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Federal judge sends Anne Arundel, Baltimore opioid lawsuits to state court

A federal judge has allowed two Maryland jurisdictions suing opioid manufacturers and distributors to move forward with their cases in state court.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III remanded lawsuits by Anne Arundel County and Baltimore city in late April despite efforts by the defendant pharmaceutical companies to remove the cases to federal court and get them transferred to multi-district litigation in Ohio.

Both jurisdictions filed in their respective circuit courts in January. The lawsuits 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.

They also name local doctors who they claim over-prescribed opioids and accuse them of conspiring with the manufacturers and distributors to create a public nuisance and violate the Maryland False Claims Act. The inclusion of in-state doctors destroyed complete diversity among the defendants but the drug companies still attempted to remove the cases to federal court, arguing the local defendants could be severed and their cases handled in state court.

But Russell ruled in both cases the claims against the in- and out-of-state defendants were “factually and legally intertwined,” making severance inappropriate. The public nuisance claims allege that the national defendants neglected to investigate, report or terminate suspicious orders from prescribers. The False Claims Act allegations contend the doctors received financial benefits from the pharmaceutical companies.

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said the city is pleased the case will remain in state court, where the plaintiffs believe it belongs.

“We are gearing up with our co-counsel for what we know will be a very challenging road to justice for Baltimore, its institutions, and its people,” he said in an emailed statement Monday.

Hamilton Tyler, deputy county attorney in Anne Arundel, said keeping the case in state court will allow it to move forward more quickly than the multi-district litigation, which involves hundreds of cases from around the country.

“Anne Arundel County prefers that its case against the opioid manufacturers, distributors, and prescribers be litigated in Anne Arundel County where its citizens have been affected,” Tyler said in a prepared statement. “Anne Arundel County citizens are suffering now and it is hoped that this lawsuit will provide the County with additional resources to combat the opioid crisis.”

Prince George’s County also filed suit in state court but the case was removed to federal court and electronic court filings show it being transferred to the multi-district litigation in mid-April without a ruling on the county’s remand motion.


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