Judge Polster will not make a decision in the consolidated opioid litigation until at least August, he says.
Federal Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, nominated to his position by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, has taken center-stage in the opioid litigation saga. He is managing settlement negotiations and has continued to push back on the U.S. cities and counties that are currently suing opioid makers to negotiate favorable settlement terms. Polster recently revealed he will now wait until August to make a final decision.
“I have an awesome responsibility,” Polster said. “I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. I feel it keenly every day. My goal is when I finally retire from this job – which I hope won’t be for a long, long time – to pass on to my successor a legal system stronger than the one inherited. If I do that, I think I’ll have done a pretty good job…Typically, a lawsuit is about something unpleasant or unfortunate that happened in the past. A plaintiff alleging prior wrongdoing by the defendant. These cases aren’t so much about the past as the present and the future. I think there are very few people in Ohio that don’t have someone impacted by the opioid crisis. There’s so much addiction, suffering and death. To me, there’s no way not to have that front and center and to urge people – all the parties, public and private – that at the same time they’re fighting over the lawsuit, to see if they can take some steps to turn the trajectory of addition and death down, rather than it going up, up, up.”
The judge has been tasked with overseeing 1,900 lawsuits by U.S. municipalities and said, “the idea of creating a negotiating class of local governments to spur settlement talks was an innovative one.” However, attorneys representing state and local governmental entities are eager to see a resolution to their cases and are determined to hold manufacturers accountable for fueling the nationwide crisis.
Attorneys general for most states wrote in a pair of letters to Polster detailing their concerns over his approach, indicating that the arrangement may hinder their ability to reach a national settlement. One letter stated the deal would “give communities elsewhere functional veto power” over any settlement a state reached that is not agreeable to all parties. Some also pushed back, saying it’s too early in the case “to create such a group and that it could force some municipalities to join the litigation when they’re not yet ready.”
“Setting up this type of class constitutes a new and novel procedure that could result in a grave miscarriage of justice and do significant harm to the ability of states to protect their own people,” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas said.
“Everyone agrees these cases can’t be settled piecemeal,” Polster responded. “The defendants won’t settle without closure. There needs to be a vehicle to do that.”
The proposed class would bring together the more than 24,000 U.S. for negotiation purposes. The case is In Re National Prescription Opioid Litigation, 17-md-2804, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland).