CLEVELAND (CN) — All cities and counties in the United States will be able to participate in a potential settlement of their lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
After listening to arguments on Aug. 6, U.S. District Judge Daniel Polster of the Northern District of Ohio issued the ruling. Lawsuits from more than 2,000 municipalities have filtered into his courtroom.
“Here, a settlement is especially important as it would expedite relief to communities so they can better address this devastating national health crisis,” he said.
The negotiation class model was designed to prevent plaintiffs from opting out and continuing the legal battle. This method would allow municipalities to calculate their share of a settlement and vote on it.
A 75% supermajority of voting members would have to approve the settlement. The 75% would have to be achieved in several categories, including the number and population of municipalities.
Noting the objection of the majority of state attorneys general on the grounds of state sovereignty, Polster called the “novel procedure” of negotiation class “a legitimate one.”
“The whole process is more likely to promote global settlement than it is, as the attorneys general argue, to impede it,” he wrote in a 40-page opinion certifying the negotiation class.
He said that states and other parties in the legislation can still pursue their own settlements.
“And there is nothing intrusive about this process,” Polster wrote. “It does not stop any litigation from continuing and in no way interferes with the upcoming bellwether trials in this (multi-district litigation). This process simply provides an option — and in the court’s opinion, it is a powerful, creative, and helpful one.”
He ruled that the negotiation class method does not violate due process, even though class members must make an opt-out decision before knowing the final settlement amount.
“In a normal trial class action, class members must make their opt-out decision at the outset of the suit, before the result is known, and no one argues that process is unconstitutional,” Polster wrote.
He also ruled that it is not necessary for the plaintiffs’ proposed 49 class representatives to come from every state, because each representative has described how it has been affected by the opioid crisis.
“The list of Class Representatives encompasses smaller areas such as Cass County, North Dakota; City of Concord, New Hampshire; County of Fannin, Georgia; and County of Gooding, Idaho,” he wrote.
Polster added that the plaintiffs’ claims under the RICO and Controlled Substances Act are common enough to support the class action.
The judge also addressed the arguments of the attorneys general.
“If the Attorneys General believe they control their local governments’ litigation, then they can attempt to foreclose it directly. To date, they have made no effort in this Court to shut down their constituent entities’ cases,” he wrote.
Polster set the opt-out deadline for the class to Nov. 22. The trial is scheduled to begin in his courtroom on Oct. 21.
Here is Polster’s order regarding the negotiating class.
(Courthouse News reporter Brian Grosh contributed to this story.)