Walmart Sues US Government 10/23 06:22
NEW YORK (AP) -- Walmart is suing the U.S. government in a pre-emptive
strike in the battle over its responsibility in the opioid abuse crisis.
The government is expected to take civil action against the world's largest
retailer, seeking big financial penalties, for the role its pharmacies may have
played in the crisis by filling opioid prescriptions.
But on Thursday, Walmart filed a lawsuit saying that the Justice Department
and the Drug Enforcement Administration are blaming the company for the
government's own lack of regulatory and enforcement policies to stem the crisis.
Walmart says it is seeking a declaration from a federal judge that the
government has no lawful basis for seeking civil damages from the company. It
is also seeking to clarify its legal rights and duties under the Controlled
Walmart operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in its stores around the country.
"Walmart and its pharmacists find themselves in an untenable position," the
company based in Bentonville, Arkansas, says in the lawsuit filed in the U.S.
District Court in the Eastern District of Texas. "Under defendants' sweeping
view, Walmart and its pharmacists may be held liable -- perhaps even criminally
-- for failing to second-guess DEA-registered doctors and refuse their
prescriptions. But if pharmacists do so, they may face the wrath of state
medical boards, the medical community at large, individual doctors, and
Walmart says in the suit that the Justice Department identified hundreds of
doctors who have written problematic prescriptions that Walmart's pharmacists
allegedly should not have filled. But nearly 70% continue to have active
registrations with the DEA, the lawsuit says.
"In other words, defendants want to blame Walmart for continuing to fill
purportedly bad prescriptions written by doctors that DEA and state regulators
enabled to write those prescriptions in the first place and continue to stand
by today," the suit says.
The lawsuit names the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr
as defendants. It also names the DEA and its acting administrator, Timothy Shea.
In the suit, Walmart describes a government probe of the company that began
in December 2016 and calls it a "misguided criminal investigation" conducted by
the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Texas. Walmart says it
fully cooperated with the probe.
In the spring of 2018, the office advised that it intended to indict the
company. In August 2018, Walmart said that officials at the Department of
Justice recognized that there was no plausible basis for a criminal indictment,
and the department formally declined to prosecute Walmart. But the civil
The initial investigation was a subject of a story in ProPublica published
in March. ProPublica reported that Joe Brown, then U.S. attorney for the
Eastern District of Texas office, spent years pursuing a criminal case against
Walmart for its opioid prescription practices, only to have it stymied after
the retail giant's lawyers appealed to senior officials in the Justice
Two months later, Brown resigned. He didn't give a reason for his departure
except to say he would be "pursuing opportunities in the private and public
sectors" and "some of those will become apparent in the coming days. Brown went
into private practice in the Dallas area
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Texas that handled the
investigation referred questions to the Justice Department in Washington. The
Justice Department declined to comment.