LEXINGTON, Miss. – With one and a half million asbestos claims fading into twilight on the East Coast, a defendant seeks accountability in Mississippi from lawyers, doctors and hustlers who manufactured the claims.
National Service Industries sued X-ray dealer N&M Inc. and five individuals in Holmes County circuit court on Feb. 9, under federal racketeering law.
Marcy Croft of Jackson alleged that Molly Netherland and Charlie Mason of N&M conspired with West Virginia radiologist Ray Harron and son Andrew Harron to falsify claims.
"Defendants engaged in this unlawful scheme for the purpose of monetary gain by creating fraudulent medical documentation to make the individuals that they recruited and 'screened' appear to suffer from asbestos related disease," she wrote.
"NSI paid millions of dollars to settle asbestos related injury claims of malignant and non-malignant lung disease that were supported by defendants' false medical evidence," she wrote.
NSI also sued Christopher Taylor, alleging he rounded up prospective plaintiffs.
Croft wrote that NSI would add claims against law firms, and she reserved docket space for 20 John Does.
She wrote that the conspiracy "targeted populations of current and former industrial and construction workers with the sole purpose of generating a phenomenal volume of potential claimants as clients."
Croft brings momentum home from Philadelphia, where defendants have suddenly speeded up America's biggest asbestos docket.
At federal court, in proceedings that involve claims from all around the nation, Croft and others moved last year to dismiss every claim that lacked basic information.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno denied a blanket order but promised hearings if defendants told him exactly which claims they would dismiss.
Robreno has started enforcing a rule of "one plaintiff, one claim," treating a suit with 100 defendants as 100 separate suits.
The policy would separate claims from 58,625 lawsuits into 3,291,465 claims, if each plaintiff presented a claim against each company.
That hasn't happened, according to Croft and her associates at Forman Perry Watkins Krutz and Tardy in Jackson.
Walter Watkins Jr. of Forman Perry, representing many defendants, wrote in December that 1,711,238 submissions complied at least partially with the rule.
"Thus, over 1,500,000 individual actions remain pending on the court's docket wherein the plaintiffs have failed to fulfill their obligations," Watkins wrote.
Robreno has set 12 hearings from April to June on motions to dismiss the claims.
Meanwhile, his court runs at top speed in two other directions.
Magistrate Thomas Rueter has set ten hearings in April to assess qualifications of plaintiff experts, and other magistrates supervise constant settlement conferences.
The court's website announces an "aggressive, pro active policy" on settlements.
As the litigation mountain crumbles, National Service Industries aims to expose the process that raised it.
Croft's Mississippi complaint stated, "Defendants spent more than $1.5 million aggressively marketing the screening services to their law firm and attorney 'customers' and on mass advertisements soliciting individual subjects for screening."
"The screenings were all about the money for defendants and the law firm customers who paid them and not about providing health care," she wrote.
"Defendants did not consider the individuals they screened as patients but instead as inventory," she wrote.
"There was no physician-patient privilege and no rendering of medical treatment to those individuals," she wrote.
Law firms inundated defendants with claims against multiple defendants, she wrote.
"This scheme often had the effect of extracting mass nuisance value settlements from asbestos litigation defendants, such as plaintiff NSI, as opposed to what would occur in 'traditional' single case tort litigation," she wrote.
Lawyers "became enormously wealthy, with many individual attorneys becoming multi millionaires," she wrote.
Defendants deviated from universal medical standards, she wrote.
"Defendants generated false X-ray reads, false test results, false medical reports and false diagnoses," she wrote.
She wrote that in 1990 or 1991, Pascagoula chiropractor Harry Netherland provided wife Molly Netherland with office space and equipment to shoot X-rays.
Netherland, Mason and Ray Harron incorporated N&M in 1996, she wrote.
In nine years, she wrote, N&M screened 45,000 persons and grossed $25 million.
Mason lacked medical training but administered breathing tests, she wrote.
Netherland operated a company that shot chest X-rays but lacked qualifications to shoot them or supervise others who shot them, she wrote.
Ray Harron directed secretaries to affix his signature to X-ray reports he rarely or never reviewed, she wrote.
She wrote that Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, California, Florida and New Mexico have revoked or suspended Harron's medical licenses.
She wrote that in Congressional hearings and depositions Harron has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself.
She identified Andrew Harron as a Wisconsin osteopath who, like his father, pleaded the Fifth Amendment before Congress and in a deposition.
She wrote that N&M charged law firms $30 to $75 for an X-ray and $300 to $800 for a full evaluation that followed if someone declared the X-ray positive.
Some firms paid only for positive diagnoses, she wrote.
She wrote that according to the U.S. Fifth Circuit appeals court, Mississippi courts have concurrent jurisdiction of civil claims under federal racketeering law.
"At least 4,000 claims, including hundreds of claims involving defendants, were filed in Holmes County naming NSI as a defendant," she wrote.
Holmes County Circuit Judge Jannie Lewis will preside over the NSI case.