WASHINGTON — Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to stop the Sackler family from “looting” Purdue Pharma of billions of dollars being sought by victims of the opioid crisis the company is accused of helping create.
Taking a case directly to the court is highly unusual, but Brnovich said it is needed so that states like Arizona can “recover the funds needed to repair the damage” from prescription painkillers that have claimed 400,000 lives in the U.S. over the last two decades. Arizona recorded 3,370 such deaths in just the last two years.
The complaint claims the company, which is owned and controlled by the Sackler family, has transferred more than $4 billion to eight family members since 2008, a year after pleading guilty to federal charges that that it misled the public about the addictive properties of its drug, OxyContin.
“It is unconscionable that companies responsible for fueling this crisis might escape paying restitution to victims by transferring billions of dollars made on opioid sales to company owners and then possibly filing for bankruptcy,” Brnovich said in a statement released Wednesday.
But legal experts called it highly unlikely the Supreme Court will agree to take the case, one of thousands against the Sacklers and the company they control. In a statement Wednesday, Purdue charged that Brnovich’s suit is merely a way of “leapfrogging” ahead of other claims.
“The United States Supreme Court is an improper forum to conduct a trial of the claims being made by Arizona,” the company’s statement said. “This petition was filed solely for the purpose of leapfrogging other similar lawsuits, and we expect the Court will see it as such.”
Experts expressed doubt about Brnovich’s strategy. The Supreme Court typically hears appeals of cases that have been heard in other courts, and generally only takes original cases when they involve disputes between states.
Paul Bender, a professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said the high court is not a trial court and the justices usually want to hear the facts and opinions of lower court to expose the real issues. He said he does not see why the court would make an exception for this case.