HOUSTON – Drug manufactures drew a line in the sand Friday, promising to fire a flurry of motions to dismiss in every opioid lawsuit brought in Texas.
Over the past year, dozens of Texas counties and cities, including the state itself, have filed opioid lawsuits asserting companies, such as Purdue Pharma for example, had knowledge on the dangers of opioids but concealed the information for profit.
In June, the suits were ushered into a multidistrict litigation court in Harris County and assigned to Judge Robert Schaffer of the 152nd District Court.
With a stay looming over the litigation, a status conference hearing was held Nov. 16, during which Houston attorney Mike Gallagher, who spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs, told the court his side “needs to be able to begin to move forward.”
Gallagher has partnered with two law firms, Watts Guerra and Fibich Leebron, to represent several Texas counties in opioid litigation.
“We hope to have a trial setting by next summer,” Gallagher said. “In order to meet that ambitious schedule, we need to get started right now.”
Several lingering issues have hindered the MDL from moving forward, including the fact that the parties have not agreed upon a case management order yet.
However, once the stay is lifted, the defendants assured the court that Rule 91a motions to dismiss would be filed in all 43 cases.
Gallagher also expressed concerns over the federal MDL in Ohio, which is juggling hundreds of opioid lawsuits from across the nation, exerting jurisdiction over the Texas cases.
A substantial amount of discovery has already been carried out in the federal MDL. Coordinating with the federal court could mean information is produced more quickly in the Texas cases.
Several Texas plaintiff's attorneys have already sat in on depositions for cases in the federal MDL but were prohibited from asking witnesses any questions.
“We want to proceed with cases in Texas unencumbered by the federal MDL,” Gallagher said. “If we are denied the right to ask questions, we have been denied Seventh Amendment rights.”
Judge Schaffer reassured him the “court is not going to operate under anyone else’s MDL.”
The next status hearing has been tentatively set for mid January. A control management order is expected to be in place by then.
Judge Schaffer said he would lift the stay at the next hearing and the parties could begin working towards a bellwether trial.
Dozens of law professionals were present for the hearing and numerous more were listening in via a conference call.
Cause No. 2018-63587