BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Attorneys for three large drug distributors claim the City of Huntington and Cabell County are barred by the statute of limitations from seeking damages caused by opioids before 2016.
The legal team for AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson urged U.S. District Judge David Faber to rule in their favor during a 90-minute long pretrial hearing Tuesday in connection with the public nuisance case.
The lawsuit, filed by the City of Huntington and Cabell County Commission in 2017, blames the “Big Three” for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis by distributing nearly 100 million opioid pills in Cabell County over a 10-year period, declaring the actions by the companies have been a public nuisance. The case is scheduled for a bench trial before Faber in early May.
Defendant’s attorney Ashley Hardin told Faber Tuesday West Virginia law is clear that there’s a one-year statute of limitations on public nuisance cases.
Since the the cases were filed in January and March of 2017, anything before 2016 is time barred, she said.
“The plaintiffs have taken the position that the facts are irrelevant and there is no statute of limitations. The plaintiffs have admitted claims before 2015,” Hardin said. “They want money. There’s no dispute about that and they want a lot of it.”
Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro, arguing for Huntington and Cabell County, told Faber there’s case law in their favor.
“The conduct of the defendants prior to 2016 caused a nuisance that continues to harm the health of Cabell County. This nuisance existed and it continues to not be abated,” Majestro said. “No statute of limitations begins to run because the nuisance is unabated.”
Majestro said from 2016-2018 there were 324 opioid deaths in Huntington-Cabell County.
Hardin countered saying AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson are not to blame.
“We don’t drop these pills into the town square. We don’t place addicts into the community,” Hardin said.
Faber also heard a motion for summary judgement Tuesday from the plaintiffs who claim the distributors had a duty not to ship the pills when they discovered suspicious orders. The plaintiffs want Faber to agree to the point before the trial but the defendants argued Faber should be first allowed to hear the evidence during the trial.
“There are very good reasons to wait on this,” Timothy Hester, one of the attorneys for the drug companies said.
Faber appeared to be leaning that way.
“Maybe I ought to reserve this until I can place it in the context of the trial based on the fuller record before me at that time,” he said.
Faber didn’t immediately rule on either motion argued Tuesday.
The case was originally part of a group of similar cases being considered in federal court in Cleveland but was released back to U.S. District Court in West Virginia’s Southern District in late 2019.