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State v. Purdue Pharma L.P.

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

August 30, 2019

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, by and through, PETER NERONHA, Attorney General, Plaintiff,
v.
PURDUE PHARMA L.P.; PURDUE PHARMA INC.; THE PURDUE FREDERICK COMPANY, INC.; RHODES PHARMACEUTICALS L.P.; RHODES TECHNOLOGIES; RHODES TECHNOLOGIES INC.; RICHARD S. SACKLER; INSYS THERAPEUTICS, INC.;[1] JOHN N. KAPOOR;[2] TEVA PHARMACEUTICALS USA, INC.; CEPHALON, INC.; MALLINCKRODT PLC; MALLINCKRODT, LLC; SPECGX, LLC; CARDINAL HEALTH, INC.; MCKESSON CORPORATION d/b/a MCKESSON DRUG COMPANY; and AMERISOURCEBERGEN DRUG CORPORATION, Defendants.

          For Plaintiff: Peter F. Neronha, Attorney General

          DECISION

          GIBNEY, P.J.

         Before this Court is a Motion by Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., and The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc., (collectively Purdue) to Compel more complete responses to its requests for production of documents and interrogatories. Purdue brings this Motion pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 37 and moves to overrule the State of Rhode Island's (the State) objections to Purdue's November 16, 2018 discovery requests and to order production of all responsive documents and substantive answers to interrogatories within fifteen days of entry of an Order from the Court. AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation; Cardinal Health, Inc.; and McKesson Corporation d/b/a McKesson Drug Company (collectively Distributor Defendants or Distributors) join portions of Purdue's Motion to Compel, specifically those portions pertaining to patient- and prescription-level discovery. The State objects to both Purdue's Motion to Compel and Distributor Defendants' Joinder in Portions of Purdue's Motion to Compel. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         This motion arises from an ongoing action in which the State, by and through its Attorney General, Peter Neronha, [3] seeks to recover for damages allegedly caused by the opioid epidemic from numerous defendants comprised of opioid manufacturers, distributors, and individuals with executive positions (or former executive positions) at defendant organizations. For a more thorough recitation of the facts underlying this dispute, the Court refers readers to State v. Purdue Pharma L.P., No. PC-2018-4555, 2018 WL 6074198 (R.I. Super. Nov. 15, 2018).

         On June 25, 2018, the State of Rhode Island, by and through its Attorney, General Peter Kilmartin, filed a Complaint against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid pharmaceutical products, seeking to hold them liable for alleged damages to the State resulting from the opioid crisis. On September 4, 2018, the State moved to compel Defendants' responses to the State's first request for production of documents and to provide Rhode Island-specific discovery. In response, Defendants moved to stay such discovery until the Court decided a motion to dismiss that these Defendants explained was forthcoming. On November 15, 2018, this Court rendered a decision denying Defendants' motion to stay and granting the State's motion to compel, allowing discovery to move forward notwithstanding Defendants' motion to dismiss (the November Order). Discovery is ongoing pursuant to the November Order.

         On May 16, 2019, Purdue moved to compel more complete responses to its requests for production of documents. Purdue argues that-in spite of the fact that is has complied with the November Order-the State has not produced a single document in response to Purdue's interrogatories and requests for production of documents served on November 16, 2018. Additionally, Purdue argues that the State has engaged in dilatory tactics and improper objections in an attempt to avoid its discovery obligations. Ultimately, Purdue maintains that it cannot adequately defend itself against the State's claims without having the opportunity to explore alternate causes of the opioid epidemic through the discovery process. The State objects to Purdue's Motion to Compel, arguing that it has properly complied with its discovery obligations and that Purdue's requested discovery is improper under Rhode Island law.

         On June 18, 2019, Distributor Defendants joined Purdue's motion in part, specifically with respect to Purdue's requests for patient- and prescription-level data and discovery. The State objects to Distributor Defendants' motion. This Court heard argument on June 28, 2019.

         II

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 26(b), "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action." Super. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). It is not ground for objection to a discovery request that the information sought may not be admissible at trial. Id. Under Super. R. Civ. P. 33 and 34, a party may serve any other party with interrogatories or request documents that related to any matter within the scope of Rule 26(b). If the party that received the request fails to respond, the opposing party may move for a court order under Super. R. Civ. P. 37(a), and the court may impose sanctions upon litigants who refuse to participate in discovery. Super. R. Civ. P. 37(b); see also Senn v. Surgidev Corp., 641 A.2d 1311, 1320 (R.I. 1994) (explaining that "Rule 37(b) . . . affords the court very broad discretion" in imposing sanctions for refusal to participate in discovery).

         It is well-settled that the trial court has broad discretion over matters of discovery. Martin v. Howard, 784 A.2d 291, 296 (R.I. 2001) (citing Colvin v. Lekas, 731 A.2d 718, 720 (R.I. 1999)); see also Bashforth v. Zampini, 576 A.2d 1197, 1201 (R.I. 1990). This discretion extends to motions to compel discovery, which will only be disturbed by the Supreme Court in the event it finds "an abuse of that discretion." Colvin, 731 A.2d at 720 (citing Corvese v. Medco Containment Services, Inc., 687 A.2d 880, 882 (R.I. 1997)). In reviewing discovery orders for abuse of discretion, our Supreme Court has adopted a test "to determine relevancy . . . [that examines] 'whether the material sought is relevant to the subject matter of the suit, not whether it is relevant to the precise issues ...


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