The Cumberland County Board of Education wants more information before it decides to join a class action lawsuit against vape manufacturer JUUL Labs.

BOE Attorney Earl Patton received communication from an attorney representing more than 100 school districts in 22 states seeking compensation for harm suffered in dealing with vaping on campus and for resources to combat the issue in the future.

“I felt like the board needed to know about it,” Patton told the board during its Dec. 3 meeting. “If the board desires, I will look further into it.”

The Frantz Law Group with offices in California and Hawaii is leading the litigation against the e-cigarette manufacturer. They are taking the case on a contingency fee basis, meaning they receive no money unless there is a monetary settlement in the case. 

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, questioned if the school system could join the suit since vaping had never been permitted on its campuses.

Patton said he didn’t believe that would a requirement of joining the suit.

“Not a lot of schools have allowed that,” he said.

Patton said the suit was seeking funds to benefit schools in education and prevention efforts. 

Karge said, “I don’t think it does us any harm to get more information. Let’s at least see what’s what.”

She moved to direct Patton to investigate the suit and report back to the board in January. Chris King, 6th District representative, supported the motion.

The motion passed 6-1. Voting in favor were Tony Brock, 5th District representative; Jim Inman, 1st District representative; Rob Safdie, 2nd District representative; Shirley Parris, 3rd District representative; Karge; and King.

Voting against was Anita Hale, 4th District representative.

Becky Hamby, 7th District representative, passed, stating she did not have enough information to make a determination.

Safdie and Parris initially passed but changed their vote to yes. Parris said, “It’s just information, so sure.”

JUUL has come under fire in multiple states for deceptive marketing practices. The Washington State Attorney General filed a suit in September claiming the company targeted underage consumers.

The Centers for Disease Control has warned of serious lung injuries and illnesses connected to vaping, which are a nicotine product. 

Patton reported a court date had been set for Dec. 15 in the school system’s suit against Pigeon Forge Hotels, LLC. However, he has not been able to serve the business notice of the suit.

“My understanding today is that has still not been served,” he told the board. “In all likelihood, that court date is going to be continued until we have actual service on the registered agent.”

The FFA Chapters at both Stone Memorial High School and Cumberland County High School paid about $6,000 to the company to reserve hotel rooms to attend the annual Tennessee FFA Convention scheduled in March 2020 in Gatlinburg. The event was canceled as concerns grew about the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation.

The clubs were unable to recoup the funds paid. The rooms were secured using federal funds as part of the career and technical education budget. Because the trip was not taken, the funds had to be repaid, compounding the school system’s loss.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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