The U.S. Justice Department indicated it wanted to get involved in the opioid discussions to be overseen by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, nominated to his position by former president Bill Clinton. The Department, however, confirmed it was seeking more of a “friend of the court” position in the matter so it could, hopefully, come up with non-monetary remedies to combat the opioid crisis. At first, it wasn’t clear whether or not the agency would actively get involved.
The parties involved in the Cleveland talks really didn’t seem to care much one way or the other whether the Department was present, because it seemed its interest was largely non-participatory. Paul Hanly, a New York attorney with Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC and one the lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the case, called the Department’s move for involvement “fence sitting” and said it is “neither unexpected nor unwanted” in Cleveland. Polster himself welcomed the Justice Department’s presence, either as an active or inactive participant. The agency recently made a decision and released in a brief that it has chosen not to actively participate.
Last month, the Department asked Polster for thirty days to decide whether to actively participate in the litigation, citing funding as a primary factor. In general, The White House Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504 billion in 2015 alone or 2.8 percent of that year’s gross domestic product, and the nonprofit entity, Altarum, has indicated the estimated cost of the crisis exceeded $1 trillion in the sixteen-year period between 2001 and 2017.
Polster is seeking a quick resolution, if at all possible. During the first hearing, which took place in January, the federal judge told attorneys present he intended to dispense with legal norms like discovery and would not preside over years of what he referred to as “unraveling complicated conspiracy theories.” Polster then ordered the parties to prepare for settlement discussions immediately. He added he had no interest in discussing a settlement that would equate to “just moving money around,” but rather, one that would provide meaningful solutions by the end of 2018.
“I did a little math,” he said during that hearing in an effort to expedite things. “About 150 Americans are going to die today, just today, while we’re meeting.” Polster also explained that he felt when parties have gotten this far in a case, they already have at least 80 percent of the information they need to negotiate a reasonable settlement and, therefore, there is no need to drag out the litigation, which will only serve to complicate matters.
At least 433 opioid-related lawsuits have been brought about primarily by cities and counties across the U.S. with the most recently filed lawsuits coming from Puerto Rico and Arkansas. More are expected to hit as the crisis continues. Ultimately, all parties are seeking the most timely and cost-effective solutions possible in order to remediate the damage already done to society and prevent further destruction. “We are determined to see that justice is done in this case and that ultimately we end this nation’s unprecedented drug crisis,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.