Tennessee Star Supreme Court Justice Series: Major Opinions by Justice Sharon Lee

As Tennesseans prepare to head to the polls on August 4, where they will vote on whether to retain the state’s five Supreme Court justices, The Tennessee Star has completed a profile on each justice currently sitting on the bench.

Last week, The Star profiled Justice Sharon Lee.

In 2020, Lee opined in the case of Jared Effler, Et Al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P. Et Al.

That case centered around whether pharmaceutical companies could be sued by district attorneys and residents of Tennessee – including minors who may have been exposed to drugs in the womb that affected them after birth – under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act, which “provides a cause of action against a knowing participant in the illegal drug market for injuries caused by illegal drug use.”

“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,” Lee’s opinion said.

A Baby Doe is a minor party to a lawsuit whose name has not been revealed.

The defendants in the case claimed that they could not be held liable under that act, and said that the law did not give district attorneys the right to sue pharmaceutical companies for such claims. They also argued that they could not be held liable under the act because they did not break the law.

A trial court first ruled in favor of the drug companies, and dismissed the case.

But on appeal, that decision was overturned, leading to the Tennessee Supreme Court taking the case.

Ultimately, the Court decided that district attorneys could not sue the drug companies, but that the Baby Doe plaintiffs could indeed sue those companies.

“We hold that the district attorneys lack standing because the Act does not name them as parties who can sue under the Act,” Lee wrote. “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.”

In recent years, the topic of holding drug companies liable for America’s opioid crisis has been hotly debated.

In March, Purdue Pharma, maker of addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin, reached a $6 billion settlement with the United States government after several lawsuits claiming that the prescription drug led to addiction and death of Americans.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Sharon Lee” by Justice Sharon Lee. Background Photo “Tennessee Supreme Court” by Thomas R. Machnitzki. CC BY 3.0.


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2 Thoughts to “Tennessee Star Supreme Court Justice Series: Major Opinions by Justice Sharon Lee”

  1. Sim

    Right on, 83ragtop50.

  2. 83ragtop50

    Vote against retention for all judges. Time to force real elections.