A judge ruled Monday that Walmart must have internal discussions about 2010 opioids.
Walmart Inc. is required to disclose some internal files relating to alleged abuse of opioid pain relievers sold through the company’s retail pharmacies after a judge ruled in favor of investors alleging directors failed their oversight.
Two pension funds “clearly have a credible basis” for examining whether board members have wrongly turned a blind eye to excessive sales of the highly addictive drugs, Delaware law firm judge Travis Laster ruled Monday. Walmart needs to turn the onboard discussions about opioid problems that date back to 2010.
“I don’t think this is a close call,” Laster said during a video hearing. “I don’t think you can honestly say that there are no signs of wrongdoing.”
States and local governments are suing numerous drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies over the U.S. opioid epidemic, including Walmart of Bentonville, Arkansas. The Ohio retailer faces a lawsuit in November in which municipalities are demanding billions in damages for allegedly failing to recognize “red flags” due to repeated sales of the pain medication.
Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, didn’t return a phone call or email asking for comment on Vice’s decisions.
The funds, which own Walmart shares, claim in court records that some chain executives ensured a steady stream of pain relievers to doctor-operated pill mills who routinely wrote hundreds of opioid pain medication prescriptions. In support of their claims, investors cite evidence from the opioid cases consolidated before a federal judge in Cleveland, as well as media reports.
When the federal government investigated Walmart and then prosecuted it, the retailer used its political clout to “thwart such enforcement measures, which resulted in public officials quitting their jobs in frustration and disgust,” the alleged sources said.
David Wales, an attorney for the Funds, told the judge during the hearing on Monday that plaintiffs are searching internal files in order to get a better grip on the chamber’s oversight of opioid distribution. In 2010, the company agreed with the federal government to improve monitoring of sales of the highly addictive pills.
Still, the company failed to monitor the excessive sales of opioids in its 2,700 retail pharmacies, Wales said. The investigation would focus on whether Walmart is “fulfilling” its agreement with the government, he added.
Ray Dicamillo, one of Walmart’s attorneys, told the judge Monday that the funds have no evidence that directors were involved in the opioid issue and that the sale of the pain medication was a tiny part of the chain’s business, accounting for about 5% of its sales.
“What is missing is a direct link” to board members or officers in connection with the alleged wrongdoing, Dicamillo said.
The Walmart cases are Norfolk County Retirement System v Walmart Inc., 2020-0482, and Police and Fire Retirement System v Detroit v Walmart Inc., 2020-0478, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).