Sacklers vs. States: Settlement Talks Stumble Over Foreign Business

Almost every state has filed a lawsuit against Purdue and other opioid manufacturers, with many also naming distributors and retailers. But the states’ priorities differ. States like New York and Massachusetts, who were among the first to name individual Sacklers in their lawsuits, have the staff and financing to conduct their own investigations, and are in a stronger position to hold out. But some states, whose opioid-related budgets are faltering, seem more willing to strike a deal sooner, according to several people familiar with the negotiations.

The negotiations intensified a week ago at the meeting in Cleveland, which some representatives of the Sackler family attended, along with lawyers representing the federal cases as well as about a dozen states, including New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee.

Elizabeth Burch, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law who studies complex litigation, said the opioid defendants are fighting legal battles on multiple fronts. That constellation of legal activity may prompt some state attorneys general to balk at entering a global settlement, believing they can individually cut a better deal.

Adding kindling to the fire, Attorney General Dave Yost of Ohio on Friday filed a motion with a federal appeals court, arguing that the consolidated local cases before Judge Polster have “hampered” the ability of his office and other states to negotiate settlements with opioid industry defendants.

Mr. Yost contends states are in a better position to litigate claims and wants to block the start of a bellwether trial in October against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers, which is meant to test the strength of local government claims. The looming trial, which currently names Purdue among the defendants, is another factor goading the current talks.

Dogging negotiations with the Sacklers are questions about the family’s fortune and how much money they should pay as part of any settlement.