SEATTLE — A Washington city that says the pain medication OxyContin has devastated the community asked a federal judge Monday to let it move forward with its lawsuit seeking to hold the pill’s manufacturer accountable for damages.
Everett, a working-class city of about 108,000 north of Seattle, sued Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma in January, alleging the company knowingly allowed pills to be funneled into the black market and into the city and did nothing to stop it.
Purdue filed a motion to dismiss in March. Before hearing arguments Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez called the case an interesting one with some novel legal issues.
Purdue attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told the judge the case should be tossed for a number of reasons. Among them, the city fails to show a direct relationship between the company’s conduct and the alleged harms.
“It’s a textbook example of remoteness,” Fitzgerald said. He argued there are nine steps — including wrongdoing by pharmacies and criminal gangs — between Purdue’s conduct and the expenses the city incurred in responding to the problems of opioid addiction.
Everett’s lawyer, Christopher Huck, told the judge that emails and other internal documents show that Purdue knowingly put their painkillers into a supply chain they knew ended at an organized drug ring, and the city has suffered for it. The city should be allowed to make its case at trial, he said.
“OxyContin has devastated the community and inflicted enormous harm,” said Huck, who was joined at the table by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. The injury here is the diversion and misuse of OxyContin and the damages is what the city had to do to deal with that harm, Huck said.
Three city council members, the police chief and others filled the benches in the courtroom Monday.
“Our city has been significantly damaged. Obviously, we hope the case is not dismissed and goes forward on its merits,” the mayor said outside the courtroom. “Our community needs help. And clearly we believe our city has been damaged by this crisis.”
Purdue knew their pills were going into the black market, had an obligation to report it and they didn’t do that, Stephanson said.
Fitzgerald argued in court that there’s no proof Purdue was dealing to drug dealers and noted that Purdue provided pills to a wholesaler.
The company argued Monday that the statute of limitations has passed for the city to file the lawsuit. In court documents, it also argued that city can’t hold it responsible for illegal trafficking when law enforcement officials knew and were already investigating criminal trafficking at issue.