Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy plan has been put on hold by the Supreme Court because of the founders’ potential protection against opioid liability.

In this May 8, 2007, file photo, the Purdue Pharma logo is shown on the headquarters building in Stamford, Conn.Douglas Healey/AP, FILE
In this May 8, 2007, file photo, the Purdue Pharma logo is shown on the headquarters building in Stamford, Conn. Douglas Healey/AP, FILE

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted Purdue Pharma’s plan to exit bankruptcy, protecting the founding Sackler family from responsibility for the country’s opioid epidemic.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was presented with the U.S. Department of Justice’s request for a stay, and she forwarded it to the full court. The full court agreed to hear arguments regarding whether the country’s bankruptcy laws permit a court to approve a release from litigation for third parties who are not themselves filing for bankruptcy as part of a plan of reorganization under Chapter 11.

Purdue Pharma’s reorganization plan had been approved by a bankruptcy court judge, and it protected the descendants of the founding Sackler brothers from liability claims while reorganizing the company under a new name and disbursing billions of dollars to cities, states, and Native American tribes affected by the opioid crisis.

The reorganization was initially halted by a federal judge in New York, who ruled that bankruptcy regulations do not permit liability shields to be granted to parties who aren’t truly filing for bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy plan was reinstated after an appellate court disagreed, and the DOJ appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States for help.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said: “We are confident in the validity of our Plan of Reorganization, which has received almost unanimous approval, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will concur. However, we are disappointed that the U.S. Trustee has been able to delay billions of dollars in value that ought to be used for victim compensation, communities across the country dealing with the opioid crisis, and overdose rescue medications despite having no direct stake in the outcome of this process.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision to grant cert. is very disappointing because it will, at the very least, delay payment to victims, Edward Neiger, an attorney at the firm ASK LLP who represents more than 100,000 people affected by drug abuse, said in a statement that “the Supreme Court demonstrated great compassion in expediting the case.”

According to Neiger, “this shows that the Supreme Court understands the suffering of the victims waiting for recovery and the terrible toll the opioid crisis is still taking on our country.” Separate from the legal difficulties, it is ultimately the most urgent problem. There must be a solution to the opioid issue.

In the upcoming term, which starts in October, the Supreme Court will hear arguments.