In re National Prescription Opiate Litigation, No. 18-3860 (6th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
About 1,300 public entities sued manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of prescription opiate drugs to recover the costs of health problems caused by the opioid crisis. Plaintiffs subpoenaed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s ARCOS database, a “comprehensive drug reporting system which monitors the flow of DEA controlled substances from their point of manufacture through commercial distribution channels to point of sale or distribution at the dispensing/retail level.” The district court noted that the ARCOS data “are not pure investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes, [but] simply business records of defendants; . . . the database does not include any additional DEA analysis or work-product” and concluded that Plaintiffs’ request was reasonable. The court permitted pleadings and other documents to be filed under seal or with redactions, refused a request to disclose the ARCOS data to the media, and entered a protective order.
The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court never made a finding that Defendants or the DEA made “a particular and specific demonstration of fact” justifying the Protective Order. The court expressed concern that the district court may have wanted the threat of public disclosure to motivate settlement discussions. On remand, the court may consider why pieces of ARCOS data related to specific ongoing investigations should not be disclosed but cannot enter a blanket, wholesale ban on disclosure pursuant to state public records requests. No modified protective order may specify that the ARCOS data be destroyed or returned to the DEA at the conclusion of litigation. The court must reconsider each pleading filed under seal or with redactions and make specific determinations as to the necessity of nondisclosure.