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County of Travis v. Purdue Pharma, LP

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

March 28, 2018

COUNTY OF TRAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
PURDUE PHARMA, LP, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT PITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are three motions: a Motion to Stay filed by Defendants AmerisourceBergen Corporation, McKesson Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc. (collectively, “Distributor Defendants”), (Dkt. 3); a Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiff County of Travis (“Travis County” or “the county”), (Dkt. 4); and a Motion to Expedite Consideration of Motion to Remand by Travis County, (Dkt. 5). This case is one of hundreds of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies relating to the sale, marketing, and distribution of opioid medications. (Mot. Stay, Dkt. 3, at 2). Many of the federal cases have been transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for consolidated proceedings (“the MDL”). (Id. at 3). The Distributor Defendants ask the Court to stay this action until the Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) decides whether to transfer this action to the MDL. (Id. at 6-7). Travis County, meanwhile, argues that the presence of nondiverse defendants deprives this Court of subject-matter jurisdiction and asks the Court to deny the motion to stay and remand the case to state court before the case is transferred. (Mot. Remand, Dkt. 4; Resp. Mot. Stay, Dkt. 6). After considering the parties' arguments and the relevant law, the Court agrees with Travis County that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this action and that remand is proper.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Travis County filed this action in the 261st Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas, on February 5, 2018, against a number of defendants that distribute or manufacture opioid medications. (Orig. Pet., Dkt. 1-1, at 11-12). Specifically, those defendants include the Distributor Defendants, a group of Doe defendants, and a group of manufacturers: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Abbvie Inc.; Knoll Pharmaceutical Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Abbvie Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLC; Allergan Finance, LLC f/k/a Actavis, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis LLC; Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc. (collectively, the “Manufacturer Defendants”).

         On March 23, 2018, the Distributor Defendants removed this case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Not. Removal, Dkt. 1, at 5). The same day, the Distributor Defendants filed their Motion to Stay, (Dkt. 3), and the county filed its Motion to Remand, (Dkt. 4).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A defendant may remove any civil action from state court to a district court of the United States that has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. District courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions that are between citizens of different states and involve an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Diversity jurisdiction “requires complete diversity- if any plaintiff is a citizen of the same State as any defendant, then diversity jurisdiction does not exist.” Flagg v. Stryker Corp., 819 F.3d 132, 136 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 267, 2 L.Ed. 435 (1806)). Moreover, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) provides that a case cannot be removed based on diversity jurisdiction if any properly joined defendant is a citizen of the state in which the action is brought.

         The party seeking removal “bears the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.” Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). The removal statute must “be strictly construed, and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand.” Gasch v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir. 2007). A district court is required to remand the case to state court if, at any time before final judgment, it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         III. MOTION TO STAY

         The Distributor Defendants argue that a stay will conserve judicial resources and prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings by permitting the JPML to decide whether to transfer this case. (Mot. Stay, Dkt. 3, at 4). Other federal courts have decided to stay similar cases in the interest of promoting uniformity through the MDL. (Mot. Stay, Dkt. 3, at 5 (citing Estate of Brockel v. Purdue Pharma L.P., No. 1:17-cv-00521, Dkt. No. 58 at 11 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 27, 2018)). However, Travis County points out that the district judge presiding over the MDL has issued a moratorium on substantive filings, including motions to remand, and that their motion to remand may not be considered for some time. (Resp. Mot. Stay, Dkt. 6, at 2). More importantly, if this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this action, it has no authority to stay this action. See In re Querner, 7 F.3d 1199, 1201 (5th Cir.1993) (“Where a federal court lacks jurisdiction, its decisions, opinions, and orders are void.”).

         IV. MOTION TO REMAND

         The Distributor Defendants admit that Travis County is a Texas citizen and that at least one of the Manufacturer Defendants, Purdue Pharma L.P., is a Texas citizen. (Not. Removal, Dkt. 1, at 6, 5 n.1). There is thus no question that if the Manufacturer Defendants are properly joined, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. See Flagg, 819 F.3d at 136.

         The Distributor Defendants therefore argue that the Manufacturer Defendants are not properly joined and that the Court should sever the county's claims against the two sets of defendants. (Not. Removal, Dkt. 1, at 5). Specifically, the Distributor Defendants argue that the Manufacturer Defendants are neither necessary parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19 nor appropriately joined parties under Rule 20. (Not. Removal, Dkt. 1, at 10-15). The Distributor Defendants move for severance under Rule 21 or the fraudulent misjoinder doctrine.[2] (Not. Removal, Dkt. 1, at 7, 12).

         A. ...


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