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Drug companies seek consolidation of Anne Arundel, Baltimore opioid lawsuits

Defendants want transfer to Baltimore

FILE - This Aug. 15, 2017, file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen, also known as Percocet, in New York. Health data firm IQVIA's Institute for Human Data Science released a report Thursday, April 19, 2018, showing an 8.9 percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled in 2017 by retail and mail-order pharmacies, which fill the bulk of prescriptions. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Lawsuits in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore allege drug companies misled doctors and consumers about the addictive qualities of prescription opioids. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

ANNAPOLIS — Attorneys for opioid manufacturers and distributors argued Monday that Anne Arundel County’s lawsuit against them should be consolidated with Baltimore’s for more efficient pretrial proceedings.

The defendants say the Baltimore case is “substantially similar” to the county’s and the Maryland Rules allow for the transfer when there are common issues of law and fact.

Both lawsuits generally allege the drug companies knowingly misled doctors and consumers about the addictive quality of prescription opioids and manufactured a market by overstating the drugs’ benefits in treating chronic pain.

If transferred, Baltimore City Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, who has been specially assigned to the case there, would coordinate motions and discovery, according to attorney Kevin B. Collins, who represents McKesson Corp. and argued the motion on behalf of the manufacturers and distributors. The case can return to Anne Arundel for trial or earlier if appropriate.

“We’re not saying you can’t litigate your case, but there needs to be coordination,” said Collins, of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C. “It’s not like Anne Arundel County won’t have its trial in its home court.”

Attorneys for the county said that if the transfer is granted, they would prefer the case remain in Baltimore for trial.

Elizabeth Smith, of Motley Rice LLC in Washington, D.C., said that the judge who presides over pretrial proceedings in the county’s case will develop a “level of expertise” and that the plaintiffs do not want to educate another judge on the complex issues of the case when it is headed for trial.

Anne Arundel County Administrative Judge Laura S. Ripken said she would announce her decision Friday afternoon after reviewing the arguments and filings and conferring with Baltimore City Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson.

The pharmaceutical defendants filed a joint motion in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in October to transfer the case to Baltimore. Collins said that while the cases are similar, the Baltimore litigation is slightly more advanced and the city is easier to access for out-of-state attorneys.

“I love Annapolis, but in terms of where the parties have invested resources, where the courts have invested resources, I think Baltimore is just a little bit ahead,” he said.

Fletcher-Hill has held two hearings on motions to dismiss and just scheduled a third for March. The parties are also engaging in discovery in the Baltimore case.

Collins called the cases the “poster child” for the rule permitting transfer and said “judicial economy cries out” for consolidation.

Attorneys for the county said that transfer was not only unnecessary — currently only two cases are pending in the state, though a third was filed by Seat Pleasant in November — but that transfer would be unfair to the county, which has fought to have its case litigated locally.

Defendants removed the case to federal court shortly after it was filed and Anne Arundel successfully argued for it to be remanded.

“This case was filed in Anne Arundel County and the county feels strongly that this case should be litigated in Anne Arundel County, including pretrial proceedings,” said Hamilton Tyler, an assistant county attorney. “We deserve to have this case litigated here. The wrongs were perpetrated here. The people are here.”

Tyler also said Baltimore does not want its case consolidated with Anne Arundel’s.

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis confirmed Monday that the city opposes the transfer.

The individual doctors and their practices named in Anne Arundel’s lawsuit also opposed the transfer and argued that they are not accused of engaging in any misconduct in Baltimore. Attorneys argued Monday that if the case is transferred, their clients should be severed and remain in Anne Arundel County.

The cases are Anne Arundel County v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al., C-02-CV-18-000021, and Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al., 24-C-18-000515.

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