Naming Rights and Purdue Pharma's Bankruptcy Restructuring Plan - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Naming Rights and Purdue Pharma’s Bankruptcy Restructuring Plan

Naming Rights and Purdue Pharma’s Bankruptcy Restructuring Plan

In November of 2020, Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, formally admitted its role in fueling the opioid crisis and pled guilty to three federal charges.1 Charges included aiding and abetting violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, impeding functions of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.2

On March 15, 2021, Purdue Pharma submitted a bankruptcy restructuring plan to the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.3 The plan proposed transferring funds into trusts “for the benefit of the American people” and removing the Sackler family from power to become a company with the “public-minded mission of addressing the opioid crisis.”4

While the plan might seem generous at a glance, it would ultimately allow the Sackler family to escape personal liability and pay a total of $4.2 billion, which is trifling compared to funds they received from Purdue Pharma and the total impact of the opioid crisis.5 Sackler family members reportedly received $12 to $13 billion from Purdue Pharma over the years.6

Attorneys general from twenty-three states released a statement in response to the proposed plan, expressing further disappointment over how the plan “falls short of the accountability that families and survivors deserve.”7 Activist group, P.A.I.N., spearheaded by acclaimed photographer Nan Goldin, also denounced the proposed bankruptcy restructuring plan as “providing the profiteers of one of the deadliest public health crises in American history with legal immunity in exchange for their pocket change, doled out over the next decade.”8

In addition to added personal accountability, one of the amendments the attorneys general sought in their statement was protecting non-profit organizations who want to remove the Sackler name from their spaces, in contravention of any initial donation agreements.9 The Sackler name is displayed in institutions throughout the world, including the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian.10 Although various institutions have rejected further funding,11 there have been complications regarding legal clauses in initial donation agreements.12 The director of the Smithsonian explained that their 1982 donation agreement obligated the Smithsonian “to designate the facility as the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in perpetuity.”13 The amendment proposed by the attorneys general would allow such institutions to remove the Sackler name without facing legal repercussions.

P.A.I.N. has also staged various protests throughout art institutions, calling for the removal of the family name.14 Goldin is no stranger to art museums, with her works displayed throughout the world, but as she states, “[a]s an artist whose work is in the collections of many of these museums, I expect them to live up to the ethics that I live by.”15

Continued naming rights risk affording the Sackler family cultural legitimacy and power in using public institutions to shape their own public relations. This was evidenced in various WhatsApp group chats released in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.16 Family members strategized to figure out what institutions were “going to say something unhelpful,” commenting, “Jackie spoke with the Met this morning and they are going to stand by us.”17 In another instance, a family member stated, “I speak regularly with dia on all of this and they fully support us and think Nan Goldin is crazy.”18

One family member did chime in, stating that, “[n]o $ is enough for the PR,” and that there should be an effort to address the actual impacts of the opioid epidemic.19 But at one message proposing that members of the family sacrifice their own profits, a reply came of: “[t]his is not the forum to discuss that.”20

It remains to be seen whether a third bankruptcy plan is in the works and whether the Sackler family will find the appropriate “forum” to discuss issues of added liability in the heat of backlash. Institutions continue to withdraw support for the Sackler name,21 but there remains a tension between donations museums need in order to function and the ethics they should abide by in standing behind these donations. However, a stronger reaction by public institutions is warranted and facilitating removal of the Sackler name should be accounted for in restructuring plans going forward. After all, “a museum should be an ethical place… A museum is supposed to be a repository of the best things about humanity, right?”22


  1. Dep’t of Justice, Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Kickback Conspiracies, Dep’t of Justice: Office of Public Affairs (Nov. 24, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/opioid-manufacturer-purdue-pharma-pleads-guilty-fraud-and-kickback-conspiracies [https://perma.cc/DYQ6-ZLHX].

  2. Id.

  3. Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization of Purdue Pharma L.P. and Its Affiliated Debtors, In re Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., Debtors (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2021) (No. 19-23649), https://restructuring.primeclerk.com/purduepharma/Home-DownloadPDF?id1=MTE5NjI3Nw==&id2=0 [https://perma.cc/5U84-NFGL].

  4. Restructure: Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy, Purdue Pharma, https://www.purduepharma.com/restructure/ [https://perma.cc/TEZ4-NMYX].

  5. Erika Kelton, Purdue Pharma’s Opioid Settlement Plan Needs Fixing, Forbes (Mar. 22, 2021, 8:48 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikakelton/2021/03/22/what-is-missing-from-purdue-pharmas-audacious-proposed-bankruptcy-plan/?sh=699df05766b9 [https://perma.cc/NQQ7-AEMC].

  6. Id. The Society of Actuaries also estimated that the “US economic impact from the opioid epidemic was $631 billion in just the years 2015 to 2018.” Id.

  7. Press Release, Office of the Att’y Gen. of Connecticut, Att’y Gen. Tong Disappointed with Purdue Plan (Mar. 16, 2021) (available at https://portal.ct.gov/AG/Press-Releases/2021-Press-Releases/Attorney-General-Tong-Disappointed-with-Purdue-Plan [https://perma.cc/4VPH-Z4WE]).

  8. P.A.I.N. (@sacklerpain), Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/p/CMf6xYpFrOr/?igshid=7d6pgvheyt25 [https://perma.cc/FQG4-CXHT].

  9. See Att’y Gen. Tong Disappointed with Purdue Plan, supra note 7.

  10. Sarah Cascone, After Purdue Pharma Reached a $225 Million Settlement with US Authorities, the Met Says the Name of Its Sackler Wing Is ‘Under Review,’ Artnet (Oct. 23, 2020), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/sacklers-name-museum-met-1917814 [https://perma.cc/7MC5-AA5R].

  11. Id.

  12. Taylor Dafoe, The Smithsonian’s New Director Politely Declines to Remove the Sackler Name From One of Its Museums, Artnet (Jul. 2, 2019), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/smithsonian-sackler-gallery-letter-1590859 [https://perma.cc/PU24-L42V].

  13. Id.

  14. Masha Gessen, Nan Goldin Leads a Protest at the Guggenheim Against the Sackler Family, New Yorker (Feb. 10, 2019), https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/nan-goldin-leads-a-protest-at-the-guggenheim-against-the-sackler-family [https://perma.cc/5H57-7P9M].

  15. Taylor Dafoe, Dozens of State Attorneys General Want to Allow Museums to Remove the Sackler Name From Their Walls Regardless of Gift Contracts, Artnet (Mar. 18, 2021), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/purdue-pharma-allow-museums-to-remove-sackler-name-1952953 [https://perma.cc/7ZLR-W9G6].

  16. Anand Giridharadas, Exclusive: The Sacklers’ Group Chat of Pain, The.Ink (Dec. 20, 2020), https://the.ink/p/sacklers [https://perma.cc/PE6L-SV3S].

  17. Id.

  18. Id.

  19. Id.

  20. Id.

  21. The Serpentine recently removed the Sackler name, although claiming it was just part of a rebranding effort. José Da Silva & Cristina Ruiz, Serpentine Drops Sackler Name Following ‘Rebranding,’ The Art Newspaper (Mar. 25, 2021), https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/serpentine-drops-sackler-name-following-rebranding [https://perma.cc/2U5A-86PE].

  22. Liz Jobey, Nan Goldin on Art, Addiction and Her Battle with the Sacklers Over Opioids, Financial Times (Nov. 8, 2019), https://www.ft.com/content/d6500c16-002a-11ea-b7bc-f3fa4e77dd47.

Michelle Kim

Michelle Kim is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.F.A. in Photography & Imaging from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.