North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem | attorneygeneral.nd.gov
BISMARCK, North Dakota (Legal Newsline) – Purdue Pharma, the nation's leading manufacturer of prescription opioids, including OxyContin, is praising a North Dakota judge's decision earlier this month to affirm his dismissal this spring of the state's case against the company.
Burleigh County District Court Judge James Hill's July 22 decision to affirm his earlier dismissal of the case pursued by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem against Purdue Pharma is relevant to other states' litigation against the company, Purdue Pharma said in an email to Legal Newsline.
"The decision by the North Dakota court shines a bright spotlight on the flaws in the state cases filed against Purdue," the company said.
"The North Dakota court noted that the state's theory of the case depends on an 'extremely attenuated, multistep and remote causal chain' that fails to account for the numerous independent actors who stand between Purdue's alleged conduct and the alleged harm."
Hill got to the bottom of the case, Purdue Pharma, based in Stamford, Connecticut, said. "The court cut through the allegations that Purdue caused the opioid crisis, noting that the state 'completely fails' to allege how Purdue's marketing actually caused the financial damage claimed by the state," the company said.
Blaming Purdue Pharma for the nation's opioid crisis is largely the basis of litigation against the company by 48 U.S. states. In May, North Dakota's lawsuit became the first to be tossed when Hill dismissed the case.
In his 27-page order dismissing North Dakota's lawsuit, Hill maintained that Purdue cannot control how its customers use their drugs. "Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products, and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products, regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give," Hill wrote in his order.
Hill's dismissal was a critical win for Purdue, the company said.
"The May 2019 decision by the North Dakota court to dismiss all the claims filed by the attorney general of North Dakota against Purdue is a significant legal victory for the company that has potential far-reaching ramifications for both the state lawsuits filed against Purdue and for the claims pending in the multi-district litigation (MDL)," the company said.
Stenehjem's office, which has said it will appeal Hill's dismissal to the state Supreme Court, has been downplaying Hill's decision to uphold his dismissal. State Attorney General Public Information Liz Brocker Officer told Forum News Service that Hill's latest decision "was not unexpected and is a procedural step in the process of appealing the court's original decision."
Purdue Pharma said Hill's latest decisions are a sign of things to come.
"We expect that when judges look at these cases and impartially apply the law, they will also dismiss on grounds of federal preemption," the company said. "As explained by the court in North Dakota in May 2019 and again in July 2019, the FDA specifically disagreed with the states' contention that Purdue made false and misleading statements about certain benefits of OxyContin. The states' lawyers are attempting to substitute their opinions for the expert medical judgments made by the FDA, and if allowed to stand, patients will suffer."
In the other news-making case so far, Purdue Pharma paid $270 million to settle Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter's lawsuit. Most of that money went to a research project at Oklahoma State and private lawyers hired on a contingency fee by Hunter.