Tennessee bows out of whistleblower lawsuit

By John O'Brien | Feb 16, 2011


LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has made his state the second to drop out of a whistleblower lawsuit against pipemaker JM Eagle.

Four states originally decided to intervene in the case, which JM Eagle has claimed is meritless. Tuesday, Cooper's office notified U.S. District Judge George Wu that it would like to withdraw its notice of intervention, filed in December 2009.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden had his state withdraw from the case in October.

"The decision to decline is not a reflection of the merits of the case, and Tennessee expects the Relator to proceed with the action under Tennessee Code," Cooper's notice said.

When Biden withdrew Delaware from the case, his office said it believed there was evidence to support the whistleblower's allegation but that the State lacked the resources to maintain its status as an intervenor.

Nevada and Virginia are left as the only states intervening in the lawsuit. Eleven, plus the District of Columbia, were given the option when it was filed. Illinois, New York, New Mexico and D.C. have until March 4 to decide.

The law firm Phillips & Cohen is representing whistleblower John Hendrix, who was an engineer for J-M Manufacturing's product assurance division in New Jersey. J-M was JM Eagle's corporate predeccessor.

Hendrix was fired less than two weeks after writing a memo that said the pipes tensile strength was substandard, Phillips & Cohen said.

JM Eagle attorney Lanny Davis has said that none of the states put much time into investigating the claims. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto was the only attorney general with whom the company interacted.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Biden, has said the state has experienced "no known failures of the pipe."

Among the notables that declined to intervene were California and the federal government.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents and conducted what attorney Lanny Davis called a "mini-trial" in which expert testimony was given.

"I'd never seen that before," said Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton. "At the very end of the process, they sent in people to take samples of the pipes, going over several years.

"They told us they were going to test the pipe, then we didn't hear from them anymore."

A hearing on JM Eagle's motion to dismiss is scheduled for March 31.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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