U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio, nominated to his position by former President Bill Clinton, is overseeing more than 300 lawsuits by cities, counties, and other parties in opioid epidemic discussions. He contacted many of the states filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies directly with hopes that they will be able to settle quickly. Polster is hosting meetings with the representatives in order to gather information and facilitate a resolution.
Polster has asked that the parties stay quiet about the discussions at these scheduled “settlement conferences,” the first of which was just held in Cleveland. In the gag order, Polster has instructed the attendees to say no more than whether or not the “settlement conferences” are happening and when. The parties are unable to discuss any assessments made or commentary that occurs behind closed doors.
The complaints filed by the states claim drug manufacturers bear responsibility for the epidemic and for not doing enough to stop it. Polster addressed the parties earlier, stating, “About 150 Americans are going to die, just today, while we’re meeting. And in my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it.”
Polster has also said he has no interest in depositions and trials, adding, “People aren’t interested in figuring out the answer to interesting legal questions like pre-emption and learning intermediary, or unraveling complicated conspiracy theories…my objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018. I’m confident we can do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured and distributed. Just dramatically reduce the quantity and make sure that the pills that are manufactured and distributed go to the right people and no one else.”
Industry experts have said the sheer high number of lawsuits filed in recent months could lead some companies to settle quickly. “The litigation costs must be killing them,” said Richard Ausness, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law. “The problem is that a settlement with some plaintiffs will only cause more plaintiffs to sue.”
Law professor Jane Eggen also believes the best resolution to the epidemic would be for Polster to convince all parties to settle. “It would be fantastic if he can put together a settlement that really addresses these issues in that short a period…[an] ambitious way to start.”
Jayne Conroy, one of the attorneys representing cities and counties in the litigation believes in Polster’s ability to facilitate the discussions. “Judge Polster does not sit in an ivory tower, but in a courthouse in the middle of Cleveland, Ohio, an area devastated by the opioid epidemic, with no end in sight to the deaths and heartache. He is committed, hard-working and experienced,” she said.
Polster has asked staff at the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their views on how to better keep addictive painkillers out of drug abusers’ hands moving forward. Half of the meeting is intended for such discussion, and half is negotiating a resolution.