Drug Dealer Civil Liability Act Ruled Unconstitutional

By John Lavitt 09/22/14

Despite being on the books since 1994, the law remained untested until a lawsuit was filed in 2013.

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A Tulsa County Judge has ruled that a 1994 state law allowing people accused of dealing drugs to be held liable in civil lawsuits is unconstitutional. District Judge Jefferson Sellers tossed out a lawsuit based on the Drug Dealer Civil Liability Act, which had been recorded on behalf of three children against 51 people convicted or accused of drug dealing and related offenses in Tulsa County.

Tulsa attorney Kevin Adams filed the lawsuit in 2013 under the Drug Dealer Liability Act. Under the law, children of drug-using parents were able to sue to recover damages caused by illegal drug use. Passed in 1994 as part of the war on drugs, the law had actually been untested until this recent lawsuit.

“We are going to appeal it, and we expect this issue to make it to the Supreme Court one way or the other," Adams said in response to the ruling. "We expect we will win at the Supreme Court.”

Adams’ suit sought actual and punitive damages on behalf of three children: a nine-year-old boy, his two-year-old brother, and an unrelated two-year-old boy. On account of drug abuse in their homes, the children had been taken away from their parents and now live with guardians.

The mother of the two brothers was caught repeatedly abusing marijuana, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, and Xanax. The other child’s mother did the same. Adams hoped to recover enough in the lawsuit to pay for the three children’s housing, educational costs, and other needs. The suit explained that the 51 defendants listed in the civil case were all “arrested and charged with either possession with intent to distribute, drug distribution, trafficking, cultivation or endeavoring to manufacture illegal drugs in Tulsa County.”

Representing a 23-year-old Bixby man named in the lawsuit, Tulsa attorney Joel Wohlgemuth believes the law to be “patently unconstitutional.” The ruling by Sellers was in response to Wohlgemuth’s motion to dismiss the suit on behalf of the man. Although the man pleaded guilty to possession of drugs with intent to distribute, he had no connection to the children or the parents.

“It did not require any causal connection between a plaintiff who was allegedly harmed on one instance and a specific individual who was named as causing that harm," Wohlgemuth said. "We think the ruling will stand up on appeal because it was made by an experienced trial judge and the issue of lack of due process is glaring in the case.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.