SPRINGFIELD – Supreme Court Justices must decide whether suits that counties continue filing against opioid manufacturers belong with a judge from Cook County or a judge from Springfield.
Lawyers for several counties moved for consolidation in Cook County on Dec. 28, and lawyers for other counties approved the choice on Jan. 18.
The legal team that filed the motion includes John Simmons’s firm in Alton.
The team that approved the motion includes former Madison County chief judge Ann Callis, now at the Goldenberg firm in Edwardsville.
Manufacturers don’t oppose consolidation, but they oppose Cook County.
They recommend Circuit Judge John Madonia of Springfield, who presides over two suits that the Supreme Court consolidated last year.
When manufacturers moved to consolidate a third case before Madonia, the Justices denied the motion without prejudice.
They stalled because they don’t know how many more counties will sue.
A third team of lawyers joined the action in December, filing a complaint for Lake County at the local circuit court in Waukegan.
That team includes Joseph Rice, of Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Rice serves as one of three leaders for plaintiff lawyers in federal court actions that the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation consolidated in December.
Callis and colleagues started the Illinois action last April on behalf of St. Clair County, as special counsel to state’s attorney Brendan Kelly.
They allege consumer fraud and deceptive practices, claiming manufacturers misrepresented benefits and risks of their products.
Manufacturers removed the complaint to U.S. district court on June 9.
On June 26, Callis and colleagues sued on behalf of Union County in the courthouse at Anna, and on behalf of Jersey County in the courthouse at Jerseyville.
On Sept. 18, at the Supreme Court, manufacturers moved to transfer Union County’s suit to Jersey County.
Jersey County belongs to the state’s Seventh Judicial District, which extends to Springfield.
Purdue Pharma counsel Troy Bozarth, of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville, wrote that the complaints were almost entirely word for word.
Bozarth wrote that defendants would move to dismiss both for failure to state a claim and for lack of jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court granted the manufacturers’ motion to transfer on Sept. 29.
Jersey County’s only resident circuit judge, Eric Pistorius, recused himself.
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge John Belz replaced him with Madonia, a circuit judge at large with chambers and court in Springfield.
By then, Simmons had entered the picture.
Amy Garrett of his firm sued for Kankakee County at the courthouse in Kankakee, and manufacturers moved to transfer the suit to Jersey County.
Eric Johnson of the Simmons firm opposed the motion, writing that the Supreme Court didn’t grant consolidation of all actions in Jersey County.
“It is now clear that defendants’ prior motion to consolidate was nothing more than a strategic ploy to manufacture a venue for future filings that it considered favorable for eventual statewide consolidation,” Johnson wrote.
He wrote that only four counties filed suits, making transfer questions premature.
The Kankakee County action was “only a foreshadowing of the many more related actions to be filed in the coming weeks and months,” he wrote.
He wrote that the Justices should deny consolidation without prejudice, until the Court could consider it on a more fully developed landscape of litigation, and defendants could renew the motion after conferring with opposing counsel on appropriate venues.
He persuaded the Justices, who denied the motion without prejudice on Nov. 3.
The Simmons firm and new colleagues from St. Charles, Ill., then filed suits for Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry, and Will counties, each county in its own court.
On Dec. 28, on behalf of Kankakee County, Peter Flowers of St. Charles moved to consolidate all actions in Cook County circuit court.
He wrote that Cook County consented to the motion.
He indicated that Boone, Bureau, Champaign, Henry, Macon and Stephenson counties would file actions within a few weeks.
He wrote that consolidation of the Jersey and Union actions was “warranted, and thus uncontested.”
He wrote that Madonia would have to travel 80 miles to hear the action.
On Jan. 4, defendants Purdue, Frederick, Cephalon, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, and Endo pleaded for proceedings to continue in the Seventh Judicial Circuit.
Their lawyers wrote that the circuit was particularly appropriate given the nature of the actions brought on behalf of the people of the state of Illinois.
“The various state governmental subdivisions, purporting to act on behalf of the state through actions brought by state’s attorneys, should not be heard to object to such matters being heard in the state Capitol,” they wrote.
They wrote that the circuit is centrally located and that no rule of procedure would require Madonia to travel to Jerseyville.
On Jan. 18, Union and Jersey counties endorsed consolidation in Cook County.
Thomas Lech of Goldenberg’s firm wrote, “There are no cases in this litigation with any connection to Sangamon County.”
He wrote that Jersey and Union counties weren’t aware that Kankakee County would file a consolidation motion.
“It was only after internal conferencing and a close examination of the realities and emerging demands of this litigation, that Jersey and Union counties decided to support transfer to Cook County,” Lech wrote.
He wrote that all three groups of plaintiffs support Cook County, indicating that Rice approved it.
Callis also filed the response, as did Gregory Jones of Goldenberg’s firm.
Eric Holland and Seth Crompton of St. Louis also filed it.
The first Illinois case, from St. Clair County, wound up in Cleveland.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation swept it up with other federal suits and assigned them all to District Judge Dan Polster.