Summary judgement granted in Baby Doe case

bcampbell@johnsoncitypress.com

Another local governmental body is on track to receive significant monetary damages in a lawsuit recently won against Endo Pharmaceuticals for its part in the opioid crisis that has gripped the region for several years.

The Town of Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed a resolution earlier this week to join the Baby Doe lawsuit as a plaintiff seeking monetary damages that the opioid addiction crisis has caused.

The case, filed four years ago by district attorneys general in Northeast Tennessee — First Judicial District DA Ken Baldwin, Second Judicial District DA Barry Staubus and Third Judicial District Dan Armstrong — had a hiccup a few months ago when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that district attorneys could not be the plaintiffs.

The court said in an opinion that municipalities and counties had to be the entities to sue Endo.

Since then, nearly every county commission, municipality and town government has voted to be part of the lawsuit, in which a judge awarded a default judgement against Endo last week. Sullivan County Chancellor E.G. Moody ruled that Endo had lied to the court and filed multiple documents to slow the case down.

Moody’s ruling did not assess damages in the case, but said they will be determined at a later date with a damages trial. The judgment details a dozen false statements Endo’s attorneys made to the court, describes a “coordinated strategy between Endo and its counsel to … interfere with the administration of justice,” and holds the companies liable for damages sought, an amount that totals $2.4 billion.

The 31-page judgment went into great detail about the lawsuit.

“It is obvious that monetary sanctions are not sufficient. Endo and its attorneys have not shown any remorse, admitted their wrongdoing or apologized to opposing counsel or to the court for their actions,” Moody wrote.

“Although this is a harsh sanction, justice demands it under the circumstances,” Moody’s order reads in part. “Anything less would make a mockery of the attorneys who play by the rules and the legal system.”

In addition to Jonesborough joining the lawsuit, Baldwin asked members to call local state representatives and senators to voice opposition to legislation that would give the state majority control over the money.

State Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III supports the legislation — HB1132, SB 0558 — that would give cities, towns and counties in the lawsuit only 15% of unrestricted monetary damages that might be awarded.

The potential new law would give the state unrestricted control over 15%, then 70% would be split 35% and 65%, respectively, between counties and the state.

“Please, if you have any influence with our local legislators I wish you’d call them and register your opposition to any legislation,” that would give the state authority to — “I’ll call it usurping the lawsuit,” Baldwin said to the Jonesborough board Tuesday evening.

In a video of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting on Tuesday, Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, stated none of the money would go into the state’s general fund and could only be used for “abatement,” purposes.

Haile also stated in the hearing that an amendment narrowed the scope of the bill and would have no impact on the Endo lawsuit.

Baldwin, however, said he wants to ensure the cities, towns and counties that are parties to the suit get the money they deserve to use as they see fit to address the opioid crisis.

“Right now, if we settle, the municipalities and counties will get 100 percent of the damages. Not only that, the counties and municipalities will decide where and how that money is spent,” Baldwin said.

“You would identify what you need here, which could be different from other locations,” Baldwin told the board. “You would control (approving) a possible settlement. If they offer $100 million or whatever, you would decide if you accept that.

“General Slatery’s legislation would take that away from you. He would take away the control over whether it’s settled and he would take over your control on how this money is spent if his legislation is adopted.”

On Wednesday, Baldwin said the attorneys for the counties and cities here would like to see language in the legislation to ensure the Senate amendment excludes the Endo suit.

Nearly every city, county and town in the three judicial districts has now joined the lawsuit, but Johnson City isn’t one of them.

In an email to Baldwin and the plaintiff’s attorney’s firm, Johnson City city attorney Sunny Sandos explained why the city chose to not participate.

“This matter was before the City of Johnson City Board of Commissioners on January 21, 2021,” Sandos said. “The agenda summary is attached. At that time, the City voted to not join the action as a named plaintiff. Since Washington County has chosen to participate as a named plaintiff, it has been determined by the City that Johnson City is not a necessary nor indispensable party, since causes of action which occurred in the corporate limits of the City are also within the bounds of Washington County. The City remains available to assist in any way necessary and fully cooperate with the action through production of documents or witnesses.”

Moody set a trial to assess damages for July 26 in Sullivan County.

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