In an important decision reaching a positive holding for mass tort defendants, the Connecticut Superior Court just released its opinion dismissing the first four opioid litigation cases brought in the state, holding that the cities that sued pharmaceutical defendants lacked standing to pursue their claims. This decision solidified the Superior Court’s adherence to the precedent laid down in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 2001 opinion in Ganim v. Smith & Wesson, which held that the City of Danbury could not sue firearms manufacturers for the societal costs imposed by gun violence.
Multiple Connecticut municipalities, including the Cities of New Haven and Waterbury, sued more than 20 pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and certain physicians, alleging that they falsely led the public and the medical community to believe that opioids were safe for long-term use and then sold an unsafe quantity of opioids, reaping enormous profits. These municipalities sought to recover damages for increased emergency-responder costs, losses from drug-related crimes, and other social problems resulting from the opioid epidemic. In response, the defendants argued that the municipalities were not directly injured by the defendants’ alleged actions, depriving the court of subject matter jurisdiction over the cases.
Ultimately, after two days of oral argument, Judge Moukawsher of the Complex Litigation Docket in Hartford issued a plainspoken 16-page opinion dismissing the cases. Foregoing detailed discussions of legal precedent in favor of fact-based writing, the court held that the defendants’ conduct was too attenuated from the plaintiffs’ claimed damages, meaning that the plaintiffs’ injuries were indirect and that they lacked standing to pursue their claims. The decision repeatedly emphasized certain pragmatic difficulties in calculating the plaintiffs’ damages and allocating them among the various defendants, noting that the plaintiffs’ attorneys never presented a sound framework for making these crucial determinations. The court reasoned that without any principled basis for allocating the defendants’ fault or the plaintiffs’ recovery, entertaining the municipalities’ claims would take the court “out of the business of reasoned judgment and into the business of irrational speculation.”
This decision is a positive development for mass tort defendants, further establishing that municipalities in Connecticut should not be able to put entire industries on trial to recover civil damages for harming the general public. While we expect this decision to be challenged on appeal, the court’s closing statement that “social problems are poor candidates for civil damages awards” is a compelling axiom.