Photo by Josh Ritchie
Photo by Josh Ritchie

Mark Dearman knows a thing or two about the big guns.

The first part of his career was dedicated to representing Fortune 500 companies in large defense actions, including complex class actions and product liability cases.

Even before that, his life as a young person seemed to circle back time and again to greatness in the law: His father worked for an early-career David Boies when Dearman was a kid, and in college, his roommate was Paul Geller, who would go on to found the knock-out plaintiffs firm Robbins Geller.

After a successful defense practice, Dearman heard a calling from his better angels and decided to put his extensive know-how to use against those large corporate interests that he used to protect. He’s now a partner at Robbins Geller, with his scope aimed at some of the largest companies in the world, seeking justice for those harmed by corporate greed. His practice is focused on MDLs (“multi-district litigation”) where he thrives off the collaborative strategizing.

An early breakout case once he’d moved to the other side of the “V” was the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where the auto maker was caught cheating on smog tests by rigging their diesel engines to appear compliant only during testing, then spewing dirty, toxic emissions when in regular use. The case settled for a colossal $17B plus.

Dearman was also part of the team that took on Apple after the infamous “throttling” fiasco, where iPhone were being purposefully slowed down on a wide scale, despite a clear promise to users that it didn’t occur. The case settled recently for $310M.

Currently, Dearman’s handling a case against the makers of Zantac, a heartburn pharmaceutical that was the first “blockbuster” drug to reach $1B in sales before being recalled for containing a known carcinogen.

In perhaps his most impactful case to date, Dearman, along with other Robbins Geller attorneys, is spearheading an MDL surrounding the opioid epidemic. The team is representing state and local government entities who are bringing actions against manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies who marketed highly addictive and damaging opioids to doctors and the American population, spurring on a public health crisis that continues to this day.

Lawdragon: Mark, you switched from a very successful defense practice into a plaintiff practice. How did you make that decision? Do you ever regret it?

Mark Dearman: I haven't looked back a second. My dad did work for defense lawyers and plaintiffs lawyers alike when I was a kid, he was a private investigator. I didn't know what we were doing, I just knew we were doing it for lawyers.

As it turned out, I started working at a big defense firm for the first seven years of my practice. Then I went out with one other lawyer from that firm, and the two of us practiced for about 10 years, doing both plaintiffs work and defense work. We took some clients from the big firm with us. Then – well, to back up a bit, Paul Geller was my college roommate.

LD: Oh wow! I didn’t know that. You knew him before he was a legend. What was he like back then?

MD: Always working really hard. What I have learned from him today is that preparation is everything. He’s built an incredible career that way, and he was like that when we were in college. There was no such thing as over preparation for Paul. He worked harder than anybody else, he studied harder than anybody else, he was never satisfied with anything besides an A.

LD: Knowing what I know about Paul, he probably got those straight As even though he also partied harder than anyone else too.

MD: That may be the one area where I have him beat.

LD: Ha! And so then that’s how, years later, you came to work for Robbins Geller?

MD: Yes, for years, he and I had been talking about working together. I finally said, "You know what? If I don't do it now, I'm never going to do it." At that point I was doing about 50/50 plaintiff work and defense work. The plaintiffs work I was doing was more catastrophic personal injury, not much class action. In 2010, I went to work with Paul exclusively handling huge complex class actions. It’s really the ideal space for me. What we're doing is important, representing consumers and institutional investors. There's no question that this is what I was meant to do.

LD: That’s pretty cool, too, that your dad was a private investigator, working for lawyers.

MD: It was formative for sure. My dad and that work is what led me to become a lawyer myself. One of the lawyers he worked with was actually David Boies.

LD: You’re kidding. You grew up surrounded by star lawyers before they launched into the stratosphere!

MD: Yep, and years later I worked with David again in the Volkswagen litigation.

LD: Wow. And you remembered each other?

MD: I certainly remembered him. I was 12 or 13 when I first knew him, then as I became a lawyer I watched his career, I knew what he was doing because it was important to me. Then, once I was at Robbins Geller, we were in talks with some of the early plaintiff lawyers in the Volkswagen emissions case. One of those lawyers was David Boies. The next thing I know I am eating dinner with David, Paul and a group of lawyers. I’m 48 or 49 years old at this point. We’re sitting at dinner and we look at each other and I say, “I don’t know if my name rings a bell, it’s Dearman.” He says right away, “Larry’s son.”

LD: Oh my gosh. That famous memory of his.

MD: Totally. Paul and David were appointed and I ended up working alongside David and his team. Things really come full circle, sometimes.

LD: Was Volkswagen a stand-out case for you?

MD: Absolutely. Due to lead counsel Elizabeth Cabraser’s inclusivity, I had the opportunity to be hands on in a huge litigation that resulted in over a $14B recovery.

LD: The Apple “throttling” case must have been another interesting one.

MD: Yes, I was appointed to the Chair of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in that case. The leadership structure was on the larger side and one of my responsibilities included the implementation, among the plaintiff firms, of the court’s time and expense protocol. That was an experience I will not soon forget. The litigation was also a massive undertaking by the Plaintiffs as there are so many people who use Apple iPhones and who were impacted by the slowdown issues. The court recently approved a $310M resolution with Apple.

LD: Congratulations, that’s excellent. What’s next on your plate?

MD: Right now my time is split between the Zantac litigation and the National Prescription Opiate case.

LD: I’d love to hear about both. Can we start with Zantac? I’m not familiar with that one.

MD: Zantac is the brand name for the generic drug ranitidine, which was sold both over the counter and by prescription. In 2019, the drug came off of the market due to the discovery of high levels of the carcinogen, NDMA in the drug.

Lawsuits filed across the country were consolidated and coordinated in an MDL down here in Palm Beach County. It’s a multifaceted case. First, the people who have taken the drug, and now have cancer, so there’s a personal injury component. Second, the class action side of the MDL where consumers are seeking economic losses relating to their purchases. Finally, a medical monitoring component to the litigation. It is the intersection of a mass tort and a class action in an MDL.

I was appointed to the leadership structure with a group of very talented lawyers and I am serving as the Chair on the class action side of the case. The mass and class cases are going down the same litigation track as the evidence developed in discovery will be used in the personal injury, economic loss and medical monitoring cases. So Zantac is a huge case because you have all of this going on at the same time.

In addition, ranitidine came to the market over 40 years ago, so discovery goes back a ways. You have the brand manufacturers, the generic manufacturers later on, the distributors and the retailers. There are dozens of defendants in the litigation, and around 80,000 claims in the litigation registry.

LD: Such an important case, and sounds very interesting to work on, too, with all the moving parts. Now, the opioid litigation. We’re all familiar with the epidemic of course.

MD: Yes, this will likely be the most important case of my career. We all know someone who has been impacted, one way or the other, by the opioid epidemic. We all know people who have suffered as a result of opioid abuse. Something had to be done.

In the 1990s, opioids were effectively used to treat short-term, post-surgical related pain and for palliative end-of-life care. The epidemic really started when the opioid manufacturers recognized that the market share for opioids could be exponentially increased if they were prescribed for long-term chronic-type issues. They put profits over patients. So, they took a play from Big Tobacco and deceptively marketed opioids so they could reverse the previous medical understanding of effective opioid use. They marketed to anyone and everyone- consumers and health care professionals.

LD: And their greedy campaign was successful, right? Before they knew it, the market was completely flooded.

MD: Exactly. These defendants had a responsibility to know who their customer was and where the pills were going. If you're delivering millions of pills to a city that's got several thousand people, that should be a red flag that there's a problem.

I was on a plane, back before the pandemic when people still flew places, and I got into a conversation with the passenger next to me about my work on the opioids litigation. She said to me, "You're not going to believe this, but I own a manufacturing plant and I can't even get people to come work for me because we drug test everybody. And there is so much addiction that I can't even let them into my plant. I have paying jobs that I can't give to people because they're addicted."

Over the years it has become more difficult to get an opioid prescription and now people are turning to heroin and fentanyl. Statistics confirm that many people who were taking and overdosing on heroin, started on prescription pain pills. And if we thought heroin was killing a lot of people, fentanyl is killing more because nobody knows how to dose it.

LD: It’s really frustrating, scary and so sad. Tell me about the litigation you’re handling?

MD: The litigation that we are involved in is on behalf of governmental entities who have claims against the manufacturers, the distributors, and the pharmacies, relating to their marketing, distribution, and sale of opioids.

The governmental entities are seeking monetary damages to fund programs for education, drug treatment, mental health counseling – the type of services that will help abate the epidemic.

The judge has set bellwether trials, some of which were settled on the eve of trial or were delayed by Covid. One of the trials currently scheduled is for our client, the City and County of San Francisco.

We need to recover as much money as we possibly can and use it toward abatement. The fact of the matter is, there's really not enough money to get rid of this problem. But we have to start some place.

LD: You have such an incredible career. Do you have advice for younger lawyers starting out who might want to do similar work?

MD: I have to tell you, my son just got into law school.

LD: Mazel tov! That’s great.

MD: My father exposed me to the law, and I guess I've introduced him to the law. I was the first one to go to college in my family, followed by my sister. Now my son is going to law school and my daughter is a sophomore in college.

LD: I love that. Also impressive that your dad was doing such high-level work without a college degree.

MD: He was good at what he did, that’s for sure. My best advice to younger lawyers that want to get involved in the MDL arena is to ask the more senior lawyers how they can get involved and when an opportunity is presented, take full advantage of it.

LD: What would you say is your favorite part of this type of practice?

MD: I really enjoy the collaboration of MDL cases. With these cases, you have the opportunity to work with other law firms who have also been appointed by the court. The lawyers from these different firms function together, work together for the good of the case. You want to be both efficient and effective.

So while I love the legal strategy and, for me, taking a good deposition, there's nothing like working on these large MDL cases. The ability to work together and to coordinate, not just with my colleague down the hall, but with lawyers all over the country.

LD: What do you like to do when you are not working?

MD: If you ask my wife, you will hear that I’m always working. When I’m not at my desk, I’m either on my paddle board, playing with my dogs, or spending time with family and friends.