The Cherokee Nation is urging a federal judge to allow a tribal lawsuit against distributors and retailers of opioid medications to be litigated in the tribe’s own court.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree has filed written arguments with U.S. District Judge Terence Kern in a lawsuit that alleges the companies have contributed to “an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse” among the tribe’s citizens. The lawsuit alleges that six distribution and pharmaceutical companies have created conditions in which “vast amounts of opioids have flowed freely from manufacturers to abusers and drug dealers” within the tribe’s territory.
Opioid-related addiction has taken the lives of hundreds of Cherokee citizens and cost the tribe hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs, the lawsuit says.
The companies have asked Kern to block the lawsuit, saying there is no legal basis for the Cherokee Nation’s claim that it has authority within a 14-county area in northeastern Oklahoma.
But in legal papers accepted by Kern on Wednesday, Hembree says an Aug. 8 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “provides a substantial alternative basis” for the lawsuit to be tried in tribal court.
The appeals court’s ruling involved Patrick Dwayne Murphy, who was convicted and sentenced to death in state court for the 1999 killing of a McIntosh County man. The court ruled Murphy should have been tried in federal court because he is Native American and the death occurred in “Indian Country.”
Hembree says the Cherokee Nation has legal jurisdiction in the area where the tribe’s citizens were allegedly harmed by opioid addiction and that the lawsuit should remain in tribal court for reasons similar to those cited by the appeals court.
Kern has not indicated when he may hand down a ruling.