A routine motion and the heartbreak beneath.

Judge Thomas Durkin ruled on a routine pleadings motion in Federal Court in Chicago this week. A defendant was moving to dismiss a complaint, asserting the injured party failed to include the necessary allegations to go forward with a complaint. Sometimes however, even dry rulings on routine pleadings motions cannot obscure the heartbreak beneath.

On September 18, 2021, Ryan Masi, Michael Beaudin and James Harrington got together for dinner in Chicago. The three young men, all in their mid-twenties, had been friends since high school. Hours later, the three men returned to Harrington’s apartment. While at the apartment, Masi and Beaudin were exposed to fentanyl. Masi and Beaudin both died at the apartment in the early morning hours of September 19, 2021. Later that afternoon, Harrington called 911 from the apartment. He told 911 personnel he had consumed “coke” and was unable to move. He also told 911 personnel that he had two friends in the apartment and they were passed out. After police personnel arrived, they recovered a small pink bag that contained a white powder. Forensic testing showed the powder contained fentanyl.

Toxicology tests later showed that fentanyl had caused Masi’s death.

The Masi family filed suit against Harrington alleging violations of the Illinois Drug Dealer Liability Act, 740 ILCS 57/25 (“the Act). Under the Act, parents of a drug user may recover money damages against a defendant who knowingly distributed an illegal drug, actually used by a drug dealer. The Act further requires that the drug user must actually use an illegal drug.

Harrington sought to dismiss the case, on two separate fronts, both of which were equally unpersuasive. First, Harrington argued that the complaint never alleged that Masi had “used” fentanyl but had instead been unwittingly exposed to it when he had ingested some of the powder in the bag, assuming it to be cocaine. Judge Thomas Durkin however, correctly noted that the Masi family need only allege that Masi sought to use the powder, not that he was aware the substance was fentanyl.

Harrington’s second argument was that Masi was not a “user of Illegal drugs” and therefore could not recover. Harrington pointed to allegations in the complaint which specifically noted that Masi, prior to September 18, 2021, had not been a drug user. Judge Durkin summarily disposed of that argument as well, noting that while Masi may not have been a drug user prior to the evening of September 18, 2021, the facts clearly showed that he had used an illegal drug sometime shortly before his death.

Peter Lubin, counsel for the Masi family, commented that the family sued Harrington to discover what happened to their son that night – relief that can be obtained under the Act.