CN files opioid lawsuit in state court
SALLISAW – Following a Jan. 9 federal court ruling stating the Cherokee Nation could not sue six opioid drug distributors and retailers in its judicial system, the tribe’s attorney general filed a similar lawsuit in Sequoyah County District Court.
The Jan. 19 suit alleges the McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health Corporation, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. failed to prevent an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction.
“The brunt of the epidemic could have been, and should have been, prevented by the defendant companies acting within the U.S. drug distribution industry, which are some of the largest corporations in America,” the lawsuit states. “These drug wholesalers and retailers have profited greatly by causing the Cherokee Nation to become flooded with prescription opioids.”
It also alleges the defendants’ behavior has allowed “massive amounts” of opioid pills to be diverted from legitimate channels of distribution into the “illicit black market.” This “diversion” of large quantities of opioids has fueled the epidemic in the CN, states the lawsuit.
The CN first filed a lawsuit against the six companies in April in CN District Court. In June, the six companies filed a filed a motion in federal court in Tulsa stating the tribe’s court lacked jurisdiction in the case. Attorney General Todd Hembree said the six companies attacked the tribe’s sovereignty by filing the lawsuit.
The companies’ attorneys asked the federal court to dismiss the case that alleges the companies are creating “an epidemic of prescription opioid drug abuse.” U.S. District Judge Terence Kern agreed, ruling the lawsuit could not be heard in tribal court.
“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,” states Kern’s ruling.
Following Kern’s ruling, Hembree said he believes in the tribe’s case and is “prepared to fight to hold these companies accountable in state court.”
“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. We are confident in the case we’ve prepared and look forward to quickly re-filing our lawsuit,” Hembree said.
The CN is asking for in excess of $75,000; compensatory damages; restitution; disgorgement (asking court to order defendants to pay back illegal profits to prevent unjust enrichment); punitive damages; attorneys’ fees and costs; and all such relief the court “deems just and fair.”
The CN is also seeking a trial by jury.