of Georgia School of Law professor who’s following the opioid litigation, mentioned different judges and juries won’t determine their instances the identical approach.


“The question is still whether these are outliers,” she mentioned. “I don’t think we have enough of a consensus on public nuisance law and where it goes and how it works.”

Carl Tobias, a professor on the University of Richmond School of Law, famous that state public nuisance legal guidelines range and that the California ruling could possibly be altered by a better courtroom.

“Nuisance law varies from state to state, especially in this context because it’s so cutting edge,” he mentioned. “We haven’t seen enough cases to sort this out and say whether it’s going to be a viable theory or not.”

The Oklahoma case was the primary of its type to go to trial, and the one in California is the one different one the place a verdict was issued, as most instances have been settled earlier than or throughout trials. But different opioid trials rooted in public nuisance legislation are occurring earlier than juries in a federal courtroom in Cleveland and a state courtroom in New York. And a ruling is anticipated quickly in a trial earlier than a choose in West Virginia.

Oklahoma’s present legal professional normal, John O’Connor, mentioned he was dissatisfied by the ruling that overturned a “huge victory” for these affected by opioid abuse.

“Our staff will be exploring options,” O’Connor mentioned in a press release. “We are still pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades.”

The state has additionally filed lawsuit towards three firms that distribute opioids.
Johnson & Johnson mentioned in a press release that the ruling appropriately overturned a “misguided and unprecedented” try to develop public nuisance legal guidelines.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected,” the drugmaker mentioned. “The Company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.”

Earlier this yr, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $5 billion to settle related lawsuits throughout the U.S. In a associated deal, the nation’s three largest drug distribution firms additionally agreed to a $21 billion settlement over time. It’s as much as the businesses to determine whether or not to maneuver forward as they see what number of authorities entities be a part of. The firms all discovered that sufficient states joined for them to survey native governments.

Burch mentioned that the brand new rulings in California and Oklahoma would possibly immediate some governments that had been on the fence to affix fairly than danger dropping on their claims in courtroom.

Two different distinguished opioid makers, Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt, have reached nationwide settlements via the chapter course of.

In dissent, Justice James E. Edmondson mentioned he would uphold the decision however ship the case again to district courtroom to recalculate the damages award.

The state had requested that the award be elevated to $9.3 billion.
Associated Press reporter Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.


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