In a rare filing, the state of Arizona told the Supreme Court Wednesday that it has “evidence” that the Sackler family, which has owned and controlled Purdue Pharma, has transferred billions of dollars from the company in an effort to deplete it and avoid paying claims concerning the prescription opioid painkiller OxyContin that are “piling up against it.”
Purdue’s guilt related to the opioid epidemic is not at issue before the court. Instead, Arizona believes that the family “has siphoned billions of dollars” out of the company in an attempt to “threaten Purdue’s ability to satisfy the myriad” of claims made against it.
The state wants the justices to step in and order that the transfers are void and block any further transfers.
The filing was first reported by The New York Times.
“The state brings this action because it has evidence that the Sacklers, Purdue, and 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,” lawyers for the state argue.
In a statement, Purdue Pharma said: “The Unites States Supreme Court is an improper forum to conduct a trial of the claims being made by Arizona. This petition was filed solely for the purpose of leapfrogging other similar lawsuits, and we expect the Court will see it as such.”
A Sackler family attorney declined to comment.
Legal experts say such a filing made directly with the Supreme Court is unusual. “Although the Supreme Court can initially hear lawsuits in which a state is a party, it almost never does so when the lawsuit is between a state and private parties, in contrast to a dispute between two or more states,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Vladeck said that justices don’t like to be deprived of a lower court’s consideration of the issue.
“Even though Arizona’s claims here are powerful, it’s more than a little unlikely that the court would depart from its practice and hear this case now,” he said.
William Consovoy, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, who is also representing President Donald Trump in cases related to requests for his tax returns, is representing Arizona in the dispute.
In court papers, Consovoy charges that Purdue Pharma “over the last two decades” has embarked on an “aggressive marketing campaign to disrupt prevailing medical norms in order to pump up sales of its opioid painkillers, including OxyContin.”
Purdue has paid more than $600 million in fines and also entered into a consent judgment with Arizona to resolve the state’s investigation into the company’s marketing of OxyContin. That agreement, according to Consovoy, required the company to pay $19.5 million fine to Arizona and other states.
Since the judgement, however, Arizona claims that the company continued a deceptive marketing campaign and is seeking civil penalties for up to $25,000 per violation. The case is set for trial in 2021.