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Justices decline to hear appeal in attorney general's drug suit

by Rachel Herzog | June 11, 2021 at 7:04 a.m.
Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,

The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that it lacks jurisdiction to consider an appeal in the state attorney general's suit against two drug manufacturers.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge sued pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals in 2018, as well as Purdue Pharma. The Purdue Pharma case has been put on hold while the company goes through bankruptcy proceedings.

In September, Rutledge appealed the Pulaski County Circuit Court's finding that she had not provided complete and specific discovery responses to the defendants, who were then granted a stay of all proceedings.

The appeal argued that the circuit court's order that month sanctioning the state for failing to comply with its discovery rulings violates the state constitution and rules of civil procedure.

The state's high court, in a decision written by Justice Shawn Womack, said the state's rules of appellate procedure require that a judgment or decree be final for it to be appealable, so the court has no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

"Because the September 2020 order did not strike the State's complaint in its entirety, it is not a final or otherwise appealable order under Rule 2(a)(4)," Womack wrote.

The state's 2018 lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies over their role in the ongoing opioid epidemic alleges that several state entities, including the Department of Health, the Department of Corrections and the state court system, incurred enormous costs combating the opioid crisis. The lawsuit seeks damages from the defendants.

During the discovery phase of the case, the defendants filed requests for information on "each cost, expenditure, damage, reimbursement, loss, or harm" for which the state sought relief. In a joint filing in August 2019, the companies moved to compel the state to produce documents and information in its possession. Rutledge opposed the motion, arguing that the action was brought on behalf of the state and not individual state agencies, and that her office lacks the authority to compel discovery from agencies that report to the governor.

The circuit court partially granted the motion to compel and ordered the attorney general to provide discovery responses from the agencies referenced in the complaint. In February 2020, the defendants filed a joint motion arguing that the state didn't provide "complete and specific" responses.

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