lawsuits

Shelby school board authorizes lawsuit against state-run Achievement School District

The Shelby County School Board has authorized a lawsuit against the Achievement School District, operated by the Tennessee Department of Education, for accepting students in middle school grades when state law authorizes only those at the elementary school level, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The board voted 7-0 with two members abstaining, for a resolution that instructs its general counsel, Rodney Moore, to “research and pursue any and all appropriate legal and judicial remedies including but not limited to legal action” to stop the Achievement School District  from operating grades it wasn’t authorized to operate.

.. The vote, which included minimal discussion, authorizes Moore to pursue legal action against the ASD, the state department of education and Aspire Public Schools charter network.

The resolution is the latest, and arguably most significant, episode in a five-year struggle between the state-run district and SCS. While the two compete for students and thus funding, and SCS has resisted the role of the ASD in Memphis, the inter-district squabbling has never resulted in a lawsuit.

Two campuses, run by Aspire and Memphis Scholars, are further mentioned in the resolution. Those two operators had added middle school grades to schools that previously served only elementary students under SCS before the state absorbed them into the ASD and outsourced their operation to charter networks.

Three opinions by the Tennessee Attorney General in the last several months, however, say ASD schools, which aim to turn around struggling schools, were never given the legal authority to add grades the school did not previously serve.

Judge rules records of failed Fall Creek Falls privatization effort must be made public

The Tennessee Department of General Services must release records related to the failed privatization effort at Fall Creek Falls State Park, Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post.

From the Scene’s report:

The case was unique because the state received no bids on a proposal to demolish and rebuild the Inn at Fall Creek Falls, despite amending the original request for proposals several times. A May 1 final deadline passed with no bids. The Scene asked for the records that would normally be available for public inspection at the end of any bid evaluation process.

The state claimed that because no bids had been evaluated, TDGS was not required to release the records associated with the process. The Scene filed suit on May 31.

Chancellor Young disagreed, noting that the state’s public records law instructs that it “shall be broadly construed so as to give the fullest possible public access to public records.” He ordered the records to be made available, ruling that any documents or communications that the state claims are protected by attorney-client privilege must be submitted to the court for evaluation. 

“It’s a good day for transparency in Tennessee,” says Chris Ferrell, CEO of Southcomm, the parent company of the Scene and Nashville Post. “While I’m sorry we had file suit in order to get the state to comply, it’s reassuring that the courts recognize that the state can’t decide to hide things from the public in such an arbitrary way.”

Young instructed Scene attorney John Williams and lawyers for the state to agree to and submit an order to the court by early July. Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter said in court that the state may ask for a stay of Young’s ruling, pending an appeal.

Cohen, Cooper sign onto lawsuit attacking Trump’s foreign business dealings

Tennessee’s two Democratic congressmen, Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville, are among about 200 members of Congress signing on as plaintiffs in a federal court lawsuit that contends President Donald Trump’s foreign business dealings may violate a provision of the Constitution.

Quote from a Cooper press release:

“The Constitution says our president should be free from all foreign influence,” Rep. Cooper said. “Since President Trump shows no sign of changing, Congress must ask the courts to enforce the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.”

Quote from a Cohen press release:

“The Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause is a vital protection against foreign governments’ corrupting influence.” said Congressman Cohen. “The American people should have total confidence that the President is serving their interest, not his own financial enrichment.  President Trump’s refusal to disclose information to Congress or seek Congress’s authorization for accepting profits from foreign governments stemming from his sprawling foreign financial interests is a brazen violation of the Constitution and a danger to our democracy.”

The full Cohen press release is HERE; the full Cooper press release HERE.

Slatery investigating opioid manufacturers, looking to ‘decisive action’ at ‘the appropriate time’

News release from Tennessee Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III today announced Tennessee is one state leading a bipartisan coalition of a majority of Attorneys General from across the country as part of an effort to combat the opioid epidemic. The Attorneys General are conducting comprehensive investigations into the widespread prescribing and use of opioids, as well as the role parties involved in the manufacture and distribution of opioids may have played in creating or prolonging this problem.

A focus of the ongoing investigation is to evaluate whether manufacturers have engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and sale of opioids. The Attorneys General are committed to using the vast investigative resources available, including subpoenas for documents and testimony, to identify and hold accountable those parties responsible for the opioid epidemic.

“There is not a single community in Tennessee, or a region of the country for that matter, that has not witnessed the devastating impact of opioid abuse,” General Slatery said. “At the appropriate time, you can be assured Tennessee will take decisive action against those parties responsible for harming so many families.”

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AG in court filing: ‘Natural and ordinary’ law does ‘nothing new at all’

Start of an Associated Press report:

NASHVILLE (AP) — A new law that’s been criticized as discriminatory against same-sex couples actually does “nothing new at all,” Tennessee’s attorney general contends in a legal filing.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery made that argument last week in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four married lesbian couples expecting children through artificial insemination.

The law requires using the “natural and ordinary meaning” of words in state law. Gay rights groups have contended that the requirement offers a sneaky way to deny same-sex couples the legal rights and protections granted to a “husband,” a “wife,” a “father” or “mother.”

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DAs in three Northeast TN counties file lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

A lawsuit was filed against three opioid manufacturers by district attorneys general representing three Northeast Tennessee counties on Tuesday with a drug-addicted infant, designated as “Baby Doe,” also listed as a plaintiff, reports the Kingsport Times News.

It’s the first such lawsuit filed by governmental officials in Tennessee, though state Attorney General Herbert Slaterly has been publicly urged to sue by House Speaker Beth Harwell – Ohio’s attorney general already has – while officials in Shelby County and elsewhere have been talking up the idea. (Previous post HERE; Commercial Appeal story on the Shelby talk HERE.)

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ACLU, refugee support groups seek to intervene in legislature-launched lawsuit

News release from American Civil Liberties Union

JACKSON, Tenn. — Groups serving Tennessee refugees are taking legal action against the state legislature’s efforts to block refugee resettlement.

State lawmakers who oppose refugee resettlement sued the federal government in March, contending that the federal refugee resettlement program improperly impinges on state sovereignty. The Tennessee attorney general previously declined to file the suit, concluding it would likely lose in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Tennessee represent the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bridge Refugee Services Inc., and the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which are seeking to intervene in the case to defend refugee resettlement in Tennessee. The groups also filed legal arguments explaining why the General Assembly’s lawsuit should be thrown out.

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Harwell urges AG to sue opioid drug manufacturers

House Speaker Beth Harwell has asked Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery to consider filing a lawsuit against five manufacturers of prescription opioid drugs – as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine did earlier this week.

Harwell’s letter to Slatery says Tennessee is “consistently ranked among the worst states” for the opioid abuse and notes the Ohio lawsuit contends the drug manufacturers “sparked the addiction crisis by misrepresenting the drugs’ addictive qualities.”

Further from WKRN:

“We have a true crisis in our state,” said… Harwell. “And we want to address it… To some extent, drug manufacturers have misled how addictive these prescriptions are.”

Speaker Harwell said she’ll defer to the Attorney General to decide if a lawsuit is necessary. Harwell also stated she does hope that if a lawsuit is filed by the state. If the court sides with the state, the money would go toward helping people battling addiction.

“Really what we’re looking for is some assistance in helping people go through rehabilitation programs and to pay for those programs,” Harwell said. “To help them come off of what is really a crisis.”

From an AP brief on the letter:

The companies sued by DeWine are Purdue Pharma; Endo Health Solutions; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary, Cephalon; Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals; and Allergan.

And here’s a statement via email from Attorney General Slatery: “Ohio advised us that it was taking this step.  It is hard to overstate the problem that opioid abuse is in our State and nationally.  We have been working for quite some time with the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and frankly other states, to determine the most effective role our Office can play in addressing and helping to resolve this problem.”

A copy of the letter is available by clicking on this link: harwellletter

Fed lawyers: TN law doesn’t allow legislators to bring refugee lawsuit on behalf of the state

In a 48-page motion filed Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit over refugee resettlement in Tennessee that was filed by a law firm advocating for states’ rights in response to a resolution passed by the legislature last year.

From The Tennessean’s report:

Among the federal government’s various arguments is that Tennessee law does not allow the General Assembly to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the state.

“Statutes enacted by General Assembly make clear that the authority to represent the state in litigation belongs exclusively to the Attorney General,” the motion states, while pointing out that the state’s attorney general declined to initiate the lawsuit.

At one point, the federal government also says the claim that Tennessee has been forced to spend state funds as part of refugee resettlement is “logic-defying.”

The state’s lawsuit came after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a resolution in 2016 approving legal action and after Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to initiate the case. Instead, the state’s case was brought forth by the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based legal group.

Open records lawsuit seeks documents on failed Fall Creek Falls State Park privatization effort

The Nashville Post and Nashville Scene, sister publications with the same ownership, have filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court against the state Department of General Services under Tennessee’s Open Records Act, contending officials wrongfully refused to release documents related to a failed attempt at outsourcing operation of the Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn.

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