Proposed Purdue Settlement Bears Positive Effects on Sullivan Baby Doe Opioid Lawsuit

Sep 16, 2019 | Branstetter Stranch & Jennings

National agreement would settle complaints brought against Purdue by cities/counties, but leaves other defendants to be pursued in court

KINGSPORT, Tenn. — A proposed multi-billion dollar settlement and bankruptcy filing by Purdue Pharma in the national opioid multi-district litigation (MDL) is bearing multiple effects on East Tennessee’s Sullivan Baby Doe suit — including the settlement of complaints brought against the pharmaceutical giant by local cities and counties.

Other manufacturer defendants and distributors remain to be pursued, attorneys say.

The Sullivan Baby Doe suit was jointly filed on June 13, 2017, by the district attorneys general of Tennessee’s First, Second and Third Judicial Districts in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport, Tennessee. The complaint lists prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, L.P. and its related companies, along with Mallinckrodt PLC, Endo Pharmaceuticals, a pill mill doctor and other convicted opioid dealers as defendants.

“While the agreement — if approved by the bankruptcy court — settles claims made by my office, and on behalf of cities and counties against Purdue, it does not satisfy our complaints against the remaining defendants,” says Barry Staubus, district attorney general for Tennessee’s Second Judicial District. “More than one pharmaceutical company helped create this crisis. Mallinckrodt and Endo played significant roles in the overprescription and diversion of opioids in our region, and Purdue’s actions will not alter our focus on holding them accountable, whether in circuit court or bankruptcy proceedings.”

The Sullivan Baby Doe suit is one of three filed in Tennessee by district attorneys general against pharmaceutical manufacturers and other defendants who have contributed to the state’s opioid crisis. In all, 14 district attorneys general representing 47 counties — nearly half the entire state — have joined forces to challenge pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic.

That show of solidarity has been instrumental in convincing the industry to face up to its actions, says Gerard Stranch, managing partner of Nashville-based Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC (BS&J).

“The district attorneys general who have spoken out on behalf of their cities and communities — many of which are rural areas — should be credited for their tenacity in standing up to Big Pharma,” Stranch says. “They are the ones whose offices expend thousands of hours and millions of dollars prosecuting opioid-related crimes, and they were the first to challenge the manufacturers and distributors in court for their actions. It is their right to hold these companies accountable and also to ensure that financial resources are returned to the communities that have been ravaged by years of overprescription and diversion.”

In East Tennessee, the Sullivan Baby Doe suit is expected to go to trial in 2020.

“In the more than two years since we filed this claim, we’ve gathered a massive amount of data on the harmful practices the defendants employed in their pursuit of profit,” Stranch says. “We look forward to sharing this information with the court.”

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