Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has asked a federal court to stop a landmark opioid trial from proceeding in October, a move Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro quickly criticized.
The petition from Yost to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asks the court to halt or delay the trial against opioid manufacturers in Cleveland until the state's complaint goes to trial.
“The rest of Ohio — and Ohio itself — is being left behind in the MDL [multidistrict litigation] lawsuit in Cleveland,” Yost said in a prepared statement. “The hardest-hit counties of Appalachia and the vast majority of the state are being asked to take a number and wait — and that wait could delay or prevent justice.”
Some 2,000 lawsuits filed by local jurisdictions have been consolidated into one federal case in Cleveland, with Summit and Cuyahoga counties serving as the lead plaintiffs. Gov. Mike DeWine has filed separate lawsuits on behalf of the state.
Yost said only two counties of Ohio’s 88 — Summit and Cuyahoga — have a say in the October trial. He is arguing that although each Ohio county should have equal access to money from a settlement or jury verdict, that money should come in a single action by the state.
“All these lawsuits are the same, against the same bad actors,” Yost said.
Trying cases one at a time could result in contradictory verdicts and inconsistent damage awards, Yost said. He added that the “unprecedented” number of individual parties could lead to an “endless” stream of trials instead of settlements.
In the statement, Yost said Ohio’s interests as a whole are “far greater than the sum of its subdivisions’ interests — and the statewide, collective harm to Ohio’s citizens are not rights that Ohio’s political subdivisions can litigate or settle, let alone settle on their own.”
Shapiro disagreed, saying in a prepared statement that the prevention, education and treatment costs fall to local governments, like Summit and Cuyahoga counties, and the burden of information-gathering and preparing for trial “has likewise been borne by those of us on the front lines.”
She called the action “an eleventh-hour move by Yost” that is “both disappointing and frustrating.”
“We are ready for our day in court and have no plans to change course,” she said.
Earlier this week, Yost faced backlash from Shapiro, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, DeWine and other local leaders over a plan that would give the attorney general the authority to handle and dismiss lawsuits filed anywhere in Ohio against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The proposal, drafted by three lawmakers working with Yost, also would give the state legislature, not local communities that contend they have spent millions of dollars to fight addiction and overdoses, the power to divvy up proceeds from those lawsuits and settlements.
“When proposed unconstitutional legislative action was immediately rejected by community members and Governor DeWine alike, Attorney General Yost is now seeking injunctive relief through the courts, a move that is also without legal basis,” Shapiro said.
Horrigan said, "Yost has unfortunately chosen to double down on a bad decision, and is wasting state resources in the process" with the filing in federal court.
"Apparently what he could not obtain through democratic processes, he thinks he can steal in court. And one has to question — why now?" Horrigan said in a prepared statement, adding he was "once again disappointed by the Attorney General’s lack of appreciation for local communities’ constitutionally-protected interest in pursuing justice for the first responders, taxpayers, and neighborhoods directly burdened by this epidemic."
"I stand with my fellow counties and cities in protecting what we have worked so hard to build together — viable, meaningful and necessary litigation against the opioid manufacturers that preyed upon our citizens and devastated our communities," Horrigan said in the statement. "I look forward to the day I can pick up the phone and call Fire Chief Clarence Tucker and tell him that his department and the incredible men and women on the front lines of this fight will finally be compensated for at least some of the damage done. It can never erase the toll this epidemic has taken on our community, but it will help us begin to rebuild. Respectfully, no State AG is going to take that away from us.”
Summit County and 21 public agencies, towns, cities and villages in it launched a lawsuit in late 2017 demanding that 11 makers and three distributors of pain pills pay for the hundreds of overdose deaths and millions of dollars in public funds spent on the opioid crisis. Last week, Summit and Cuyahoga counties reached tentative settlements totaling $15 million with Endo and Allergan, which manufacture opioids.
Shapiro encouraged Yost to work with local communities, not against them.
“Our first responders, emergency teams, police force, public health and addiction treatment services, children’s services, and many more are right here, living in our communities, and are responding to the opioid epidemic every day," she said. "At this level of government, we are in the best position to serve our local communities and we know what we have spent and what we need for the future.”