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Judge dismisses local CT lawsuits against Purdue Pharma

January 9, 2019

STAMFORD — A state Superior Court judge has dismissed lawsuits by more than 20 municipalities in the state that accused OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical firms of fueling the opioid crisis in their communities by fraudulently marketing their drugs.

Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs — which include the local governments of Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain and Waterbury — had not proven their claims and accused them of pursuing financially motivated litigation. Thousands of other similar lawsuits — including one filed last month by Connecticut’s attorney general — accuse Stamford-based Purdue and other opioid makers such as Endo, Insys, Teva and Janssen of distorting their drugs’ impact.

“Because they are suing in an ordinary civil lawsuit, their lawsuits can’t survive without proof that the people they are suing directly caused them the financial losses they seek to recoup,” Moukawsher wrote in his decision. “This puts the cities in the same position as the brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and co-workers of addicts who say they have also indirectly suffered losses caused by the opioid crisis. That is to say — under long-established law — they have no claims at all.”

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart — whose cities sued in 2017 — disputed the decision and did not rule out appeals.

“The most troubling aspects of this ruling are twofold: The opioid crisis persists every day in New Haven, like it does in every city and town in Connecticut. And responsibility for it among pharmaceutical companies is ongoing,” Harp said in a statement.

Stewart said in her own statement that “we will not give up the fight to make sure this epidemic is stopped, and those who contribute to it are held accountable. We owe the families and individuals who are struggling that much, if not more.”

A message left Wednesday for Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim was not immediately returned.

Purdue said in a statement, in part, that “we commend the judge for applying the law and concluding that opioid manufacturers cannot be legally responsible to cities for the indirect harms they claim they experienced as a result of the opioid crisis.”

The dismissed lawsuits linked the proliferation of prescription and illegal opioids with the epidemic’s rising toll. In 2017, 1,038 people died of drug overdoses in Connecticut, according to the state Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Nearly half of those deaths involved heroin.

But Moukawsher said the plaintiffs had not shown pharmaceutical companies’ culpability.

“A credible suggestion on measuring causation might have given this court some pause,” Moukawsher wrote. “But during the long hours, spread over two days spaced amply apart, during which this motion was argued in court, it became apparent that the plaintiffs filed these lawsuits without first thinking of a way to sort out the causation conundrum.”

While he dismissed the cases, Moukawsher did not entirely reject litigation against opioid producers. He endorsed the federal prosecution of Purdue that led to a 2007 guilty plea by the company , to misbranding OxyContin to mislead and defraud physicians and patients. The company and three former executives incurred some $635 million in related penalties.

“Law enforcement actions like the federal case against Purdue Pharma appear, in all respects, the manifestations of government vindicating the public interest,” Moukawsher wrote. “Justly deserved fines and penalties in government cases are a public good: They punish the guilty and deter the tempted.”

Nearly 20 other municipalities joined Bridgeport’s lawsuit , which was filed in January 2018. The other plaintiffs included the local governments of Beacon Falls, Bristol, East Hartford, Fairfield, Milford, Naugatuck, Newtown, North Haven, Oxford, Shelton, Southbury, Southington, Thomaston, Tolland, Torrington, West Haven and Woodbury.

Moukawsher’s ruling did not cover another similar complaint on his docket that was filed last year by Danbury, Norwalk, Ansonia and Derby.

Stamford has not sued Purdue, although Mayor David Martin’s office has not ruled out litigation.

Other lawsuits

Purdue is still grappling with more than 1,000 pending complaints.

The unresolved litigation includes a lawsuit announced Dec. 20 by then-Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. In 2018, 20 states’ attorney generals sued Purdue.

“Purdue knowingly put its own exorbitant profits first when it purposefully and systematically misled doctors by not just downplaying the terrible risks of addiction, but by forcefully asserting that opioid products were safe, that the risk of addiction was low, and that patients experiencing symptoms of addiction should actually be prescribed higher and greater doses,” Jepsen said when the complaint was filed.

Purdue has denied Jepsen’s allegations. The case is set to continue under new state Attorney General William Tong.

To help manage the glut of cases against companies including Purdue, Cleveland-based federal judge Dan Polster is overseeing hundreds of complaints filed by municipal and county governments in a process known as “Multidistrict Litigation.”

A comprehensive settlement — which would probably be reached through the MDL proceedings — could take several more months, even years, to finalize.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

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