Declaring that the sale and distribution of illegal drugs affects every community in the country, the Tennessee Legislature enacted the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-38-101 to -116. This Act provides a cause of action against a knowing participant in the illegal drug market for injuries caused by illegal drug use. In response to the opioid epidemic in East Tennessee, seven District Attorneys General and two Baby Doe plaintiffs sued several drug companies under the Act. The District Attorneys and the Baby Doe plaintiffs alleged that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market by intentionally flooding East Tennessee communities with prescription opioid medications, leading to widespread addiction and diversion of the opioids into the black market. The District Attorneys claimed that the opioid epidemic had damaged the communities in their districts, and the Baby Doe plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by exposure to opioids in utero. The drug companies moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the pleadings. Their two-fold challenge asserted that the Act did not authorize the District Attorneys to sue for damages and that the Act did not apply to the drug companies’ conduct. The trial court ruled that the Act did not apply and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed. The issues we decide are whether the District Attorneys had statutory standing to sue under the Act and whether the Act applies to the drug companies based on factual allegations in the complaint that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market. We hold that the District Attorneys lack standing because the Act does not name them as parties who can sue under the Act. This leaves the Baby Doe plaintiffs, who alleged facts showing that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market by facilitating the marketing or distribution of opioids. Taking these factual allegations as true, as required at this stage of the case, we hold that the Baby Doe plaintiffs have stated a claim against the drug companies under the Act.
Case Number: E2018-01994-SC-R11-CV
Originating Judge: Judge John D. McAfee
Case Name: Jared Effler, Et Al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P. Et Al.
Dissent or Concur: No
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