Claiborne mulls suing opiod manufacturers, distributors

The Claiborne Commission will be taking a look at a proposal to go after drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors for violations of federal and state laws and regulations preventing legal drugs from winding up in the black market.

The resolution to contract with attorneys will be presented to the full commission, this month, by county mayor Jack Daniels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Claiborne as the seventh worst county across the nation to prescribe the substances. The study, conducted between 2006 and 2015, showed an average 2,808 morphine equivalent milligrams were prescribed for each qualifying patient, annually.

The county continues to expend funds in response to the serious public health and safety crisis resulting from opiod abuse, addiction, morbidity and mortality, according to the proposed resolution.

If adopted, the document would allow the county mayor to hire legal counsel. A list of six separate law firms would represent the suit, with Michael J. Fuller, of McHugh Fuller Law Group, PLLC, working as lead counsel.

The civil suit would be executed on a contingency basis, meaning the county would not be out any funds. If the case is won, the county would pay attorneys fees in the amount of 30 percent of the total gross recovery. This would occur whether the claim is resolved by compromise, settlement, or by trial, verdict and appeal.

There would be no fee, if there is no recovery.

The attorneys also agree under the proposed contract to advance all necessary litigation expenses. There would be no reimbursement of those expenses, if there is no recovery.

This suit would be filed solely for the benefit of Claiborne county, and is separate from one filed by the District Attorney General’s Office, which would cover the entire district. Typically, the district would be lumped together with two or three others and could include cities and municipalities, much like a class action suit.

The case handled by the District Attorney would concentrate on the manufacturers and doctors under the Drug Dealers Liability Act.

Conversely, the proposed litigation brought on behalf of the county would not be a class action suit and the county would be in control of it.

If pursued, the lawsuit would be filed against the distributors under the Federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act.

The suit would concentrate only on the national distributors and those in the chain of distribution – not local pharmacies, according to the initial proposal made by Crystal Jesse of the Greeneville-based Jesse Law Office.

Jesse is working with Paul Farrell, who began litigating this type of case in 2008. Farrell was successful in settling with a case involving three main distributors in West Virginia to the tune of $40 million, which the state received.

The contingent has filed over 360 separate lawsuits, nationwide, on behalf of individual counties, cities and some Indian Nations.

Locally, several counties in Tennessee have been represented by the Jesse Law Office.

The Claiborne Commission is expected to decide whether to pursue this civil lawsuit during its regular session on June 18.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., and will be held inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne County Courthouse.

The public is encouraged to attend these monthly meetings.