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Courts / Law

Sarasota's hospital district pushes back in a legal dispute over opioid settlements

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The attorney general's office says settlements from opioid cases will provide money for opioid treatment, prevention and recovery services, and that money would go to communities throughout the state.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s lawsuit contends five hospital districts, by pursuing separate claims against pharmaceutical industry companies, are jeopardizing settlements her office has reached.

Two public hospital districts are firing back against Attorney General Ashley Moody in a dispute about settlements with pharmaceutical-industry companies over the opioid epidemic, accusing her of overstepping her authority.

The Sarasota County Public Hospital District and Lee Memorial Health System filed a counterclaim Friday in a lawsuit that Moody filed in April against five hospital districts and the Miami-Dade County School Board.

Moody’s lawsuit contends that the hospital districts and the school board are jeopardizing more than $2.4 billion in settlements her office reached with companies that manufacture, distribute or sell opioids. That is because the hospital districts and school boards are pursuing separate claims against pharmaceutical-industry companies.

But in the filing Friday, the Sarasota and Lee districts said Moody reached the settlements without consulting the hospital districts. The counterclaim seeks a ruling that Moody lacks the “authority to settle and extinguish the claims of the hospital districts.” As an alternative, it asks for more than $100 million.

The Southwest Florida districts, which do business as the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System and Lee Health, said they were created by the Legislature and, as a result, are not under the control of the attorney general.

“For the attorney general to now presume to control — unilaterally no less — powers the Legislature gave to the special districts is a seismic power grab by the attorney general of power that has always resided in the Legislature, not in the executive branch,” the filing said.

Moody’s office filed the lawsuit April 6 in Leon County circuit court against the Sarasota and Lee districts, the North Broward Hospital District, Halifax Hospital Medical Center, the West Volusia Hospital Authority and the Miami-Dade School Board.

Moody’s office is seeking a ruling that it has the power to essentially override “subordinate” claims by the hospital systems and the school board. The lawsuit said the settlements require releasing claims from government agencies that are considered “subdivisions” of the state.

“Defendants — subdivisions that have brought claims that are subordinate to the attorney general’s action — place the attorney general’s settlements in jeopardy and threaten to immediately devalue the relief available to those who have been impacted by the opioid crisis,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants’ claims therefore imperil Florida’s actions, as sovereign, to protect the safety and welfare of Florida citizens.”

Moody’s office has reached settlements with AmerisourceBergen Corp.; Cardinal Health Inc.; McKesson Corp.; Johnson & Johnson, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; CVS Pharmacy Inc.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.; Allergan-affiliated companies and Walgreens.

Some settlements resulted from multistate litigation, while others came as a result of a lawsuit that Moody’s office filed in Pasco County.

The lawsuit that Moody’s office filed in April in Leon County said the settlements will provide money for opioid treatment, prevention and recovery services and that money would go to communities throughout the state.

But the Sarasota and Lee districts have pursued separate claims that have been incorporated in multistate litigation in federal court in Ohio. The counterclaim filed Friday said it is “unclear whether a single cent will be allocated to the hospital districts” from Moody’s settlements.

“Florida’s hospital districts are on the front lines of the battle against the opioid epidemic, spending millions of dollars each year to provide health care services including emergency response services, emergency room treatment for overdoses and other opioid abuse-related injuries, adult and neonatal intensive care and critical care and inpatient health care services,” the counterclaim said.