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21 young people are suing the US government, claiming a constitutional right to a stable climate. Here’s what happened in court.

21 young people are suing the US government, claiming a constitutional right to a stable climate. Here’s what happened in court.

  • In 2015, 21 young people sued the federal government, claiming the US government was violating their constitutional rights by contributing to climate change despite knowledge of its dangerous consequences.
  • The Obama and Trump administrations have both attempted to get the case thrown out numerous times.
  • Yesterday, three federal judges in Portland, Oregon heard arguments about case. They will decide whether or not it can go to trial.
  • Public-health experts supported the plaintiffs claims’ that climate change contributes to significant negative health impacts.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Four years ago, 21 young people sued the US government, alleging that its role in contributing to climate change violates their constitutional rights.

In the landmark lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that their generation has already suffered and will continue to suffer the consequences of a climate breakdown – including health problems like allergies, heat stroke, and insect-borne disease. The young plaintiffs, represented by the non-profit law organization Our Children’s Trust, are asking the government to adopt policies that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Our elected leaders have really dropped the ball on this one,” plaintiff Alex Loznak previously told Business Insider. “The leadership really has to come from those who are going to be impacted, and that’s us, that’s young people, that’s me and my fellow plaintiffs.”

Both the Obama and Trump administrations tried multiple times to get the lawsuit dismissed. The government’s latest legal maneuver came in the fall of last year, when the Trump administration requested a pre-trial appeal from the Supreme Court. The lawsuit was temporarily put on hold, and the Supreme Court eventually punted the decision about the appeal back to the Ninth Circuit.

Alex Loznak speaks following a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.

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Alex Loznak speaks following a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
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Andrea Willingham/Our Children’s Trust

Now, more than six months after the original trial date, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government attorneys presented arguments about whether the case should be allowed to proceed in front of a panel of judges in Portland, Oregon. The judges’ decision will ultimately determine whether or not the case will go to trial.

A landmark climate change lawsuit, led by kids

Loznak and his fellow plaintiffs’ case rests on a simple though unprecedented argument: They allege that the US government has violated their rights to life, liberty, and property by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its harmful consequences.

The young people – ranging in age from 11 to 23, and hailing from 10 states – aren’t asking for compensation. Instead, they want the court to compel federal agencies to end policies that directly hurt the environment (like subsidizing fossil-fuel extraction) and mandate government action that will phase out excess greenhouse-gas emissions.

The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.

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The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
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Andrea Willingham/Our Children’s Trust

At yesterday’s hearing, Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, asked the court to “apply bedrock constitutional law and principles to a wholly new set of facts,” since this is the first time anyone has made the legal argument that a stable, safe climate is a constitutional right.

She added that current federal energy policy “puts children in harm’s way.”

“You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem,” one of the judges, Andrew Hurwitz, said yesterday in response to Olson’s arguments. “You present compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. The tough question for me – and I suspect for my colleagues – is, do we get to act because of that?” Hurwitz said.

The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.

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The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
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Andrea Willingham/Our Chidren’s Trust

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an assistant attorney general, argued on behalf of the administration that this case “is a dagger at the separation of powers,” since plaintiffs want the judiciary branch to play a role in directing policy, rather than leaving that to elected officials.

In an earlier legal filing, the Trump administration attorneys said “there is no fundamental constitutional right to a ‘stable climate system.’”

If the judges decide not to allow the case to proceed, it could be dismissed (though there would be opportunities for subsequent appeals). There’s no deadline for the panel’s decision, though.

Climate change contributes to negative health impacts

One of the linchpins in the plaintiffs’ argument is that climate change has negatively impacted their mental and physical well-being, and will continue to do so in the future.

In a May 30 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, multiple public health officials stated that “developing fetuses, infants, and children are more biologically and psychologically vulnerable than adults to the effects of climate change.”

More frequent and longer heat waves, increasingly intense weather events like droughts and wildfires, greater exposure to infectious disease, food and water insecurity, and air pollution from fossil-fuel burning are all threats, the authors added.

The Our Children's Trust team of plaintiffs on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2017.

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The Our Children’s Trust team of plaintiffs on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2017.
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Robin Loznak Photography

The letter echoed an amicus brief that some 80 researchers and 15 health organizations filed in favor of the plaintiffs. The brief documented how people born in the US since 1995 – the plaintiffs’ generation – have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.

The brief’s authors added that the plaintiffs’ generation is “suffering – and will continue to suffer as they age – harms different from those of prior generations.” As examples, they cited the negative effects of heat, drought, severe storms, and air pollution on the group’s mental and physical health.

These young plaintiffs aren’t alone

In the four years since the plaintiffs filed their suit, youth around the world have started mobilizing in other ways to address the threat of climate change.

Read More: Millennials and Gen Z are finally gaining ground in the climate battle – here are the signs they’re winning

Protesters from the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people who advocate for climate-change policy, demonstrated outside Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to call for a Green New Deal in 2018. Since then, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a Green New Deal resolution in the US House and Senate.

Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish climate activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has emerged as the primary voice and face of the growing School Strike for Climate movement. On March 15, 2019, young people in more than 123 countries joined Thunberg to skip school and voice their demands for more robust climate policies and the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.

“We’re in a climate moment right now,” environmental activist and author Bill McKibben previously told Business Insider. He added, “all these things started to combine to produce this new moment where people are open to change.”

But if the plaintiffs fail to sway this panel of judges, that could set a devastating precedent for other climate suits, according to Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“That would leave the government essentially immune from being sued for policies involving climate change,” Carlson told the LA Times.

The plaintiffs also see themselves as part of a larger movement.

“It’s not just these 21 young people across the United States,” Vic Barrett, one of the plaintiffs, told the New York Times. “It’s about highlighting young people all over the United States, and the work we’re doing and the work we’re continuing to do to hold the government accountable for putting our future in jeopardy.”

A drugmaker is accused of using free Las Vegas trips, fancy dinners, spa treatments, and Starbucks gift cards to bribe doctors to sell more of its expensive drug

A drugmaker is accused of using free Las Vegas trips, fancy dinners, spa treatments, and Starbucks gift cards to bribe doctors to sell more of its expensive drug

A pharmaceutical company is accused of resorting to bribing doctors to help sell its drug called Acthar.

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A pharmaceutical company is accused of resorting to bribing doctors to help sell its drug called Acthar.
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Reuters
  • A company now owned by the $1 billion drugmaker Mallinckrodt is accused of paying doctors and their office staff “bribes” to increase their prescriptions in a whistleblower lawsuit from two former employees.
  • The US government recently decided to get involved in the whistleblowers’ case.
  • The alleged bribes included Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts gift cards, Las Vegas trips, spa treatments, and sponsored happy hours, according to the suit.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A drugmaker is accused of resorting to bribing doctors and, when that failed, their office staffs to sell its expensive drug, with everything from Starbucks gift cards to free Las Vegas trips, lavish dinners, sponsored happy hours, and karaoke excursions.

The allegations come from a whistleblower lawsuit by two former employees of the company Questcor. Questcor was acquired by the drugmaker Mallinckrodt in 2014. The Pennsylvania district court suit was initially filed in 2012 and unsealed last month because the US government decided to intervene.

Mallinckrodt shares dropped 14% on Tuesday after CNN reported the lawsuit, wiping out more than $200 million in market value.

At the heart of this lawsuit and others is a controversial decades-old drug for infantile spasms called Acthar, which became highly profitable for Mallinckrodt thanks to big price increases and a push for doctors to use it “off-label” for new conditions, including to treat the chronic disease multiple sclerosis.

Acthar cost as much as $150,000 per patient by 2012, according to the whistleblower complaint, much more than a generic steroid alternative, which could cost as little as $800.

The suit alleges that’s why Questcor turned to bribes.

Acthar’s main competitor “is cheaper, requires a shorter course of treatment and is the standard-of-care for treating exacerbations of MS. Questcor’s response to this challenge has been to bribe physicians to prescribe and promote H.P. Acthar Gel instead of Solu-Medrol,” the rival product, the complaint alleges.

Mallinckrodt said in a statement that the lawsuit was years old and that allegations largely have to do with “legacy Questcor conduct.” The company has been cooperating with the Department of Justice and participating in “advanced settlement talks” over the past few months, it said.

“As the lawsuit principally concerns allegations of legacy conduct prior to Mallinckrodt’s acquisition of Acthar Gel, we do not envision any impact to how Mallinckrodt conducts business today,” the statement said. “Mallinckrodt strongly disagrees with the substance of the complaint and the sensational characterization of the allegations.”

Alleged bribes included free junkets to Las Vegas and karaoke excursions, whistleblowers say

The alleged bribes given as examples in the lawsuit vary dramatically.

One star sales specialist took doctors on junkets to Las Vegas and gave them spa treatments, the suit alleges. The salesperson bragged to one of the whistleblowers of her success going on karaoke excursions with Asian physicians, according to the complaint.

Another doctor, who practiced in Yonkers, New York, started prescribing Acthar after being taken to a lavish dinner with her husband and other doctors at a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Westchester, New York, the complaint alleges.

And when doctors wouldn’t take meetings with salespeople, the suit alleges that sales personnel turned to bribing office staff with Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks gift cards. Some of those gifts were valued at as much as $500, according to the complaint.

Those alleged bribes were just some of the many ways the company is accused in the lawsuit of pushing Acthar prescriptions. Other methods included doling out research funds to doctors who promoted the product and “exorbitant” speaker fees of $2,000 a presentation or even more, the suit alleges.

According to the allegations in the suit, one doctor at the University of Texas was paid $500 a patient for each research trial he led testing out Acthar, plus more to promote the results to doctors all around the US.

“These trials are of dubious scientific value because they were neither placebo-controlled nor double-blind,” the lawsuit says.

“None have been published in peer-reviewed journals, none have led to an application to expand the FDA approval for H.P. Acthar Gel, and none have demonstrated that H.P. Acthar Gel is any more efficacious than Solu-Medrol,” the competitor, the suit says.

A judge has slashed the amount Monsanto has to pay in a lawsuit over a common weed-killer chemical’s cancer risk

A judge has slashed the amount Monsanto has to pay in a lawsuit over a common weed-killer chemical’s cancer risk

A woman uses a Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller spray without glyphosate in a garden in Ercuis near Paris, France.

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A woman uses a Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller spray without glyphosate in a garden in Ercuis near Paris, France.
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Benoit Tessier/Reuters
  • A jury recently ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a plaintiff who alleged that his cancer was the result of using Roundup, the company’s popular herbicide.
  • On Wednesday, a California judge cut that amount to $49 million.
  • Neither the original trial nor the latest finding mean that glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – causes cancer.
  • Instead, the jury’s ruling is based on their assertion that Monsanto intentionally kept information about Roundup’s potential risks hidden from the public.
  • The science linking glyphosate and cancer is limited at best, and experts say it’s safe.

A jury in San Francisco this summer ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who developed cancer after years of using Roundup, the company’s popular herbicide. But on Wednesday, a California judge dealt a major blow to that decision, reducing the penalty to $49 million or about a fifth of the original amount.

Importantly, neither the trial’s original outcome – nor the latest decision – reveal anything about the science behind Roundup and cancer.

Instead, the decisions simply shed light on how a judge and members of a jury felt about whether Monsanto (which recently merged with chemical giant Bayer and announced plans to dissolve its name) intentionally kept information about Roundup’s potential harms from the public.

While the jury clearly felt Monsanto hid information, the judge in the latest ruling appeared to believe they were less at fault than originally decided. The lawsuit is just the first part of what could be a decades-long legal fight over Roundup’s chief ingredient, a chemical called glyphosate.

When it comes to the science, the evidence tying glyphosate to cancer is limited at best. Most scientists say that it is safe to use.

Could Roundup have caused someone’s cancer? Probably not.

Monsanto Co's Roundup shown for sale in California

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Monsanto Co’s Roundup shown for sale in California
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Thomson Reuters

Before developing a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the plaintiff in the recent trial, Dewayne Johnson, had used Roundup regularly in his job as a groundskeeper at a California public school. For neglecting to alert Johnson (and the rest of the public) about the potential links between Roundup and cancer, the jury ordered Monsanto to pay Johnson $39 million to cover his medical bills, pain, and suffering, plus an additional $250 million for punitive damages (or punishment).

But as for whether Roundup could actually have been the sole or even primary cause of an individual’s cancer, the research leans heavily toward “no.”

The scare over a potential link between Roundup and cancer appears to have begun with a now widely-criticized statement put out by a World Health Organization group known as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015.

That year, the IARC put glyphosate – Roundup’s active ingredient – in a cancer-risk category one level below widely-recognized harmful activities like smoking. But several researchers have said the IARC’s determination was bogus because there is no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. In fact, a lengthy review found that the IARC had edited out portions of the documents they used to review glyphosate to make the chemical look far more harmful than its own research had concluded.

During the latest court case, Monsanto attempted to counter plaintiff Johnson’s claims that Roundup caused his cancer using extensive testimony from expert witnesses. They pointed out that the evidence definitively linking the glyphosate in Roundup to cancer is scant. More broadly, figuring out what caused one individual’s cancer is a tricky business for any scientist – a point several experts have made since the most recent Monsanto verdict came out last week.

“This verdict is just the first in what could be a long legal battle over Roundup, and proving causality in such cases is not easy,” Richard Stevens, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine who specializes in cancer and its causes, wrote in a recent post for The Conversation.

New research could change the controversial classification of glyphosate

The IARC’s 2015 statement is not final.

“The agency has often changed its classification of an agent based on new evidence after initial evaluation,” Stevens wrote. “Sometimes it has become more certain that the agent poses a hazard, but in other cases it has downgraded the hazard.”

Based on new studies (typically in mice), glyphosate could go from its current status – where some people see it as a potential cancer risk – to being recognized as having a very low risk for harm.

Several studies of glyphosate and cancer are ongoing, and more are coming out each year. Just last year, a review of studies looking at the ties between glyphosate and cancer concluded that in the low amounts of that people are actually exposed to, glyphosate “do[es] not represent a public concern.”

Conversely, the new evidence could come out strongly against glyphosate and suggest that it’s incredibly harmful. As Stevens points out, new evidence dramatically changed the public perception of another popular product which was initially labeled cancerous – a zero-calorie sweetener called saccharin, which is sold under the brand name Sweet’ N Low.

In the 1980s, any product containing the sweetener was required to carry a warning label saying that it was “determined to cause cancer.” But the science was flawed: the rats that had been used in the studies were especially prone to bladder cancer, and the findings did not apply to people. So in 2016, the sweetener was removed from a list of cancer-causing ingredients.

But glyphosate’s status remains to be seen. For now, the court cases merely reflect the determinations of juries and judges – not the conclusions of the majority of scientific experts.

Pharmacy startup Blink Health just filed a $250 million lawsuit against a company it claims is an ‘unlawful copycat scheme’

Pharmacy startup Blink Health just filed a $250 million lawsuit against a company it claims is an ‘unlawful copycat scheme’

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Blink Health
  • Blink Health, a pharmacy startup that provides discounts to prescription drugs and has raised $165 million in funding, is suing a competitor it claims is an “unlawful copycat scheme.”
  • The lawsuit alleges Hippo, a new startup founded by former Blink Health executives, got ahold of Blink Health’s trade secrets and unfairly uses them to compete with Blink Health.
  • Blink Health is seeking $50 million in damages already caused, along with $200 million in punitive damages for a total of $250 million.

Blink Health is suing a pharmacy startup it claims is an “unlawful copycat scheme.”

Blink Health, a startup that helps negotiate lower drug prices, was founded by 35-year-old Geoffrey Chaiken and 32-year-old Matthew Chaiken. The company is now suing Hippo, a company founded by former Blink Health executives that operates under a similar format to deliver prescription drug discounts.

In its complaint, Blink Health claims violations of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, alleging that Hippo got ahold of Blink Health’s trade secrets and has and continues to use “stolen property for its own benefit and in unfair competition with Blink at thousands of ‘pharmacies nationwide.’”

The company is seeking $50 million in damages, along with $200 million in punitive damages, for a total of $250 million.

“No company should be allowed to cheat and steal its way into existence, as Hippo is trying to do,” Blink Health’s attorney Orin Synder said in a statement sent to Business Insider.

8VC, which led Blink’s Series A and B rounds, said in a statement, “We are fully supportive of Blink Health and its actions.”

Hippo said in a statement emailed to Business Insider that Blink Health’s claims “a blatant attempt to interfere with fair competition by Hippo.”

Here’s how Blink Health’s prescription discounting

When it comes to lowering prescription costs, there are a number of different approaches startups are taking, from comparing the price at one pharmacy to another nearby so consumers shopping around for a lower price can get a sense of where they might go. Others have delivery components as well as discounts.

Blink Health operates a little differently. Instead of having people go from one pharmacy to another, Blink Health negotiates to get the same price at different pharmacies for generic medications and some branded diabetes medications. Blink Health works at Rite Aid, Walmart, Kroger and K-Mart, but it doesn’t currently work at Walgreens or CVS Health.

Say you need to pick up a prescription for your medication, but you have a high deductible plan that requires you to pay $3,000 out of your own pocket before your insurance starts picking up the rest of the tab. Instead of going to the pharmacy and accepting whatever price they offer (which can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy), you could download the Blink Health app, or go to the company’s website.

In the app, you can find your prescription and purchase it directly through the app. Then, when you get to the pharmacy counter, you show your phone to the pharmacist who rings it up instead. In return, Blink gets a cut of the transaction.

Where Hippo and Blink Health have similarities

The system of having the same price at any pharmacy and presenting a virtual card is the same model Hippo is using, according to its website.

For example, here’s how Blink Health describes the process:

Screen Shot 2018 03 14 at 9.17.31 AM

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Blink Health

And here’s how Hippo’s site describes it:

Screen Shot 2018 03 12 at 1.25.48 PM

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HelloHippo.com

Hippo was started by two former Blink Health executives: former chief financial officer Eugene Kakaulin and former general counsel Charles Jacoby. In 2016, Kakaulin sued Blink Health claiming breach of contract and violations of federal whistleblower law when Kakaulin came to the founders with information about securities violations. The case was later settled.

Blink Health’s complaint alleges that Hippo got confidential marketing plans, such as strategies and slogans, information about how Blink Health set up relationships and contracts with pharmacy benefit managers, as well as some of the back-end coding that helps fill the prescription when someone using the app/website uses their card, and that these are trade secrets belonging to Blink Health.

Here’s Hippo’s full statement:

“Blink Health’s claims are a blatant attempt to interfere with fair competition by Hippo. This new case follows on the heels of their lawsuit that was laughed out of New York State court last month. With the recent spate of lawsuits by and against Blink, their toxic corporate culture is now widely known, and this lawsuit is just another example of their questionable business practices. Hippo offered to retain an independent expert to verify that none of Blink’s non-existent trade secrets are being used in Hippo’s business. Blink declined. This says it all. Hippo is offering patients a better product with stronger industry partnerships, and Blink is now trying to accomplish through the courts what it knows it will not be able to achieve in the market. “

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