Court overturns dismissal of opioid suit

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019

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A landmark regional opioid suit brought by 6 Tennessee District Attorneys General, including 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler, against major pharmaceutical manufacturers is back on track.

Judge D. Michael Swiney, Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville, ruled on Sept. 11 to reverse last fall’s judgment by 8th Judicial District Judge John D. McAfee granting multiple motions from pharmaceutical producers to dismiss what is known as the I-75 Corridor opioid lawsuit.

In his ruling, Judge Swiney determined that drug manufacturers can be liable under Tennessee’s Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA) and that the manufacturer defendants did not meet their burden in their motion to dismiss the claim. The case has now been remanded to the Trial Court.

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The lawsuit was jointly filed on Sept. 29, 2017, in Campbell County Circuit Court in Jacksboro by the District Attorneys General of Tennessee’s 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Judicial Districts, and later amended to also include the 4th Judicial District.

“This is a substantial victory for the cities and counties represented in this case, and sound affirmation of our complaint,” said Jared Effler, District Attorney General for th 8th Judicial District. “The court clearly recognized the rights of District Attorneys General to bring suit on behalf of their constituents, and also agrees that pharmaceutical companies and distributors can be challenged under the DDLA – particularly when these companies knowingly inflict harm on the public, as we believe the defendants have done over a span of many years. We look forward to bringing this case to trial and holding these companies accountable for the damage they have inflicted.”

The complaint lists prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, L.P. and its related companies, along with Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.

“The manufacturer defendants knowingly flooded the affected areas with drugs they knew would later be diverted,” said Gerard Stranch, managing partner for the Nashville-based law firm Branstetter, Stranch& Jennings, PLLC. “They actively enabled events from the top down for the sake of profit and knowingly participated in Tennessee’s illegal drug market. That is the basis for civil liability under the DDLA, whether the activity happens in a back alley or at a corporation’s headquarters. We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury in the near future.”

The I-75 Corridor suit, which focuses on an area designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), demands judgment against the defendants for damages, and seeks restitution for the plaintiffs and an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.

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