The $270 million settlement between the state of Oklahoma and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma does not extend to cities and counties that have their own lawsuits pending against the manufacturer unless they choose to participate in the agreement, a judge ruled last week.
In a motion filed last month in the state’s lawsuit, attorneys representing the cities of Lawton, Enid, Broken Arrow, Midwest City and Oklahoma City raised concerns that language in the state’s settlement could be interpreted in a way that would interfere with their claims against Purdue companies.
The attorneys asked the judge to clarify the state’s agreement.
The settlement agreement between the state and Purdue would release Purdue from claims by “any political subdivisions on whose behalf the Attorney General possessed the authority, to bind, against the Releasees (Purdue) regardless of whether any releasor ever seeks or obtains any distribution under the Agreement.”
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman wrote in an order on Thursday that the settlement deal does not apply to the state’s cities and counties unless they choose to opt in. Balkman also denied the cities’ motion to become a party in the state’s lawsuit.
“The cities of Broken Arrow, Enid, Lawton, Midwest City and Oklahoma City, whether independently or collectively … are not parties to, bound by, or otherwise subject to the terms of the ‘Consent Judgment as to the Purdue Defendants’ entered by this court on March, 26, 2019,” the order states.
More than 20 cities and counties in Oklahoma are in the midst of their own litigation against Purdue companies in state and federal courts. At least six of those cases were recently consolidated in a federal court in Ohio, joining more than 1,600 other lawsuits.
The state’s settlement with Purdue companies, reached in March, reserved $12.5 million to go to cities and counties to combat the opioid epidemic locally. Though Purdue was dismissed from the state’s lawsuit, the case is still pending against more than a dozen defendants and is set to go to trial next month in Cleveland County District Court.
Some attorneys representing cities and counties in their own lawsuits against Purdue companies have been critical of the amount of funds secured from the settlement.
Attorneys for Comanche County sought to become a party in the state’s lawsuit last month.
“As a result of the State’s settlement with Purdue, a meager $12.5 million, or roughly 5%, of the monies will be allocated to cities and counties,” a news release in April from the attorneys stated.
In a statement sent to The Frontier last month defending the settlement, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the Purdue settlement is not indicative of what the state’s final winnings in the case might be.
“No inferences should be drawn from the Purdue settlement vis-a-vis the final outcome of the state’s litigation against opioid manufacturers,” Hunter wrote. “As we have said, the Purdue situation was driven by a likely bankruptcy filing by the company and near certainty the state would receive nothing from Purdue.”
The attorney general’s office is establishing a foundation to handle the city and county settlement funds, and Hunter assigned an interim board to head the foundation last month.
Also from the settlement money, nearly $200 million went to establish a separate foundation that will provide funding for the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Center for Wellness & Recovery, which will aim to treat and research addiction on a nationwide level.
The state’s case is set to go to trial in Cleveland County on May 28.