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January 5, 2009 5:10 PM

Shook Associate Wins 'Meth' Case at 8th Circuit

Posted by Zach Lowe


It was an interesting question: Can counties sue drug companies whose cold medicines contain ingredients--like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--that can be used to make crystal meth, since those counties spend money on arresting meth users and treating meth addicts?

The unanimous answer, from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, was an emphatic "no."

That was not necessarily a surprise, since the lower federal court dismissed the counties' lawsuit in the first place. The pharma companies and their law firms probably were pretty confident of another victory at the appellate level, and that's exactly the kind of case in which a law firm associate might get a shot at presenting oral arguments, says Howard Bashman, author of the must-read blog How Appealing (part of the Law.com network).

"It's the kind of case where the outcome probably couldn't go any other way," says Bashman, who argued some appellate cases as an associate at various law firms. "In a case like that, it's not all that surprising that an associate would do the argument."  

The associate in this case was William Northrip of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, who graduated first in his class from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2002, according to his bio. (One fun note: He's also a certified barbeque judge for the Kansas City Barbeque Society.) The Shook partner on the case, Andrew See, says Northrip argued the case at the federal district level and knew the file as well as (or better) than anyone.

Shook, Hardy represented Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, both regular clients of the firm's litigation department, See says.

Baker Botts partner Stephen Scheve represented defendant Perrigo Company, and Barber, McCaskill, Jones & Hale served as local counsel for the entire group of defendants.

A team from Belew & Bell represented the Arkansas counties.

Northrip did not return messages seeking comment, and See says the drug companies have not given the lawyers the go-ahead to discuss the matter.

As for the case, the judges argued it would be wrong to hold the companies liable for the illegal manufacture of meth since so many things have to happen between the manufacture of their product and the use of crystal meth (the purchase or theft of the goods, the meth-making process, the sale of the drugs, etc.). "We are very reluctant to open a Pandora's box to the avalanche of actions that would follow," the court said. 

Interestingly, the court compared the counties' action to suits holding gun makers liable for money cities have to spend curbing the use of illegally possessed guns--the same strategy New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani) tried to use in court. The Eighth Circuit noted the strategy had failed previously in Arkansas gun cases and wouldn't hold in the meth case, either. 

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