TAHLEQUAH, Okla. —The Cherokee Nation’s landmark opioid lawsuit has been remanded to federal court in Oklahoma, putting the case on a path to resolution and trial.
The Cherokee Nation originally filed a lawsuit in 2017 against McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, charging the companies with breaching legal responsibilities to monitor their supply chains and flooding Cherokee Nation with prescription opioids.
The Cherokee Nation’s complaint was one of the first opioid lawsuits nationwide, and it was the first case filed by a sovereign Indian tribe. There are now several thousand cases pending involving states, counties, and Indian tribes, most of which have been consolidated in a federal court in Ohio.
Late last year, the judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation in Ohio, Judge Dan Aaron Polster, selected the Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit along with cases filed by San Francisco and Chicago as “bellwether” cases to be remanded for trial settings outside of Ohio. He wrote in his order that, “the undersigned believes resolution of substantial portions of the Opiate MDL will be speeded up and aided by strategic remand of certain cases at this time, and very probably additional strategic remands in the future.”
Last week the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation upheld Judge Polster’s ruling, and remanded the Cherokee Nation’s case to federal court in Oklahoma.
“We’re very pleased. We wanted our claims to be heard at trial and finalized, and now we’re in a position to do that,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said. “Judge Polster selected a small number of cases to be remanded that were strong cases and representative of the litigation. We are pleased he recognized the importance of selecting the Cherokee Nation’s case, in recognition of the significant harms faced by Indian Country. We think this will be an important case for all Indian tribes.”
The Cherokee Nation’s complaint alleges that in recent years more than 800 million milligrams of opioids were distributed annually in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. Based on CDC reports, deaths from opioid-related overdoses more than doubled within the Cherokee Nation between 2003 and 2014. The opioid oversupply has led to significant economic and social harms to the health, safety, and welfare of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare office has also seen a steady increase in the number of adults who abuse prescription opioid drugs over the last five years.
The lawsuit claims that prescription opioid wholesalers and retailers have profited greatly by causing the Cherokee Nation to become flooded with their products.
“The Cherokee Nation looks forward to having a trial date set, and bringing closure to this case and healing for our tribe and tribal citizens who have been affected by the opioid epidemic,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said.