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Court’s Ruling Clears the Way for April Trial Against Opioid Manufacturers

Judge Rules Landmark Lawsuit Must Proceed to Trial, Rejecting Opioid Manufacturers’ Bid to Avoid Liability for the Opioid Crisis

Santa Clara County, Calif. (March 15, 2021) — The Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office, along with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office, and the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, secured a major victory Friday as the Superior Court denied opioid manufacturers’ request that it grant summary judgment in their favor and halt efforts to hold them accountable for the opioid crisis. The court’s ruling​ clears the way for the case to proceed to trial on April 19, 2021.

Filed in May 2014, the lawsuit is the very first of what later became thousands of government-initiated lawsuits seeking to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. It alleges that the defendants—including opioid manufacturers Johnson & Johnson, Endo, Teva, and Allergan—engaged in a deceptive marketing scheme that trivialized the risks of opioids in order to drive up sales, leading to a crisis of opioid abuse and addiction.

“This victory reflects the compelling evidence we have put forward that Defendants’ deceptive marketing led directly to the crisis of opioid addiction and abuse that plagues our communities,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams. “Defendants prioritized profits over lives and deceived the public about the real dangers of opioids. We look forward to proving our case at trial, holding opioid manufacturers accountable, and securing critical resources to address the opioid crisis in our communities.”

While other opioid cases nationwide have faced continued delays due to the pandemic, trial in this case will be held virtually next month. The lawsuit seeks abatement of the opioid crisis defendants created in Santa Clara County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and the City of Oakland—home to over 15 million people and nearly 40% of California’s population. The lawsuit also asserts statewide claims for false advertising and other unlawful practices.

In lengthy filings seeking to resolve the case short of trial, the opioid manufacturer defendants argued that there was insufficient evidence that they contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis. The court rejected these arguments, denied defendants’ motions in full, and concluded that the case should proceed to trial on claims that defendants engaged in false and misleading marketing and played a substantial role in creating the opioid crisis.

Case Background

In May 2014, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office, along with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, filed the nation’s first government-initiated lawsuit to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for their role in creating the opioid epidemic.

Brought on behalf of the People of the State of California, the lawsuit alleges that the opioid manufacturers engaged in a sophisticated and deceptive marketing campaign to promote opioids that overstated the benefits of opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction, leading to an explosion of opioid prescriptions and widespread opioid addiction and abuse. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to prevent such practices in the future, civil penalties, and abatement of the public nuisance created by the overwhelming increase in opioid abuse and addiction. The lawsuit named as defendants several major opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo, Allergan, and Teva. The People’s case against Purdue was halted when Purdue declared bankruptcy in September 2019.

The Oakland City Attorney and Los Angeles County Counsel joined the lawsuit in 2018, and the remote trial is currently set for April 19, 2021 in Orange County Superior Court. The case is People of the State of California v. Purdue Pharma, et al., Orange County Superior Court, Case No. CGC-13-534108. Additional information about the case, including key filings, can be found at https://counsel.sccgov.org/high-profile-matters/opioids.

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About the Office of the County Counsel

The Office of the County Counsel serves as legal counsel to the County, its Board of Supervisors and elected officials, every County department and agency, and the County’s boards and commissions. With a staff of over 200, the Office is also responsible for all civil litigation involving the County and its officers. Through its Social Justice and Impact Litigation Section, the Office litigates high-impact cases, drafts innovative local ordinances, and develops policies and programs to advance social and economic justice. The Section also defends the County in select cases with the potential to significantly affect the County’s ability to provide critical safety net services to vulnerable residents. The Section is part of a growing movement to use the power and unique perspective of local government to better serve the community and to drive long-lasting change at the local, state, and national levels.

About the County of Santa Clara, California

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California – more populous than 14 states. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

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Media Contact: María Leticia Gómez/Laurel Anderson, Office of Communications and Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119, sccpublicaffairs@ceo.sccgov.org​ and laurel.anderson@ceo.sccgov.org


 

Posted: March 15, 2021

Last updated: 4/16/2021 11:07 AM