Judge Returns Opioid Lawsuit to Tennessee State Court

Ruling denies request by major pharmaceutical distributor to remove the case to federal level

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A ruling issued May 22, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee has helped clear the way for a 19-county lawsuit against major opioid producers and distributors to move forward in state court.

The ruling, issued by Judge Aleta A. Trauger, denied a motion by McKesson, a pharmaceutical distributor and defendant in the case, to remove the case to federal court. Trauger also denied a joint motion by the defendants to stay proceedings. The case has now been returned to the Circuit Court of Cumberland County where it awaits trial.

Plaintiffs bringing suit against a number of opioid producers and distributors include the district attorneys general of Tennessee’s Thirteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-Second and Thirty-First Judicial Districts. Included in that group is lead district attorney for the case, Bryant C. Dunaway, who represents Tennessee’s Thirteenth Judicial District.

“We are very pleased with Judge Trauger’s decision to deny removal of the case to federal court,” says Dunaway. “We continue to work toward our goal of holding the defendants accountable for the deliberate and illegal distribution of Schedule II narcotics in our state, and the damage they have brought to our region as a result. We look forward to trying this case on behalf of Baby Doe and the communities we represent.”

The 2018 suit brings two causes of action under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA) against producer defendants Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; along with pill mills and drug dealers. Count I is brought on behalf of plaintiff Baby Doe, while Count II is brought by the district attorneys general on behalf of their respective districts and the 19 counties they represent. The suit demands judgment against the defendants for damages, seeks restitution for the plaintiffs and an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.

“We applaud today’s ruling that ‘when a state such as Tennessee has crafted an independent response to opioid abuse that does not rely on federal law to impose liability, the appropriate forum for such causes of action are state courts,’” says Gerard Stranch, managing partner for Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings (BS&J) PLLC of Nashville. “In this case the defendants failed to establish a recognized basis for federal jurisdiction, and we’re very pleased that the way has been cleared for this complaint to move to trial.”

This week’s memorandum and order followed a Cumberland County Circuit Court ruling last February denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case and declaring that the lawsuit could move forward in litigation.

Visit www.tnbabydoe.com for additional facts, resources and documentation surrounding this issue.

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Lawsuit Filed Against Knoxville Hotel Group for Alleged Racial Discrimination, Contract Breach

KNOXVILLE, TENN. — Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC (BS&J) of Nashville, Tennessee, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against White Avenue Hotel Partners, Development Services Group, Inc., and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., owners and operators of the Four Points by Sheraton Knoxville Cumberland House Hotel, located at 1009 White Avenue in Knoxville.

The suit was filed Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Plaintiffs Don Marie and Kyle Jackson filed the suit seeking redress for racial discrimination and breach of contract, which allegedly occurred during their September 2017 stay at the hotel. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ actions violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

“This lawsuit was filed on behalf of a mother and son who came to Knoxville from New Orleans during the mandatory evacuation ordered for the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Katia,” said Ben Gastel, partner with BS&J. “When the hurricane activity continued, the Jacksons’ efforts to extend their reservation with the hotel were denied due to their race — despite their ability and willingness to pay in advance, and despite the fact that they were able to confirm room availability through the national desk. The Jacksons were forced to endure discrimination, hostility and ill treatment by the hotel staff in full view of other guests, causing embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress — and at a time when they were particularly vulnerable. This treatment is unacceptable, and violates the federally protected rights of the plaintiffs to exercise and enjoy equal treatment without regard for race or color.”

The lawsuit alleges that:

  • The plaintiffs were discriminated against on the basis of their race;
  • The plaintiffs were denied the same right to enjoy the benefits, privilege, terms and conditions of a contract that is enjoyed by white citizens;
  • The plaintiffs were denied the full and equal enjoyment of the services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of a place of public accommodation; and
  • The plaintiffs’ contract with the defendants was breached.

The alleged discrimination includes:

  • Failing to allow the plaintiffs to remain in the hotel, even though they had a valid reservation and rooms were available;
  • Failing to allow the plaintiffs to complete their stay as required by the parties’ contract and as offered to other similarly situated hotel guests;
  • Using the plaintiffs’ race as an indication of their unfitness to remain in the hotel and evicting them as a result of their race;
  • Calling the police even though the plaintiffs had done nothing wrong, had followed all rules and regulations, and were able and willing to pay their bill; and
  • Mandating that they leave the hotel under police escort in full view of other guests.

“The conduct displayed by hotel staff and management during our stay was appalling,” said Kyle Jackson. “The prejudice and hostile treatment my mother and I experienced cannot be overlooked. We bring this claim not only to try and correct the personal injustices we experienced, but to help bring awareness and ensure that others do not have to suffer the same kind of discrimination.”

The plaintiffs demand a jury trial and judgments that include:

  • Violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act;
  • Breach of contract;
  • Compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury; and
  • Attorney fees and costs.

Additional information about the suit can be found at www.bsjfirm.com.

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About Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC (www.bsjfirm.com)  

For more than 65 years, Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC has been known for the quality of its advocacy and the integrity of its attorneys. The firm enjoys a national reputation of prominence in the complex litigation arena for its work in class actions, shareholder derivative claims, securities, ERISA, labor and employment, and other complex cases, both at the trial and appellate levels.

Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC is dedicated to providing a full range of legal services to its diverse clientele. In addition to providing quality legal services, the firm is proud of the professional and civic leadership its members have provided, both locally and nationally. The firm’s former managing partner, Jane Branstetter Stranch, was nominated by President Obama to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and now serves as a judge on that court following her confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC is listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, and was recently named among “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World Report for 2017, receiving the highest possible Nashville ranking as a Tier 1 in two practice areas.