GREENEVILLE — Despite a pharmaceutical company’s efforts to have it moved to the federal level, a lawsuit filed by Northeast Tennessee prosecutors to fight the opioid “epidemic” will remain in state court.
The order was made Friday by Thomas A. Varlan, chief judge for the U.S. Eastern District of Tennessee. In August , Endo Pharmaceuticals — one of three companies named in the suit — filed a notice of removal, attempting to get the case out of Sullivan County and into federal court.
Endo also sought to remove three physicians and a medical clinic from the suit, arguing cases should be split because the claims against the defendants differ.
The following day, district attorneys general for Sullivan, Hawkins and Washington counties filed a motion to keep the case in Sullivan County, saying federal court has no jurisdiction to handle the case. They also argued against the case being split up, as all the named defendants had a role in the abused opioid market.
Varlan’s order said the cases would not be split because the notice of removal from Endo did not contain signatures from all defendants, thus making it “procedurally defective.” Those defendants are three doctors (Elizabeth Ann Bowers Campbell, Pamela Moore and Abdelrahman Hassabu Mohamed) and a medical clinic (Center Pointe Medical).
Varlan also noted that since federal courts have limited jurisdiction and the defendants failed to provide sufficient evidence that action could not be taken against them under Tennessee law, the case would remain in Sullivan County.
During a June press conference at Johnson City’s Niswonger’s Children’s Hospital — which recently opened a unit for drug addicted babies — Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus announced the lawsuit: “We’re going to try to stop this explosion of pain clinics, to stop this overprescribing. We’re going to swing for the fences.”
He was flanked by area law enforcement personnel and two of his co-plaintiffs: Washington County District Attorney General Tony Clark and Hawkins County District Attorney General Dan Armstrong.
The suit also names a fourth plaintiff: “Baby Doe,” whose Sullivan County mother was addicted to opioids, thus he was born with neo-natal abstinence syndrome.
“Our state has the second-highest statewide opioid prescription rank in the United States,” Staubus said. “Northeast Tennessee has been hit worst in the state by the opioid addiction. And Sullivan County, in my opinion, is the epicenter of the epidemic.”
The prosecutors’ lawsuit seeks judgment against the defendants for damages resulting from “breaches of statutory and common law.” It argues that police departments, schools, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and taxpayers will bear the cost of the opioid crisis for years to come.
The plaintiffs want not only restitution from the pharmaceutical companies, but also an injunction to stop “the flood of opioids” into Northeast Tennessee.
Purdue Pharmaceuticals, a defendant in the lawsuit, has denied the allegations, saying they share concern about the opioid crisis and are committed to working collaboratively for a solution.