Judge: CN courts can’t hear opioids case

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
01/11/2018 08:00 AM
TULSA – U.S. District Judge Terence Kern on Jan. 9 ruled that the Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and distributors cannot be heard in the tribe’s District Court.

The CN filed the suit in April alleging that six companies are failing to prevent the flow of illegally prescribed opioids to CN citizens within the tribe’s jurisdiction in northeast Oklahoma.

The tribe accused the McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of “perpetuating” a prescription opioid abuse epidemic within the counties that comprise the CN.

Lawyers for the companies in June filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma to determine whether the tribe’s courts have jurisdiction in the case.

The companies’ motion states that CN courts have no jurisdiction over the businesses and asks the federal court to dismiss the case.

“None of plaintiffs here are tribal members or tribal corporations. Moreover, none of plaintiffs’ conduct at issue occurred in Indian Country,” the motion states. “As domestic dependent quasi-sovereign nations, the jurisdiction of Indian tribes over non-Indians is strictly limited.”

On Jan. 9, Kern ruled for the companies by stating the tribe’s courts do not have jurisdiction.

“This proceeding concerns a lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation against a number of opioid distributors and pharmacies. However, the question before the Court is not the merits of the Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit but rather the boundaries of tribal court jurisdiction,” states Kern’s ruling. “The Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation has filed suit not in state court but in the tribal district court of the Cherokee Nation. Do the tribal courts of the Cherokee Nation have jurisdiction over this particular action? The Court finds they do not.”

Following the ruling, Hembree said the CN would keep fighting in state court to hold the companies accountable.

“We continue to believe in our case, and we are prepared to fight to hold these companies accountable in state court. The opioid crisis in the Cherokee Nation was fueled by the defendants’ decision to prioritize profits over the well-being of Cherokee citizens,” he said. “In 2015 and 2016 alone, distributors shipped and pharmacies dispensed 184 million opioid pain pills in the 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma that comprise the Cherokee Nation – or 153 doses for every man, woman and child. The defendants knowingly turned a blind eye to the harm they caused and have not changed their conduct, but this cycle ends now. We are confident in the case we’ve prepared and look forward to quickly re-filing our lawsuit.”

In his ruling, Kern wrote that it’s “undisputed” the country is in an opioid crisis.

“Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States, and the President of the United States has declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency,” he states. “The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that from 2000 to 2016, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. The majority of these drug overdose deaths (more than six out of 10) involved an opioid and 40 percent of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”

However, his ruling states because the tribal court “clearly lacks jurisdiction” further proceedings there “would serve no purpose other than delay” and would “impose a substantial burden on the six companies.

“Accordingly, plaintiffs (six companies) have met their burden to show irreparable injury to justify a preliminary injunction,” states the ruling.

In April, AmerisourceBergen released a statement claiming it stops the shipment of (drug) orders it believes are suspicious. “The issue of opioid abuse is a complex one that spans the full health care spectrum, including manufacturers, wholesalers, insurers, prescribers, pharmacists and regulatory and enforcement agencies.”

Cardinal Health said in a statement that it will defend itself against the allegations and believes the lawsuit does not advance “the hard work needed to solve the opioid abuse crisis – an epidemic driven by addiction, demand and the diversion of medications for illegitimate use.”

CVS Health said it has stringent policies and procedures to determine whether a controlled substance prescription was issued for a legitimate medical purpose before a pharmacist fills it. Walgreens said it does not comment on pending litigation, and Wal-Mart did not comment.
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

News

BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
01/19/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The attorney general’s office cites perjury as a reason why it’s asking the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition from two Tribal Councilors and six Cherokee Nation citizens challenging Freedmen citizenship. In a Dec. 29 filing in the Cherokee Nation v. Nash and Vann v. Zinke case, the attorney general’s office states five of eight citizens listed in a Dec. 11 petition committed perjury and because so the petition should be dismissed and “the Court should take other appropriate action, including sanctions.” “Council Member David Walkingstick, in his individual capacity, Twila Pennington, Randy White, Norman Crowe and Vicki Bratton all swore in notarized statements they ‘voted in the 2007 referendum election…to only allow citizenship in the Cherokee Nation only to people who are Cherokee by blood.’ They did not (vote),” states the response. The response states Election Commission records show Walkingstick, Pennington, White, Crowe and Bratton did not vote in the March 3, 2007, election in which voters amended the Constitution to require Indian blood for citizenship. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted the attorney general’s office regarding the perjury allegation, but was told “there is no further comment on the perjury allegation other than what has already been filed.” Walkingstick said he voted in the election and that the records are incorrect. “In (20)07 I ran for council. I remember voting in that election. I know the records in the Election Commission, you know, they’re not always accurate.” The 2007 general election in which Walkingstick’s name first appeared on the ballot was June 23. Walkingstick added that he didn’t perjure himself. “Perjury, the definition of perjury is getting up on the witness stand and putting your hand on a Bible and take an oath that you’re going to tell the truth and then getting up there and intentionally lying. That’s perjury,” he said. “This is a desperate attempt for (Attorney General) Todd (Hembree) to not face the consequences of him not adhering to his own AG Act. This has nothing to do with who voted or who didn’t vote in the (20)07 election. It has everything to do with the Cherokee Nation trying to uphold its Constitution.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, perjury is the willful assertion as to a matter of fact, opinion, belief, or knowledge, made by a witness in a judicial proceeding as part of his evidence, either upon oath or in any form allowed by law to be substituted for an oath, whether such evidence is given in open court, or in an affidavit, or otherwise, such assertion being known to such witness to be false, and being intended by him to mislead the court, jury, or person holding the proceeding. In a Jan. 8 affidavit, Crowe states he voted in the election and that EC records are wrong. John Parris, the petitioners’ attorney, spoke on behalf of those alleged of perjury stating they all “remember voting” in the election. “The position of the interveners is that they remember voting and don’t know why the records are inaccurate,” he said. “The interveners hope that we get to the main issue and not deal with these side issues.” In regards to the EC records being “wrong,” EC officials said they do “not feel it would be appropriate to comment” on litigation before the Supreme Court. On Dec. 11, Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard, Kathy Robinson, Marcus Thompson, as well as the five accused of perjury, filed a petition as individual citizens against the CN and Hembree. It stems from Hembree’s decision not to appeal the District of Columbia District Court’s ruling to bind the CN to the 1866 Treaty and provide Freedmen “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including the right to citizenship. Freedmen are descendants of slaves once held by Cherokees. The petitioners ask the Supreme Court to set aside its Sept. 1 order to enroll Freedmen as citizens and instruct the attorney general’s office to appeal the federal court ruling until the Tribal Council approves or disapproves of Hembree’s decision not to appeal. According to the attorney general’s response, the petition should also be dismissed because its grievances against the CN and Hembree do not have “any basis in law or fact.” “Movants fail to demonstrate a legally cognizable interest in the present action that establishes a right to intervene under Cherokee Law. Nonetheless, even if Movants can establish a right to intervene – which they cannot – the Court must dismiss the Writ of Mandamus because this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,” the response states. “Specifically, Movants fail to cite any jurisdictional statute which permits Movants to maintain a lawsuit against AG Hembree – an appointed official of the Nation that enjoys sovereign immunity from this type of suit. Moreover, Movants fail to establish standing to bring this action against AG Hembree and fail further to plead a claim for relief.” The attorney general’s office also asks the court to maintain its Sept. 1 order by stating the request to continue litigating the case is “simply not available under Cherokee law.” Walkingstick said, hypothetically, if the tribe doesn’t appeal the federal ruling the Constitution would still have to be amended. He said Cherokee voters could accept the ruling or “vote in contradiction to it.” “The consequences are if the Cherokee people vote in contradiction to (federal) Judge (Thomas) Hogan’s ruling, or opinion, then federal program dollars could be frozen. Those are the consequences, and it just kind of depends what our Cherokee people want and, you know, me as being elected official, I take the Cherokee people’s voice very seriously,” he said. According to the Sept. 1 order, the Supreme Court deemed the special election void and without effect. Walkingstick said he’s “never taken a stance” on citizenship rights for Shawnees, Delaware, intermarried whites or Freedmen but that he did take an oath to uphold the Constitution. “The disappointment in all of this is our Cherokee Supreme Court contradicted our own Constitution. That’s a catastrophe. The other catastrophe is our chief and our attorney general supports contradicting our Constitution,” he said. “If we were wanting to protect our Constitution to the highest degree possible we would appeal this decision, which that’s the highest degree we can go with in regards to what that outcome is. It may be favorable. It may not be favorable, but we can look our constituents in the face and say we did everything possible to uphold your voice.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/17/2018 04:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight Advertising Representative Danny Eastham and Advertising Specialist Samantha Cochran's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11902__Samantha.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read Advertising Specialist Samantha Cochran's genealogy.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/17/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The first trial date has been set for a lawsuit by a state against pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic, according to Oklahoma’s attorney general. Oklahoma, one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleges fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic in the lawsuit filed in June 2017, and seeks unspecified damages from Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries. “We appreciate the urgency Judge (Thad) Balkman saw in getting the case to trial,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “Oklahomans who have suffered immeasurably from the years of fraudulent marketing campaigns will see this case resolved sooner rather than later.” Hunter said Balkman scheduled the trial to begin May 28, 2019. The companies deny wrongdoing and say they complied with Federal Drug Administration requirements that include warning labels showing potential risks that come with using their drugs. “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.” Teva spokeswoman Kaelan Hollon said the company “is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines,” and complies with all state and federal drug regulations. “Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine,” Hollon said. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said other states that have filed lawsuits are Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington state. The state lawsuits are separate from pending lawsuits in Ohio by dozens of local governments, and lawsuits by Native American tribes in the Dakotas and Oklahoma. In Ohio, a federal lawsuit by local governments nationwide that makes similar allegations is pending. And in South Dakota, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate filed a federal lawsuit in January against 24 opioid industry groups. In Oklahoma, a federal judge has ruled that another similar lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation cannot be tried in tribal court, and CN Attorney General Todd Hembree siad the tribe would file the lawsuit in state court.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/16/2018 04:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight Staff Writer Brittney Bennett and Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11898__ChandlerKidd.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogy.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/16/2018 03:30 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight News Writer Brittney Bennett and Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11895__BrittneyBennett.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read News Writer Brittney Bennett's genealogy.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/16/2018 12:00 PM
MUSKOGEE (AP) — Cherokee Nation leaders marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 15 by acknowledging the tribe needs to come to terms with its treatment of former slaves, known as Freedmen. The tribe — one of the country’s largest — recognized the King holiday for the first time with participation in a King parade and a visit to the Martin Luther King Community Center in Muskogee. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Principal Chief Bill John Baker decided the tribe should honor the King holiday this year because of ongoing racial tensions nationwide and because the tribe is seeking to make amends with slavery. King’s writings spoke of injustices against Native Americans and colonization, but Hoskin said the tribe had its own form of internal oppression and dispossession. “The time is now to deal with it and talk about it,” said Hoskin. “It’s been a positive thing for our country to reconcile that during Dr. King’s era, and it’s going to be a positive thing for Cherokee to talk about that history as part of reconciling our history with slavery.” Such talk from tribal officials would have been surprising before a federal court ruled last year that the descendants of slaves owned by tribal citizens had the same rights to tribal citizenship, voting, health care and housing as blood-line Cherokees. One descendant of Freedmen, Rodslen Brown-King, said her mother was able to vote as a Cherokee for the first and only time recently. Other relatives died before getting the benefits that come with tribal citizenship, including a 34-year-old nephew with stomach cancer, she said. “He was waiting on this decision,” Brown-King, of Fort Gibson, said. “It’s just a lot of struggle, a lot of up and down trauma in our lives. It’s exciting to know we are coming together and moving forward in this.” Derrick Reed, a city councilman in Muskogee, and director of the King Community Center there, said the Jan. 15 event was the first attended by citizens of the CN in honor of the holiday. Baker later spoke at an after-party the tribe sponsored, and Hoskin served breakfast earlier in the day. “We have a wonderful story to tell but we need to tell the whole story,” Hoskin said.