County Attorney Vince Ryan says opioid lawsuit should stay in Texas court

Contact: Robert Soard
First Assistant County Attorney

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is fighting to keep the opioid lawsuit filed on behalf of Harris County in a state district court.

Ryan is opposing an effort by opioid drug distributors to move the lawsuit to federal court.  He has filed a motion seeking to have the case returned to state district court.

Three distributors—McKesson Corporation, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal—moved Harris County’s lawsuit to federal court. They are also seeking to have the lawsuit transferred to a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. If they are successful, Harris County’s motion to return the case to state district court will be ruled on in Ohio, not Houston, and the case will remain in Cleveland, Ryan said, resulting in a substantial delay in proceedings.

“Harris County residents deserve justice in their own court,” Ryan said. “Any delay such as that associated with transferring the case to Cleveland is unacceptable and imposes a burden upon the Harris County taxpayers.”

County Attorney Ryan filed suit December 13, 2017, against drug manufacturers and distributors, doctors and a pharmacist for their roles in promoting the opioid epidemic that has, according to the lawsuit, cost Harris County residents their health and even their lives and cost taxpayers millions to pay for healthcare and law enforcement. The County Attorney’s office reports that jail costs associated with opioid addiction are currently approximately $216,000 a day in Harris County. The suit accuses the defendants of creating a public nuisance, conspiracy and neglect.

Ryan’s lawsuit maintains that the defendants knew that the use of opioids had the potential to cause addiction and other health maladies. Driven by profit, the suit says the defendants engaged in a campaign of lies, half-truths and deceptions to create a market that encouraged the over-prescribing and long-term use of opioids, even though there was no scientific basis to support such use. Unfortunately, the suit says, the campaign worked and resulted in an exponential increase in opioid abuse, addiction, and death. That increase required Harris County to expend its limited resources to help those affected by this crisis and protect the community from harms associated with the opioid epidemic.

Ryan points out that McKesson is one of the largest drug distributors in the world and was fined $13 million dollars in 2008 and $150 million dollars in 2017 for failing to report suspicious sales and suspicious orders of opioids. Also, AmerisourceBergen has paid $16 million dollars for improper behavior in its role as a distributor of opioids, and Cardinal settled with the State of West Virginia in 2012 for failing to report suspicious orders of controlled substances. 

“As I said when I announced the lawsuit, these companies have repeatedly placed profits above people,” Ryan said. “The wrongful removal of this case demonstrates a continuation of that philosophy and a desire to frustrate the judicial process by denying the residents of Harris County the right to have this case determined by Harris County residents in the county where the harm occurred. The 133rd District Court is where this case belongs, not Cleveland, Ohio, where the defendants are attempting to have this case transferred. 

“This same tactic was attempted unsuccessfully in Hopkins County, Texas, where it was summarily dismissed by the federal court to which it was removed,” Ryan said. “We will fight for the same right for Harris County.”

Click here to view a copy of Harris County’s Motion to Remand and here for its memorandum in support of the motion.