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Default judgement granted to plaintiffs in Sullivan Baby Doe lawsuit
  • Updated

BLOUNTVILLE — A default judgment in favor of the plaintiffs has been granted in the “Sullivan Baby Doe” lawsuit.

As a result, the case will proceed directly to consideration of the awarding of monetary damages.

A date for that damages trial could be set during a hearing scheduled for Thursday, Second Judicial District Attorney Barry Staubus said.

In an order filed Tuesday afternoon in Sullivan County Circuit Court, Chancellor E.G. Moody granted the default judgment in plaintiffs’ favor; imposed sanctions for defendant Endo Health Solutions Inc. and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and reserved issuing a final judgment pending a damages trial.

“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.”

“For years we have worked to hold major opioid producers and distributors accountable for the long-term damage they have caused in our Tennessee communities,” Staubus said. “We understood from the start that seeking justice for those babies who were born drug dependent and the rural areas that these companies victimized would constitute a fight on the level of David versus Goliath. All those harmed by this epidemic will now see Goliath face justice.”

The Sullivan Baby Doe lawsuit was originally filed on June 13, 2017, by the district attorneys general of Tennessee’s First, Second and Third Judicial Districts in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport. The complaint originally listed prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, L.P. and its related companies, along with Mallinckrodt PLC, Endo Pharmaceuticals, a pill mill doctor and other convicted opioid dealers as defendants.

As part of the national scrutiny brought to bear on opioid producers and distributors, due in part to Sullivan Baby Doe’s arguments, Purdue and Mallinckrodt have declared bankruptcy, with claims proceeding against them in related courts. Endo remains the only active corporate defendant.

“After a four-year fight in which Endo has tried to delay, derail and subvert justice, the court has laid bare Endo’s attempts to put their thumb on the scale of justice,” said J. Gerard Stranch IV, managing partner of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, the firm representing Baby Doe and participating cities and counties.

“The court laid out their deceptive and predatory actions for the public to see. This includes a dozen false statements made by Endo and their attorneys and what the court describes as a ‘coordinated strategy to interfere with the administration of justice.’ As a result, Endo will finally be forced to account for their role in the widespread misery they have knowingly caused in rural counties throughout Northeast Tennessee, which have suffered devastating rates of addiction, overdose deaths and babies being born drug-dependent. We look forward to putting our $2.4 billion damage case to a jury and ultimately seeing funds returned directly to these small communities, which have borne the brunt of Endo’s focus on financial gain.”

Moody’s order granting default judgment cites as legal standard a section of Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure under which “the trial court is expressly authorized to dismiss an action for failure to abide by discovery rules or court orders.”

The order also lists circumstances the Tennessee Court of Appeals had identified in which a default judgment is warranted and circumstances under which it is not.

“Endo has met all the criteria in favor of granting a default judgment and it has failed to meet any of the criteria for not granting a default judgment,” Moody wrote.

Discovery, in legal proceedings, is the process of plaintiffs and defendants sharing information (such as witnesses and evidence) each side will present at trial.

Nearly a year ago, the court had already held Endo and its lawyers in contempt of court for failing to produce documents in response to plaintiffs’ discovery requests.

Some key points regarding Endo’s failure to comply with “discovery misconduct” from Moody’s order:

• “The court is especially concerned about the many false statements to plaintiffs’ counsel and to the court by the Endo defendants’ attorneys in the course of the discovery process.”

• Noting that Endo “repeatedly tried to characterize its discovery misconduct as a simple ‘misunderstanding’ between plaintiffs’ counsel and defense counsel in the discovery process, Moody’s order states “the record demonstrates otherwise. It is clear to the court that Endo and its counsel at Arnold & Porter willfully withheld responsive records” and many of the records that Endo knowingly withheld were highly relevant.”

• “It is apparent that Endo intended to defend itself at trial by touting its anti-diversion measures, while simultaneously depriving plaintiffs of evidence that would have undercut that defense. Accordingly, the court finds that Endo willfully withheld this information during the discovery phase to gain a litigation advantage at trial.”

• The court further finds that Endo and its attorneys’ false statements violated the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct.”

• Later in the order, Moody wrote it is clear “Endo and its attorneys have still not learned their lesson. It appears to the court that Endo and its attorneys, after delaying trial, have resorted to trying to improperly corrupt the record.”

• The order states “it is obvious monetary sanctions are not sufficient,” regarding what it outlines as Endo’s pattern of discovery misconduct.

• “Endo and its attorneys have not shown any remorse, admitted their wrongdoing or apologized to opposing counsel or the court for their actions,” the order states. “For all these reasons, the court hearby enters a default judgment in favor of plaintiffs.”

• Additional sanctions issued by the court include awarding plaintiff costs and fees.

• Moody’s order requires attorneys for the plaintiffs to identify, within 15 days, the attorneys for the defendants “who made the false statements” referred to in the order. The order requires each of the Arnold & Porter attorneys who are partners or shareholders and who have been admitted pro hac vice in the case to show cause why their pro hac vice admissions should not be revoked.

Pro hac vice is a legal term used to indicate a lawyer has been allowed to participate in a case in a particular jurisdiction where the lawyer otherwise has not been admitted to practice.


Arts-entertainment
centerpiece
Watch now: Salad luncheon a key fundraiser to Rogersville's historic preservation efforts

ROGERSVILLE — Maintaining 200-year-old buildings can be very expensive, but at least one day per year a little bit of salad can go a long way toward preserving Rogersville’s history.

On Monday, the Rogersville Heritage Association will host its annual Salad Luncheon fundraiser at one of its two historic facilities, the 197-year-old Hale Springs Inn.

The cost is $10 per lunch and can be dine-in, carryout, or eaten outside on the patio.

Dine-in customers will see that the inn, which was restored in 2009, continues to be well-maintained and the gem of historic downtown Rogersville.

What they won’t be able to see, however, is recently discovered cracks in the outer brick wall that have started allowing some rain inside, causing a bit of water damage upstairs.

Many projects already on the RHA’s plate

Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson, who also oversees the RHA’s historic restoration and maintenance projects, said the repairs won’t be terribly extensive or expensive. But, with so many projects already on the RHA’s plate, another repair job wasn’t what they needed.

The RHA is also planning an HVAC project at the inn, as well as an exterior lighting installation at Crockett Springs Park, which is also owned by the RHA.

That park contains a small cemetery that is the final resting place of Davy Crockett’s grandparents, who were killed in an Indian attack there in 1777. That same cemetery is also the final resting place of Rogersville founder Joseph Rogers.

The biggest project currently on the RHA to-do list, however, is the restoration of the historic Rogers Tavern, which is the larger of two taverns that were built side by side by Joseph Rogers between 1790 and 1800. Both are located on present-day Rogers Street adjacent to Crockett Springs Park.

Restored to its 1800 log building appearance

Among the dignitaries who stayed at Rogers Tavern were William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame and President Andrew Jackson.

Nelson told the Times News on Wednesday that the RHA plan is to eliminate an addition at the rear of the tavern that was built around 1900, remove all of the siding, and take the tavern back to its original 1800 appearance.

In 2019, Tennessee state historian Dr. Carroll Van West visited Rogersville and toured various historical locations, including the Rogers Tavern.

West stated in his report released last year that the tavern has the elements necessary to be restored to its 1800 log building appearance. The tavern is also unique in that it is one of only five surviving buildings where either Meriwether Lewis or William Clark spent the night.

During West’s 2019 visit, a section of siding was removed to expose the condition of the tavern’s original log exterior. They discovered a standard dovetail notch, and the original chinking was mostly intact.

Nelson noted that the ground has apparently risen on the north side of the house above the stone foundation, exposing some of the bottom logs to termites and moisture. As a result, some of those logs will have to be replaced, but it appears that damage is limited to only one area.

The original stone chimney is also gone and will have to be rebuilt.

”Hopefully, we’re going to get grants to do this”

Unfortunately, there are no known drawings of what that fireplace and the original tavern looked like, so they’ll have to make their best guess based on the style of that era.

West indicated that the ground floor where the bar was located, and the second floor, where the guests slept, were both just one big room.

“This is where William Clark stayed, and Andrew Jackson,” Nelson noted. “This is where the corn crib incident happened. (Another guest) criticized the accommodations, because this would have had just one big sleeping room with pallets on the floor. This fellow wanted his own private room, so Andrew Jackson gave it to him, out in the corn crib.”

After it ceased being a tavern, the building became a standard residence, with walls, plumbing and electric installed.

Nelson said all of that has got to go, but he is hesitant to give an estimate on the cost, at least until all exterior siding is removed and he sees how many logs have to be replaced. But he’s guessing that with demolition it will cost close to $100,000 to get the tavern back to its 1800 condition.

“The reason for the Salad Luncheon is, hopefully, we’re going to get grants to do this, but grants are never 100%,” Nelson said. “There’s always a match, so we need to have money set aside to be able to take care of the match.”

The Salad Luncheon will be on Monday, April 12, from 11 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. at the Hale Springs Inn. Call (423) 272-1961 for more information.


top story
ETSU moving to more relaxed COVID-19 guidelines in summer

With COVID-19 vaccinations becoming more readily available in the region, East Tennessee State University will move to more relaxed operating guidelines this summer.

In a message to the ETSU community on Wednesday, President Brian Noland said the university will begin the transition to the next phase of its operating procedures starting on May 15.

The next stage, called “modified stage four,” will be complete by July 1.

“News of expanded access to the COVID-19 vaccine brings renewed hope to our campus and our nation as we make plans to move forward from the pandemic,” Noland wrote. “Throughout these challenging times, our priority has always been ensuring the health and safety of our campus and our community.”

This decision, Noland said, was made based on guidance from the university’s senior leadership team and its medical response team.

Highlights of this new stage include:

• The majority of academic instruction starting in fall 2021 will take place in-person.

• Employees primarily will be working on campus.

• At this time, the current face-covering policy will remain in effect, regardless of vaccination status.

• Laboratory and on-campus experiential learning will be permitted.

• Residence halls will return to full occupancy.

• Field research, laboratory and service activities will be allowed but should adhere to appropriate physical distancing measures.

• Domestic travel will be allowed beginning May 15, and select international travel will be permitted after June 15.

• Athletic competitions will continue to follow guidelines issued by the NCAA and the Southern Conference, and those involving spectators will require an event safety plan.

• Large university events will be allowed and should have physical distancing measures.

More information is available on the university’s Bucs are Back webpage: www.etsu.edu/coronavirus.

ETSU will hold a Town Hall meeting at 1:30 p.m. on April 20 via Zoom to discuss its operating status for July 1 and the fall semester.

Noland said the university’s leadership team will work with the Strong Brain Institute to provide resources for faculty, staff and students struggling with the transition to a new operating phase.

“It is imperative to underscore that this transition is contingent on several factors, including the continued availability of vaccines, ongoing improvement in the number of cases, and individuals’ adherence to the safety measures that are in place,” Noland wrote.


Health-care
One new COVID-19 death, 138 new cases reported in Northeast Tennessee

The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report, for Wednesday, April 7:

Statewide

• Nine new deaths and 1,497 new cases.

• Pandemic totals are 11,976 deaths and 819,505 cases.

• 97% of total cases (794,716) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

Northeast Tennessee

• One new death (in Washington County) and 138 new cases for the eight-county region.

• New cases by county: 40 in Washington; 33 in Sullivan; 19 in Hawkins; 17 in Greene; 14 in Carter; 10 in Johnson; four in Unicoi; and one in Hancock.

• Active cases by county: 473 in Sullivan; 400 in Washington; 142 in Greene; 127 in Carter; 110 in Hawkins; 33 in Unicoi; 29 in Johnson; and nine in Hancock.

Positive rates

Statewide: 5.82% of the 17,977 new test results reported statewide on Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Ballad Health: As of Wednesday, 13.9% over the prior seven days for the health system’s 21-county service area.

Seven-day averages

Statewide: 1,095 average new cases over the past seven days (the number was 1,211 on March 7).

Sullivan County: 37 average new cases over the past seven days (the number was 30 on March 7).

The seven other counties of Northeast Tennessee: 83 average new cases over the past seven days (the number was 39 on March 7).

Vaccinations

Numbers of vaccine doses given by county, to date, in Northeast Tennessee, (and percentage of that county’s population who have completed doses required), according to the TDH website as updated on Friday:

Sullivan — 79,551 doses (20.37%)

Hawkins — 23,084 (15.87%)

Washington — 72,972 (21.55%)

Carter — 21,811 (15.34%)

Unicoi — 9,564 (21.26%)

Johnson — 6,591 (13.74%)

Greene — 31,156 (17.54%)

Hancock — 2,384 (14.87%)

(Population based on 2019 figures.)


Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus


Trucks kick up dust during practice Friday for the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. The event, set to take place Saturday, has been rescheduled for Sunday night due to weather.


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