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Md. jurisdictions fight to keep opioid cases in state

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin (oxycodone) pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

FILE – This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin (oxycodone) pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

All three Maryland jurisdictions that filed lawsuits in state court against opioid manufacturers and distributors are now in federal court, at least temporarily, where the defendants are fighting to have them remain.

Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, along with Baltimore, are seeking to have their cases handled in local circuit courts. Their lawsuits include local doctors and practices along with out-of-state manufacturers, making it difficult for the defendants to remove to federal court.

The lawsuits all allege manufacturers and distributors of drugs such as OxyContin misrepresented the risk of addiction and encouraged doctors to prescribe their drugs in larger doses over longer periods.

Defendant Endo Health Solutions Inc. filed motions between Feb. 20 and March 26 to remove all three to federal court, arguing the state court defendants were “tacked on” to thwart diversity and should be severed from the out-of-state defendants.

No hearings are scheduled on the motions as of Wednesday afternoon.

Both Anne Arundel County and Baltimore have since filed motions for remand, with Endo arguing in opposition the plaintiffs added “materially distinct claims against one or more non-diverse defendants in an effort to destroy diversity” and it is within the court’s discretion to sever the non-diverse defendants and allow them to remain in federal court.

Anne Arundel County contends the facts involving all the defendants are “intertwined” because they allege doctors received kickbacks from the drug companies in violation of the Maryland False Claims Act. Baltimore similarly argues the doctors included in its lawsuit were an “integral part” of the campaign of misinformation alleged on the part of the manufacturers.

Endo has opposed both motions for remand, but in responses in late March, attorneys for Anne Arundel and Baltimore accuse the company of not squarely addressing the factual issues raised in the motions but instead repeating their initial arguments for removal.

The defendants “essentially parrot the same arguments asserted in their February 20, 2018 Notice of Removal, without engaging the allegations of the County’s Complaint or disputing the County’s showing that this case must be promptly remanded,” Anne Arundel said in a March 22 filing.

Baltimore claimed March 29 that “instead of engaging with the City’s allegations against (the doctors), Endo has filed a cookie-cutter response tailored to other cases that fails to acknowledge the common course of conduct among (the defendants).”

An attorney for Pennsylvania-based Endo did not respond to a request for comment.

The cases are Anne Arundel County, Maryland v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al., 1:18cv00519; Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al., 1:18cv00800; and Prince George’s County Maryland v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al., 8:18cv00870.

Cecil and Montgomery counties also have sued opioid manufacturers but did so in federal court initially. Their cases were transferred earlier this year to the multidistrict litigation in Ohio.

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