Cleveland County District Court Judge Thad Balkman ruled this afternoon that attorneys for the state of Oklahoma met their burden of proof in claiming that Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals caused an opioid epidemic and public nuisance in the Sooner State. But the judge ordered an abatement plan totalling only $572.1 million, far below the $17 billion figure sought by Attorney General Mike Hunter and his contracted legal counsel.
Balkman’s full Johnson & Johnson opioid ruling document is embedded at the end of this article.
“I’ve opted not to read the entire 42-page judgment,” Balkman told a packed courtroom in Norman shortly before announcing the numbers in his verdict. “The opioid crisis is an eminent and menace to Oklahomans. My judgement includes findings of fact and conclusions of law that the state met its burden that the defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance as defined by 50 O.S. Sec. 1, including a finding that those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans. Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.”
Balkman said the opioid crisis is a “temporary public nuisance that can be abated.”
“As I just stated, the opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately. For this reason, I am entering an abatement plan that consists of costs totaling $572,102,028 to immediately remediate the nuisance,” Balkman said. “This is the amount of costs that I am constrained to order Janssen and Johnson & Johnson to pay based on the particulars of a nuisance claim and the evidence that was presented at trial.
“Whether additional programs and fundings are needed over an extended period of time, those are determinations to be made by our legislators and policy makers. In this moment and based on this record, this is what the court can and will do to abate the nuisance.”
Balkman noted that he still has jurisdiction over the case, and that he almost certainly will be asked to make additional rulings.
“So it impossible for me to make any further statements about the trial or my ruling other than what I have said today,” Balkman said.
After the judgement was announced, Hunter held a brief press conference, a clip of which was posted on Twitter by The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel.
“Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their activities,” Hunter said. “Throughout the trial, our team proved what we have alleged all along: that the company used pseudo-science and misinformation to downplay the risks of opioids.”
Johnson & Johnson attorney Sabrina Strong also addressed media.
“We have sympathy for all who suffer from substance abuse. But Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country,” Strong said. “We do not believe that the facts or the law supports the decision today. We have many strong grounds for appeal, and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”
Balkman directed the state’s attorneys to prepare a final judgment within 10 days and said defendants will have five days after that to submit objections.
The state previously entered into separate settlement agreements with Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, and their corresponding subsidiaries.
Each of the major defendants in the case — Johnson & Johnson, Purdue and Teva — is facing separate and similar lawsuits across the country.
Johnson & Johnson’s stock price jumped about 4 percent in after-hours trading following Balkman’s ruling.
Read the full Johnson & Johnson opioid ruling from Judge Thad Balkman
(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26, to include additional information.)