Thanks, but no thanks. That seems to be the view of the federal judiciary when it comes to taking jurisdiction on a lawsuit between the Arlington County government and a wide swath of opioid manufacturers and distributors.
In a 16-page ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has sent the case back to the Arlington Circuit Court, where it had been filed by the county government in early April. Attorneys for the defendants had sought to have the matter heard at the federal level, where similar lawsuits are being consolidated in the Northern District of Ohio.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga ruled that there were no exclusively federal issues at play in the lawsuit, and it belonged in state court, at least for now. “All of the plaintiffs’ claims are state tort claims,” Trenga wrote.
Arlington court officials were informed of the decision on May 9. The ruling does not preclude the defendants from arguing to a state judge that the matter should be transferred back to the federal level.
Arlington is among about two dozen Virginia local governments that have signed up outside attorneys to file suit against a large number of opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers, including some of the biggest names in the health-care industry. Fairfax County recently became the latest Virginia jurisdiction to file suit; Alexandria and Prince William County also have embarked on their own litigation.
The Arlington lawsuit seeks upward of $150 million in compensatory damages – plus punitive damages.
County Board members have retained a number of law firms, including Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, Kaufman & Canoles PC and the Cicala Law Firm PLLC.
“It is fair for Arlington County to respond [to the impact of opioid use on public-health resources] by seeking to hold those responsible for the epidemic – those who continue to profit from it – accountable for its costs,” attorney Joanne Cicala told the Sun Gazette when the suit was first filed.
According to both the Arlington County attorney’s office and a spokesman for the legal team, the case is being handled on a contingency basis. Neither the county government nor the attorneys would go further in detailing the financial arrangement.