Slatery drops opposition to opioid lawsuits by DAs; says no TN lawsuit in federal court

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has abandoned a legal effort to block district attorneys general from filing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers in a “ceremonial surrender” Thursday before Campbell County Circuit Court Judge John McAfee, reports the News Sentinel. And Slatery has decided against filing an opioid lawsuit on behalf of the state in federal court.

At the outset of a scheduled hearing, a representative of the AG’s office handed McAfee an agreed order for his signature that abandoned Slatery’s earlier filings.

“The proposed order results from our joint commitment to the people of Tennessee and recognizes that state and local cooperation is essential to combat the opioid epidemic ravaging our state,” the statement read.

Attorney J. Gerard Stranch IV also handed McAfee an order in which the DAs he represents agreed they wouldn’t try to legally commit the state to their lawsuit against opiate makers and distributors.

“We can go back to focusing on the wrongdoers, not infighting with the attorney general,” Stranch said after the hearing. “We look forward to moving the case to trial against the real wrongdoers as soon as possible.”

Slatery spokeswoman Leigh Ann Apple Jones said Thursday the attorney general has decided not to sue Big Pharma in a pending federal case.

“We feel like state court is the best option,” Jones said.

Last year, fourteen state district attorneys general representing 47 counties in Middle and East Tennessee filed suit under the Tennessee Drug Dealer’s Liability Act against opiate makers and distributors.

Big Pharma was already facing lawsuits across the country — sometimes by states, sometimes by counties or cities and sometimes by hospitals and nonprofits. The federal judiciary quickly began funneling cases into what’s known as a multidistrict litigation, or MDL.

But Slatery stayed silent, saying he was investigating whether Tennessee should join the effort.

Tennessee, though, is the only state with a law that makes drug dealers monetarily liable for the damage their “products” cause. Stranch is arguing Big Pharma and its partners in the supply chain are drug dealers.

The DAs contend any damages the lawsuit produces under that law would go directly into communities ravaged by the epidemic.

Nine months after the prosecutors — including 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen and 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson — filed their lawsuit, Slatery sought to shut it down.

He argued in a motion to intervene that the prosecutors didn’t have legal authority to sue Big Pharma — only his office could do that. The DAs called Slatery’s move a money grab to put any financial settlement with Big Pharma into state coffers, leaving local communities to bear the brunt of the epidemic without recouping any of its costs.

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