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State opioid deal voided municipalities' lawsuits against drug manufacturers, lawyer says

Smithtown is among municipalities listed as plaintiffs in

Smithtown is among municipalities listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A West Islip lawyer representing dozens of Long Island municipalities has sued New York State in federal court on their behalf to prevent enforcement of a law that voided their lawsuits against opioid companies.

The legislation, lauded for its requirement that funds from state settlements with drug companies be directed toward recovery programs, also extinguished suits filed after June 30, 2019, by government entities seeking damages for costs associated with the opioid crisis. The state settlements include one announced July 20 for $1.1 billion with opioid distributors Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen and McKesson.

The 2019 cutoff was "a political attack calculated to sacrifice the rights and claims" of some municipalities while benefiting the state and municipalities that had filed earlier, lawyer David Grossman said in an Aug. 3 complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Municipalities listed as plaintiffs in the suit include 11 Long Island towns from both counties, along with about 60 villages and fire districts, that in fall 2019 filed opioid suits against more than 20 health care providers, pharmaceutical companies and distributors including McKesson. Grossman and his partners had represented those municipalities on a contingency basis. East Hampton and Shelter Island were not listed as plaintiffs.

Grossman said those municipalities had no warning the cutoff would be written into the legislation, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law June 30.

Municipalities that sued before the cutoff include Nassau and Suffolk counties, he said.

"They sacrificed our clients so they could make a deal," Grossman said. While they may see some money under the state settlements, Grossman said, they will need to apply for funds through a state committee. That process will limit the ways in the which the money can be used and could result in the municipalities receiving less than what they would have received in damages from lawsuits, he said.

Grossman alleged the state violated his municipal clients’ constitutional right to seek redress, as well as the state constitution’s provisions on home rule and laws that affect some, but not all municipalities. He asks for attorneys’ fees and costs for the deprivation of his clients’ rights.

A spokesman for New York State Attorney General Letitia James referred a request for comment to the State Legislature. Spokespeople for State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) and Assemb. Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake), who sponsored the opioid settlement bill, did not comment.

Officials from Smithtown, Babylon, Brookhaven, North Hempstead, and Islandia and Amityville villages — all plaintiffs in the latest suit — did not comment.

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