Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office filed a lawsuit Wednesday against five public hospital systems and the Miami-Dade County School Board, arguing they are jeopardizing settlements with pharmaceutical-industry companies over the opioid epidemic.
Moody’s office filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court against the Sarasota County Public Hospital District, Lee Memorial Health System, the North Broward Hospital District, Halifax Hospital Medical Center, the West Volusia Hospital Authority and the Miami-Dade School Board.
The lawsuit centers on settlements Moody’s office reached with companies that manufacture, distribute or sell opioids — and similar lawsuits that the hospital systems and the school board have filed.
Moody’s office is seeking a ruling from a Leon County circuit judge that it has the power to essentially override “subordinate” claims by the hospital systems and the school board. The lawsuit said the settlements require releasing claims from government agencies that are considered “subdivisions” of the state.
“Defendants — subdivisions that have brought claims that are subordinate to the attorney general’s action — place the attorney general’s settlements in jeopardy and threaten to immediately devalue the relief available to those who have been impacted by the opioid crisis,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants’ claims therefore imperil Florida’s actions, as sovereign, to protect the safety and welfare of Florida citizens.”
The lawsuit said the state has signed six settlements totaling about $2.4 billion. Those settlements are with AmerisourceBergen Corp.; Cardinal Health, Inc.; McKesson Corp.; Johnson & Johnson, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; CVS Pharmacy, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.; and Allergan-affiliated companies.
Some settlements resulted from multi-state litigation, while others came as a result of a lawsuit that Florida filed in Pasco County. Walgreens has remained the only defendant in the Pasco County case that has not settled.
The Leon County lawsuit said almost all local-government agencies that filed cases over the epidemic have agreed to the settlements. But, for example, it said the Sarasota County Public Health District and the Lee Memorial Health System have sought to block a Pasco County circuit judge’s approval of the Endo Pharmaceuticals settlement.
Endo’s settlement with Moody “purports to release the claims of the intervening hospital districts against Endo even though the districts have had no involvement in the negotiation of the agreement and are not signatories to it,” lawyers for the Sarasota and Lee health systems wrote in a motion last week.
“Although the Endo settlement agreement provides for Endo to pay $65 million to the state in exchange for these releases, it is unclear whether a single cent will be allocated to the intervening hospital districts,” the motion said.
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday said the settlements will provide money for opioid treatment, prevention and recovery services and that money would go to communities throughout the state.
“However, despite these historic settlements and the urgent need to use the settlement funds to abate the opioid crisis, defendants’ copycat, subordinate lawsuits, which replicate the allegations in the attorney general’s complaint and assert substantially identical factual allegations and the same relief already provided by the settlements, remain as an obstacle against robust, statewide relief to abate the opioid crisis,” the lawsuit said.