NORMAN — A Cleveland County district judge denied two motions for summary judgment from defendants in the state’s opioid lawsuit.

Judge Thad Balkman ruled against motions from two groups of defendants, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and Johnson & Johnson. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Oklahoma Supreme Court and Balkman have repeatedly ruled the case should proceed to trial.

“Although we are only 16 days from beginning our trial, the parties remain bogged down in defendants’ voluminous pretrial motions,” Hunter said. “Nonetheless, the team is prepared for May 28 where we will show how these companies maliciously deceived Oklahoma doctors, patients and families, leading to the worst manmade disaster our state, and indeed, our country, has ever seen.”

The two groups of defendants filed separate motions asking for summary judgment: i.e., a finding from a judge prior to a trial. The groups made a series of arguments supporting their request for summary judgment, including claims that Hunter’s office was misusing the state’s public nuisance statute and had failed to present evidence proving opioid manufacturers caused an opioid epidemic in Oklahoma.

“One hundred years of case law in Oklahoma makes clear that this claim should not be allowed to proceed. The state continues to advance far-fetched theories lacking any support in Oklahoma law — theories that threaten lawful businesses and industries throughout the state,” said John Sparks, Oklahoma counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. “The evidence shows that Janssen acted appropriately and responsibly in marketing its highly regulated prescription opioid medicines and the company complied with all regulatory standards.

“Now that the trial judge has denied Janssen’s motion for summary judgment, we look forward to challenging the state’s misguided and fundamentally unfair case at trial and, if necessary, on appeal.”

A former defendant in the lawsuit, Purdue Pharma — the maker of OxyContin — settled earlier this year with the state for $270 million. The bulk of that money — $197.5 million — will go to the Oklahoma State University’s Center for Wellness and Recovery, housed at its Tulsa campus. Another $60 million will pay the court costs of several outside law firms hired by the attorney general’s office to assist in the case, and the final $12.5 million is available to counties and cities that opt into the settlement agreement.

Last week, Balkman denied a motion from Teva asking him to take judicial notice of any reliance by Hunter on the defendants’ out-of-state marketing to prove violations of Oklahoma’s nuisance laws as unconstitutional. He also denied several motions from the defendants asking for certain testimony and evidence to be excluded from the trial, also known as motions in limine.

A hearing is schedule before Balkman Tuesday, while a pre-trial conference is slated for Thursday. Another hearing is slated for Friday. Trial will begin May 28.

Slinkard is editor of the Norman Transcript.

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