The state of Arizona took a brazen legal approach to address the state’s opioid crisis, bypassing lower courts and filing a lawsuit against members of the Sackler family directly with the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday.
In the lawsuit, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich alleges that between 2008 and 2016, the Sacklers, owners of Purdue Pharma, one of the largest private pharmaceutical manufacturers in the nation and makers of the painkiller oxycodone (OxyContin), unlawfully “looted” the company by transferring billions of dollars from the company to their personal accounts.
“The State brings this action because it has evidence that the Sacklers, Purdue, and the other Defendants were parties in recent years to massive cash transfers—totaling billions of dollars— at a time when Purdue faced enormous exposure for its role in fueling the opioids crisis,” the lawsuit said.
“This is an urgent situation requiring the type of expeditious resolution that only the Supreme Court can provide,” Brnovich said in a statement Wednesday. “The clarity of the high court’s ruling and the authority to enforce the judgment throughout the country and internationally will be the most effective path to addressing an issue of this magnitude.”
The lawsuit is couched within the context of a trial pending in Arizona’s Pima County Superior Court, currently slated for 2021, in which Purdue is alleged to have violated the terms of a 2007 court order prohibiting the company from promoting or marketing OxyContin in a deceptive manner. Essentially, Brnovich is requesting that the Supreme Court step-in to ensure that the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma preserve funds for any monetary awards the company may be subjected to in the pending lawsuit.
“These transfers threaten the ability of Purdue to satisfy any relief the State may obtain in its pending proceeding against Purdue,” the lawsuit continued. “The State therefore brings this action to hold the Defendants accountable for their attempts to loot Purdue, and to ensure that the people of Arizona can obtain adequate relief for the devastation that the Sacklers and Purdue have wrought in this state.”
Brnovich conceded that circumventing lower courts and going directly to the Supreme Court deviated from standard legal process, but claimed that this was necessary due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, noting that the court is empowered by the U.S. Constitution to adjudicate the dispute because it is between residents of different states.
“I do think it’s a long shot,” Mr. Brnovich admitted Wednesday in an interview with the New York Times.
“It’s a little different. It’s a little unorthodox. Sometimes you’ve just got to throw deep. We don’t have time for this to take years to wind through the courts,” he added. “The Supreme Court has jurisdiction, and we think they have to act.”
A spokesperson for the families of Drs. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler emailed Law&Crime, denying the allegations, saying, “We strongly deny these allegations, which are inconsistent with the factual record, and will vigorously defend against them.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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