Cnty. of Lake v. Purdue Pharma, L.P. (In re Nat'l Prescription Opiate Litig.)

Docket NumberMDL 2804,Case No. 1:17-md-2804, Case No. 18-op-45032, Case No. 18-op-45079
Decision Date07 March 2022
Citation589 F.Supp.3d 739
Parties IN RE: NATIONAL PRESCRIPTION OPIATE LITIGATION This Document Relates to: Track Three Cases: County of Lake, Ohio v. Purdue Pharma, L.P., et al., County of Trumbull, Ohio v. Purdue Pharma, L.P., et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio


Before the Court is Pharmacy DefendantsJoint Motion for New Trial (Doc. #: 4204). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition (Doc. #: 4242) and Defendants filed a reply (Doc. #: 4258). For the reasons stated below, the Pharmacy Defendants motion is DENIED .

Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, the Court, "may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues—and to any party ... after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). The Sixth Circuit has interpreted Rule 59 as permitting a new trial "if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, ... or if the trial was influenced by prejudice or bias, or otherwise unfair to the moving party." Conte v. Gen. Housewares Corp. , 215 F.3d 628, 637 (6th Cir. 2000). A trial court is invested with broad discretion to determine whether the moving party has identified sufficient grounds to obtain a new trial. See Cummins v. BIC USA, Inc., 727 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2013).

In their motion, the Pharmacy Defendants argue they are entitled to new trial both because the jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence and because the trial was unfair to them. The Court addresses both grounds in turn below.

Argument I: Verdict Against the Weight of the Evidence

In this first branch of the Pharmacy Defendants’ motion, Defendants assert the jury verdict was against the great weight of the evidence.

A court may grant a motion for a new trial under Rule 59 only when the verdict is clearly against the weight of the evidence. Denhof v. City of Grand Rapids , 494 F.3d 534, 543 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing J. C. Wyckoff & Assoc. v. Standard Fire Ins. Co. , 936 F.2d 1474, 1487 (6th Cir. 1991) ). Thus, a new trial will not be granted if the jury's verdict is "one which reasonably could have been reached." Id. (citing Duncan v. Duncan , 377 F.2d 49, 52 (6th Cir. 1967) ). While Rule 59 permits the reconsideration of rulings, it is not a mechanism for the losing party to re-argue their case or otherwise obtain a "do-over." Howard v. United States , 533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008) ; Waldo v. Consumers Energy Co. , 726 F.3d 802, 826 (6th Cir. 2013). Rather, Rule 59 does nothing more than preserve the trial judge's authority to "prevent a miscarriage of justice" in those rare instances when a jury's verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence. Waldo , 726 F.3d at 826 (6th Cir. 2013).

The Pharmacy Defendants assert the great weight of the evidence at trial showed that: (1) "their pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals who care deeply about their patients and about the communities where they live and work, and who are supported by some of the best resources in the business," Motion at 4 (Doc. #: 4204); (2) "their pharmacists in Lake and Trumbull Counties have always been strong allies, not adversaries, to local regulators and law enforcement in the fight against drug diversion," id. at 4–5; (3) their "pharmacists are not trained as doctors and do not make prescribing decisions," id. at 5; and (4) "there was nothing to tie any [criminal] wrongdoing to Defendants’ pharmacies located in the two counties." Id. at 6.

Even if all of these assertions are true, however, other evidence adduced at trial amply supports the jury's conclusion that actions taken and not taken by each Defendant were a substantial factor in causing a public nuisance.

Each of the Defendants’ assertions is addressed, directly or indirectly, in the Court's ruling on the Pharmacy DefendantsRule 50 motions for judgment as a matter of law, which the Court incorporates herein by reference. In that order, the Court concluded the jury had a reasonable basis, well supported by the evidence, to reach its verdict. See generally JMOL Order at 3-29 (Doc. #: 4295). Because the jury's verdict could reasonably have been reached and was supported by the evidence, the Pharmacy Defendants are not entitled to a new trial on this ground.

Argument II: Trial was Unfair

In the second branch of their motion, the Pharmacy Defendants claim they are entitled to a new trial because the trial was unfair. To support this argument, Defendants identify thirteen categories of alleged errors.

To obtain a new trial based on the grounds of unfairness, the moving party must identify errors that impacted the parties’ substantial rights. Walker v. Bain , 257 F.3d 660, 670 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 59, 61 ). Stated differently, the identified errors must have been so prejudicial that a refusal to grant a new trial is "inconsistent with substantial justice." Burks v. O'Connor, Kenny Partners, Inc. , 33 F. App'x 781, 783 (6th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted); see also Verhoff v. Time Warner Cable, Inc. , 3:05-cv-7277, 2007 WL 2815215, at *4 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 26, 2007) ("[A]ny failure to have had a perfect trial, where all rulings were completely correct and irrefutable, and [the judge's] performance was infallible, is not, without a showing of prejudice, a basis for trying once again at a new trial.").

Moreover, when a claimed error relates to evidence admitted at trial, the moving party must demonstrate that the claimed error was not harmless. Cummins , 727 F.3d at 510. This is because "[t]he district court has broad discretion to determine questions of admissibility; an evidentiary ruling is not to be lightly overturned." Id. Thus, even if there was an error in an evidentiary ruling, "a new trial will not be granted unless the evidence would have caused a different outcome at trial." Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA, In re , 362 F.3d 882, 891 (6th Cir. 2004).

Below, the Court examines each of the Defendants’ alleged errors in light of this standard. At the outset, the Court notes that, despite the Pharmacy Defendants’ vigorous assertions of prejudice, they did very little to identify any creditable reason to believe the jury might have decided anything differently and reached a defense verdict. This is likely because, as will be explained in more detail below, the Court, at all times, went to great lengths to ensure the trial was conducted fairly.

A. Juror Misconduct

Defendants begin by rearguing they are entitled to a new trial due to juror misconduct. During the trial, one of the jurors, Juror No. 4, decided on her own to print copies of a document regarding the availability of free Narcan

(or Naloxone) and distribute them to other jurors.1 It is not entirely clear why she did this or exactly where she obtained this information. What is clear is that her misconduct had no impact on the other jurors, and Defendants suffered no prejudice as a result. As is further explained below, the case law cited by Defendants is inapposite. Also irrelevant is Plaintiffscounsel's initial response to the juror misconduct. Because Defendants have failed to show prejudice as a result of juror misconduct, they are not entitled to a new trial on that basis.

Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the Court to "grant a new jury trial on all or some of the issues—and to any party—for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." "The decision whether to grant a new trial is left to the sound discretion of the district court, and [a reviewing court] will not reverse absent a clear abuse of discretion." United States v. Pierce , 62 F.3d 818, 823 (6th Cir. 1995). The appellate court applies an abuse-of-discretion standard in jury-misconduct cases precisely because "[t]he trial judge is in the best position to determine the nature of the alleged jury misconduct, and ... to determine appropriate remedies for any demonstrated misconduct." United States v. Copeland , 51 F.3d 611, 613 (6th Cir. 1995).

When an allegation of juror misconduct arises, a district court is required to investigate the claim in order to determine whether the misconduct tainted the trial. United States v. Lloyd , 462 F.3d 510, 518 (6th Cir. 2006). Here, in accord with United States v. Wheaton, 517 F.3d 350, 360-361 (6th Cir. 2008), the Court promptly undertook an investigation of Juror No. 4's misconduct. Specifically, immediately upon learning of Juror No. 4's actions – after another juror informed the Court's clerk what had occurred – the Court called Juror No. 4 in to open court and questioned her on the record. Then, the Court individually questioned each of the other jurors, also on the record and in open court. The Court specifically and carefully asked the other jurors whether they had read the document Juror No. 4 had set down at each of their places at the jury room table that morning, and whether the document had influenced them in any way, or had affected their ability to reach a fair and impartial verdict. Each juror responded in the negative; many had not even read the document, and/or purposefully ignored it because the Court had previously, repeatedly admonished them not to consider any evidence outside of what was admitted in the courtroom. During this colloquy, the Court purposefully used open-ended questions and elicited conversation to ensure each juror was honest and candid regarding any effect Juror No. 4's document might have had. After the Court finished questioning each juror, the Court gave counsel an opportunity to ask their own questions, both of Juror No. 4, see 10/22/21 Trial Tr. at 3724:25–25:3, and of the other jurors, individually. See, e.g., id. at 3729:14. In the end, the Court concluded the juror misconduct had...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT