Huntington and Cabell County appeal federal judge’s opioid verdict
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The City of Huntington and Cabell County have appealed a federal judge’s trial decision that left them without damages due to the impact of millions of pills from opioid dispensers in the region.
The appeal, filed Tuesday with the United States Fourth Circuit, seeks reversal of U.S. District Judge David Faber’s final ruling. Its July 4 decision said the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the actions of AmeriSource Bergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health had created a public nuisance.
Faber said the argument was rejected by most courts with respect to “the sale and distribution of a product”.
“The extension of nuisance law to cover the marketing and sale of opioids is inconsistent with history and traditional notions of nuisance,” Faber wrote. “The initial legal character of the nuisance was an unlawful interference with the enjoyment of real estate or its appurtenances short of forced intrusion or eviction.”
The judge’s order came about a year after the months-long 2021 trial. The plaintiffs opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial.
The appeal alleges, among other things, factual errors in the trial.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told MetroNews on Tuesday that he remains disappointed with the outcome of the lawsuit but confident about an appeal.
“We are going to take full advantage of all the rights we have on behalf of the citizens of Huntington and Cabell County,” Williams said.
Williams said he realizes a call takes time — time that could be spent on additional efforts to address the opioid epidemic.
“That’s what’s so disappointing about this, that the judge hasn’t been able to see what we’re trying to do and that’s to make sure this never happens again,” said Williams.
The plaintiffs are asking for $2.5 billion to fund a 15-year clean-up plan. Williams said Tuesday that 800 people have died of drug overdoses in his community since the city began its fight in 2015.
The appeal comes a day after 54 West Virginia counties and 120 municipalities announced a $400 million settlement with the same distributors. It’s a case that Huntington and Cabell County chose not to be a part of, deciding instead to tackle the “big 3” on their own.
Williams said Tuesday he doesn’t regret the decision.
“I have to admit I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach, but if we’re able to help pave the way for everyone, that’s a role we need to be. ready to play,” Williams said.
Both Williams and plaintiff attorney Tony Majestro said the evidence presented by Huntington and Cabell County against the distributors helped lay the groundwork for the historic settlement.
Majestro said he shouldn’t be quick to criticize Huntington and Cabell County for seeking damages separately.
“This story is not over yet. I would ask everyone to be patient and let’s wait for the story to end and you can judge what we did,” Majestro said.
Williams said the city’s Board of Public Health and Drug Control Policy dropped the lawsuit. He said they were looking for ways to deal with the outbreak. Williams said Huntington and Cabell County will have a share in other settlement funds.
“I’m not one to be able to look back and guess,” Williams said. “I’m always eager to say, ‘We never give up. What do we do next?'”