A Pa. courted dismissed Philadelphia DA’s lawsuit against state attorney general over a national opioid settlement
Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court on Friday dismissed lawsuits brought by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala against state Attorney General Josh Shapiro over a national opioid settlement that Shapiro helped negotiate — and which the two DAs have indicated they have no interest in joining .
Krasner and Zappala sued Shapiro last summer, and had asked the court to declare that the AG could not “release,” or do away with, their own lawsuits against drug companies under the $26 billion national settlement proposed in July.
Shapiro’s office argued the DAs did not have authority to sue the state attorney general over the matter, and said the DAs’ suits were premature since the settlement process was ongoing. Counties and other local governments had until Jan. 26 to join the settlement — which is expected to deliver $1 billion to Pennsylvania over 18 years — and companies involved in the agreement still have several weeks to review it.
In its order issued Friday, the Commonwealth Court essentially agreed it is too early in the settlement process for the court to rule on the rights of each side, since the settlement agreement “has yet to be executed” and “may still be modified.”
The settlement terms, once finalized, also might provide a basis for a trial court to dismiss the DAs’ suits, the Commonwealth Court said.
“As a result, unless and until any finalized Settlement Agreement and/or Release are executed and affect the DAs’ rights in a substantial and concrete manner, any opinion that this Court would issue at this stage of the proceedings would be an impermissible advisory opinion ,” wrote Judge Michael H. Wojcik.
Krasner described the ruling as “technical,” and said it does not stop his lawsuit against drug companies and distributors. That case is being coordinated with dozens of opioid lawsuits in the Delaware Court of Common Pleas. Krasner’s suit is one of only four cases designated as a bellwether that could go to trial first, though no trial date has been set.
“I intend to continue to fight and I still believe that we’re going to have a very substantial victory,” Krasner said Friday. Zappala’s office did not immediately comment.
Shapiro issued a statement later, saying his priority “has always been to help the most people as quickly as possible.”
“We succeeded by securing the largest settlement to address this crisis, which will be dedicated to expanding treatment services and combatting the epidemic,” the AG said. “Misguided attempts to delay the help our communities need will fail.”
A spokesperson for the AG confirmed Shapiro does intend to release the claims in Krasner and Zappala’s suits. The releases are intended to give the companies participating in the settlement “the broadest possible bar against any liability,” according to settlement passages cited in Friday’s court order.
“Our office will release all claims brought under the name of the Commonwealth, including the claims brought by the DAs,” the spokesperson said.
Krasner and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney had both criticized the settlement amount as being too low and the payout schedule too long given the toll of the opioid crisis in the city.
But they ultimately split ways on whether to join the settlement with four companies: drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, and distributors AmerisourceBergen, headquartered in Conshohocken, McKesson, and Cardinal Health. The firms have not admitted wrongdoing.
Mayor Kenney’s office signed onto the agreement just ahead of the deadline last week, alongside every other county government in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia will get at least $186 million from the deal, according to estimates from the AG’s office. The maximum payouts possible amount to $45 million for Bucks, $19.2 million for Chester, $48.5 million for Delaware, and $35 million for Montgomery.
Both DA Krasner and DA Zappala, whose district includes Pittsburgh, said they would keep pursuing their lawsuits against the firms. In a joint statement last week, the two DAs said their districts “deserve deep, sustained compensation in the form of billions of dollars from these companies.”