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Native American Tribes Secure Separate Track in National Opiate Litigation

Native American tribes will receive their own track within the constantly growing multidistrict litigation (MDL) addressing the opiate epidemic that affects millions of people across the United States.

U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster, who is overseeing this case, issued this order on Monday, June 4 and announced that one of the MDL’s three special masters, Cathy Yanni, will work with the tribes to create this track. At the initial hearing on May 10, Judge Polster stated that the tribes may have their own separate track because they had been,

"disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic… if there is a resolution, there won't be one without them, so this court is not going to marginalize them... whether they're a separate track or an integral part of the plaintiffs' track."

Following the judge’s announcement of the separate track, the Domina Law Group withdrew its request for a special track on behalf of the four Nebraska Native American tribes, the Santee Sioux Nation, Omaha Tribe, Winnebago Tribe, and Ponca Tribe, because the judge’s order rendered it unnecessary.

Attorney David Domina, who represents the four Native American tribes in Nebraska and has been fiercely advocating for this separate track, spoke with Law360 and said that the judge’s order is “really good news for Native American tribes."

"[Judge Polster] has reassured Native American people that their needs are going to be addressed straight up, and not as an afterthought or an accommodation, and that they'll be included in the formative stages and all the developmental stages of this battle," Domina said.

There is a chance that one of the tribes could be featured in a bellweather trial – an option that is often used in MDLs to help fast-track civil lawsuits and help streamline the process, rather than try every single case covered in the MDL – which may allow them to focus on issues unique to them. Domina believes that not only could this help ensure that the issues Native American tribes face are addressed, it could also cover factors that affect local and state governments.

"I think in terms of presenting all of the issues, a well-selected tribal case would be the only way to get on all the issues a state would present, a county would present and the tribe would present, and frankly that an insurer would present as well," Domina said.

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