Last Monday, the Chancery Court of Shelby county dismissed individual Shelby County commissioners as defendants in a lawsuit filed against the Shelby County Commission and individual commissioners by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who is trying to stop an opioid abuse lawsuit filed by the Shelby County Commission.
The Shelby County Commission explained the background in a press release issued on Friday, which said, in part:
On Thursday, November 2, Shelby County Commissioners announced that they hired Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a national law firm known for their expertise in filing lawsuits against opioid perpetrators, to file suit on behalf of the county against Big Pharma for their role in their opioid crisis.
In response, Mayor Luttrell filed a lawsuit demanding that they cease their actions with Napoli Shkolnik with a defense that only the county mayor has the authority to hire legal counsel to sue on behalf of the county.
The parties named in the suit were the Shelby County Board of Commissioners as a whole and their hired firm Napoli Skholnik, as well as each Commissioner individually.
The Chancery Court’s decision on Monday dismissed the suit against each individual Commissioner.
And while the Mayor’s suit will continue against both the County Commission as an elected body and their lawyers, Chairman Heidi Shafer says the lawsuit should have never called out each commissioner individually.
“The Mayor is well aware that elected officials must be protected by law so that they can best represent the people of their community,” says Chairman Heidi Shafer. “By calling us out individually, this was merely a bully tactic to try and stop us from doing our job to protect our citizens, and thus this issue was recognized as so and defeated by the courts.”
The Supreme Court explained the underlying rationale for immunity in Scheuer v. Rodes:
[T]he public interest requires decisions and actions to enforce laws for the protection of the public . . . . Public officials, whether governors, mayors or police, legislators or judges, who fail to make decisions when they are needed or who do not act to implement decisions when they are made do not fully and faithfully perform the duties of their offices. Implicit in the idea that officials have some immunity— absolute or qualified —for their acts, is a recognition that they may err. The concept of immunity assumes this and goes on to assume that it is better to risk some error and possible injury from such error than not to decide or act at all.
Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237 (1974)
“The Mayor’s actions against the individual Commissioners has failed, and we now hope that these sorts of distraction tactics will cease so that we can move forward with doing what we were elected to do: protect our people,” says Chairman Shafer. “Our main goal is to stop the major offending pharmaceutical companies, prescribers and distributors who are fueling this epidemic and costing Shelby County in human lives and tax payer dollars.”
On Wednesday, two days after the favorable Chancery Court ruling, the Shelby County Commission voted to “override vetoes by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell of two resolutions passed by the commission earlier this month,” The Tennessee Star reported:
One resolution officially confirmed Commission chairwoman’ Heidi Shafer’s hiring of an out-of-state law firm to file an opioid abuse lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors on behalf of the county.
The second resolution “instructed the mayor to stop suing the commission in Chancery Court for control of the lawsuit; and approved the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the commissioners’ legal defense against the mayor’s lawsuit,” the Commercial Appeal reported.