County considers class-action suit over opioid epidemic
The Clay County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday during its regular session which may result in Clay County joining a potential class-action lawsuit regarding the opioid epidemic in a class consisting of other counties in Iowa and Wisconsin. The resolution – also referenced as an engagement letter, showing an indication of a desire to join a class – will be sent to one of the two groups currently forming a class, however the signed letter will be pending delivery until Assistant County Attorney Barry Sackett receives more information regarding the second entity’s efforts.
“I want to make sure we look at the other side before we jump on this ship, but it seems this is the one to go for,” Sackett said.
The class Sackett thought likely for Clay County to join was explained as having around two-thirds of Wisconsin’s counties signed on, and additional Iowa counties either signed on or planning to join. During the meeting, Sackett said he had been in contact with one of the lead attorneys with the group; Erin Dickinson, founding partner of Crueger Dickinson, a firm based out of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.
“... (The group) thought they had about 10 Iowa counties, they’ve got about two-thirds of the counties in Wisconsin and they think they’ll get all of them,” Sackett said. “In a class action suit, the bigger the class, the more clout you have as far as negotiating something. Generally as you negotiate something, if you go through litigation then you’re talking several years (of litigation). As far as any costs to the county, there wouldn’t be any cost. ... As far as time dedicated to the case, (Dickinson) indicated it would be minimal. She can’t say it wouldn’t be anything, because they would need access to certain documents, they feel good about their chances obviously.”
Burlin Matthews, supervisor chairman and third vice-chair of the Iowa State Association of Counties, shared that during a recent ISAC meeting, ISAC shared their support of the group and spoke directly to Dickinson about her group.
“The CEO of ISAC has had lengthy discussions with law firms on this specific area and has determined this firm would provide the best counsel for Iowa counties,” Matthews said.
He continued, “When we met at our ISAC executive board meeting Thursday, ... two counties, Monroe and Sioux, had already signed up. ... The ISAC board listened to Erin (Dickinson), the attorney of Wisconsin. There really was only one question, and that was how much time it would take. She told us ... it would take a little bit of time, but they will redact any personal information, they will supply people to actually go through the records that they will have to access ... and so she thinks the time will be minimal.”
Matthews asked Sackett if the suit reached a settlement, how it would be structured to the counties involved.
“What (Dickinson) said at the meeting was, any settlement is probably going to be population based,” Sackett said. “If it goes through litigation then you never know, ... what the pharmaceutical company will do is try to show that you’re different, so they’re negotiating one on one with people instead of a group. For example, if Tama county has way more than we do or had a doctor that was prescribing like crazy and we’ve got good doctors, they’ll try to segregate those.”
Sackett shared some of his own thoughts regarding how the potential suit would be handled.
“I didn’t get a great sense from (Dickinson) ... as far as damages,” Sackett said. “What are our current costs of the opioid epidemic? How do we quantify those? How do we figure those out?”
Both Sackett and Matthews indicated that by participating in the formation of a class early, Clay County would have a better position regarding a potential settlement if one occurs, citing the 1998 Tobacco Settlement as an example of a settlement being reached without any compensation for the counties.
“In the tobacco litigation, when it was settled it was usually done at the state level and counties never really ended up with the settlement funds,” Sackett said. “This is kind of a way to get ahead of that and make sure we have a seat at the table if there is a settlement.”
“This way, even though the attorney general, several attorney generals have filed, if they file also — this organization — we would end up receiving something,” Matthews said.