July 2019 Legal Report
Print Issue: July 2019
The U.S. state of Oklahoma and Purdue Pharma agreed to a settlement worth $270 million for the company’s alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
Oklahoma contended that three pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue, misrepresented their opioid products’ addictive attributes and that they are responsible for not only thousands of opioid caused deaths, but also the economic impacts generated by the state’s addiction crisis, including healthcare, law enforcement, and treatment costs. The state did not settle with the other defendants—Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries—and indicated the case against them is ready for trial.
Purdue will donate $102.5 million to Oklahoma State University, establishing a new foundation for addiction treatment and research, according to the settlement. The company will also contribute $20 million in treatment drugs, pay for $60 million worth of litigation costs, and donate another $12 million to cities and towns affected by the opioid epidemic. And Oklahoma banned Purdue until 2026 from promoting opioids in the state or visiting doctors to convince them to buy Purdue products.
Members of the Sackler family—who own Purdue Pharma but were not included as defendants in the lawsuit—were also ordered to pay a separate fine of $75 million from personal funds over the course of five years.
Between 1999 and 2017, roughly 400,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. Department of State noted that in 2016, roughly 64,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. When someone calls 911 to report an overdose, multiple first responder and security personnel are dispatched in attempts to assist.
In 2017, then-chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Janet Yellen connected the crisis to declining labor-force participation, as a growing number of opioid users peeled away from the workforce. The Trump administration announced its Stop Opioid Abuse initiative in 2018, attempting to turn the tide against the crisis with an increased focus on illegal opioids—like fentanyl and heroin—that are imported into the country.
The settlement between Purdue and Oklahoma allowed the state to secure funds while avoiding a protracted and possibly televised jury trial that could have resulted in forcing the company into bankruptcy, given the number of claims against Purdue.
It also bought the company time to prepare for its next scheduled court date in October, when Purdue will appear in a U.S. federal court in Ohio to address an enormous case composed of most of the lawsuits against the company. A Purdue executive acknowledged that the company is considering filing for bankruptcy because of pending suits that could result in settlements or jury verdicts amounting to billions of dollars. (State of Oklahoma, et al. v. Purdue Pharma LP, et al., District Court of Cleveland County State of Oklahoma, No. CJ-2017-816, 2019)
Besides Ohio, 34 other states have filed suits in their own court systems against Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, and Teva.
New York City implemented quarantines and vaccination requirements in response to an increase of measles cases, which reached a new high in the United States this spring—surpassing the 2014 record of 667 reported cases.
As of Security Management’s press deadline, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported approximately 465 measles cases for the year with outbreaks in California, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. About 80 percent of this year’s cases were reported in patients 19 years old or younger.
New York City had 285 confirmed measles cases in late 2018; 21 people were hospitalized due to the virus. The city responded by banning unvaccinated students from some Brooklyn schools, but the effort was ineffective.
After New York City officials tried to stem an outbreak in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn by encouraging parents to vaccinate children through education, outreach, and working with religious leaders, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in April.
The move orders unvaccinated individuals living in certain areas in Williamsburg to receive the measles vaccine, which officials say is 97 percent effective. Anyone violating the declaration could be fined $1,000, and yeshivas—Orthodox Jewish schools—could be temporarily shut down.
Although five parents attempted to reverse the forced vaccinations by arguing that New York City overreached in its disregard of the families’ religious beliefs, a Brooklyn judge upheld the order, likening the virus outbreak to a house on fire. (C.F., et al. v. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Kings, No. 508356, 2019)
In December 2018, the city banned unvaccinated students from some Brooklyn schools, but the quarantine was ultimately ineffective. In Rockland County, New York, the county barred unvaccinated children from all public places for 30 days; however, in April a judge temporarily stayed the ban.
According to The New York Times, De Blasio said the outbreak required “a more muscular approach.”
City officials will enforce the order by examining the vaccination records of individuals presenting as new patients, looking into any individuals who came into contact with an infected person.
Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center will no longer consider race as a factor for admission, bowing to pressure from civil rights officials at the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).
The medical school’s decision is the first of its kind. The DOE’s Office on Civil Rights conducted a 14-year investigation into the application of affirmative action in admission policies at the school, while the Trump administration actively sought to end such factors when considering students for admission.
The probe was triggered by a 2004 complaint from the Center for Equal Opportunity, a think tank opposed to affirmative action, after U.S. Supreme Court decisions in affirmative action cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. The decision to cease factoring in race as part of the admissions process was part of a deal with the DOE in February that “resolved” the investigation, according to NPR.
The school’s decision was signed in February but only made public in April when reported by The Wall Street Journal. The school informed admissions and other school staff by 1 March and will revise all admissions and recruitment materials to reflect the change by 1 September.
Other civil rights advocates—like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund—expressed dissatisfaction with the change, citing concerns about the federal government’s involvement. The school’s student body is 4 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic.
The U.S. Supreme Court determined in 2003 that schools can consider race in applications; however, these policies are still subject to court scrutiny, according to NPR.
The Office on Civil Rights is also looking into Harvard and Yale universities’ considerations of race and whether it negatively impacts Asian-American applicants. In summer 2018, the department revoked Obama administration guidelines that supported schools that were using race as an admissions factor to promote student body diversity.
Schools. The Illinois Senate passed a bill that enables schools to beef up their classroom doors’ safety mechanisms.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1371, would permit school districts to install extra door lock mechanisms that attach to the door and are lockable and unlockable from the inside of the classroom, which is currently illegal. If enacted, Illinois would be the fourth Midwestern state to permit installation and use of such barricades during lockdowns.
According to bill sponsor State Senator Chapin Rose (R), this would allow schools to decide which safety measures are best for classrooms.
The added locks would secure a classroom from the inside and would consist of a steel plate at the bottom of the door, which—when activated—would prevent the door from opening.
Law enforcement and other first responders expressed caution about the bill, however, given that such locks could create additional barricades between responders and persons in the classroom.
If enacted, the bill stipulates that schools give police and fire officials tools to open the locks.
As of Security Management’s press deadline, the bill was headed to the Illinois House for consideration.
Elsewhere in the Courts
Brazilian building firm Construtora OAS (OAS) agreed to a plea deal with Peru. Under the deal, OAS will provide evidence on corruption cases and will plead guilty to at least some of the charges that it used bribes to secure infrastructure projects in Lima, Peru. OAS was connected to the Operation Car Wash corruption investigation in Brazil, which, according to Reuters, U.S. prosecutors claim is the largest political graft scheme to be revealed.
Julian Assange was arrested in the United Kingdom in connection to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, specifically in his efforts to assist in breaking a password to a classified U.S. government computer. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Assange, who did not have security clearance, worked with then-U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to access classified information, which he would later publicize on his website, WikiLeaks. Breaking, or cracking, the password would have allowed Manning to hide her activities by accessing the information through a username that belonged to someone else, and further hindered authorities’ attempts to discover the source of the illegal disclosures. In a press release about the arrest, the department also stated that during the conspiracy Assange allegedly encouraged Manning to provide more information. If convicted, Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. (United States of America v. Julian Paul Assange, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 1:18cr, 2018)
Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety (HDPS) will pay $45,000 and provide other relief to settle charges that its facilities did not adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The settlement will ensure that inmates with disabilities have an equal chance to participate in programs, services, and activities. The agreement came after inmates with mobility disabilities complained that HDPS excluded them from taking part in its furlough program because the facilities were inaccessible to inmates with disabilities. As part of the settlement, HDPS will alter its regulations and make architectural modifications to five of its facilities. (Settlement Agreement, The United States of America and The Hawaii Department of Public Safety, DJ No. 204-21-88, 2019)