Shelby County Commission Overrides Mayor Luttrell’s Veto of Opioid Lawsuit

The Shelby County Commission voted on Wednesday to override vetoes by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell of two resolutions passed by the commission earlier this month.

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.

“The Shelby County Commission and Shelby County sued several pharmaceutical companies in Shelby County Circuit Court on Thursday, alleging illegal abuse in their manufacture, sale, and distribution of opioids,” The Tennessee Star reported on November 6:

“It’s not just the drug companies. It’s also the distributors, including pharmacies and the doctors writing the prescription that are being sued,” Heidi Shafer, chairman of the Shelby County Commission tells The Tennessee Star in an exclusive interview.

“The lawsuit is very narrowly tailored only to go after those who are abusing,” Shafer adds.

“About 80 counties around the country are already suing the companies involved in opioid abuse,” Shafer says.

“Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is now suing all thirteen Shelby County Commissioners to stop the opioid abuse lawsuit they filed earlier this month,” The Star reported on November 14, adding:

But on Monday, the Shelby County Commission hit back, and voted “to direct Mayor Mark Luttrell to drop a lawsuit against its chairwoman over who controls an opioid lawsuit against Big Pharma,” the Commercial Appeal reported.

“It’s a blatant bully tactic to try to scare commissioners into believing that they don’t have the right to vote and act as a check and balance on the executive branch,” Shelby County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer told The Tennesssee Star in an exclusive interview late Monday.

“A Tennessee chancery court judge ruled on Tuesday that the opioid abuse lawsuit filed by the Shelby County Commission earlier this month against several pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and distributors can proceed, but gave Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell until the end of the year to intervene,” The Star reported on November 15.

The vote to override Mayor Luttrell’s vetoes of the two commission resolutions on Wednesday was 8 to 5 in each case.

Mayor Luttrell was also called out for an apparent misstatement he made earlier this month about the existence of a task force he had previously said he had organized.

On November 15, Luttrell issued this statement:

“Our Opioid Task Force has met for months, led by Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter.

The task force has worked in tandem with the Shelby County Attorney’s office which has been exploring mediation or litigation options against those allegedly contributing to the opioid epidemic in Shelby County.

We welcome any commissioner to be part of this task force as we work on a comprehensive approach to this growing public health issue.”

“We asked for minutes of meetings of this ‘Opioid Task Force’ and members and dates of meetings and that’s when they said, well, it’s really only a ‘work group’ consisting of members of the [Shelby County] administration who met informally, so no records of meetings were kept,” Shelby County Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer told The Star in an exclusive interview.

“Mr. Luttrell just needs to do the right thing and move forward on this critical issue,” Shafer added.

“Had he done the right thing in the beginning, this would never even be an issue. People are dying every single day right her because an opioid overdose is resulting from prescription opioids. Every day that we delay, we are not taking care of the people’s business,” she concluded.

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