Seeking to help curb the epidemic of prescription-drug abuse and the financial and human toll it was imposing on the State of West Virginia and on West Virginia citizens and residents, the Attorney General (AG) of West Virginia had launched a series of cases against opioid distributors. The AG successfully defended against distributors’ motion to dismiss. In 2016 and 2017, these suits were collectively settled for more than $46 million. Following these settlements, the AG then turned his sights on local pharmacies that had filled doctors’ prescriptions for opioids, accusing them of fueling the opioid crisis.
A team of Cozen O’Connor attorneys comprising members of the State AG Group and local defense counsel was retained to defend one of the pharmacies targeted – a small retail pharmacy in the sparsely-populated town of Crab Orchard, WV. Undeterred by the outcome of the distributor cases, the Cozen O’Connor team saw a ready distinction in a causal claim against one local pharmacy. We also built our defense position around the knowledge that the Crab Orchard Pharmacy had cleared state inspections of its dispensing processes, and drew on in-depth knowledge of state medical malpractice statute, consumer fraud statute, and common law. This, together with our familiarity with the state AG world allowed us to develop and execute a winning strategy: the entire eight-count complaint was dismissed after two rounds of briefing and oral argument, and the AG decided not to appeal. A case involving one local business brought together a trifecta of factual, legal and policy defenses to achieve victory.