EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Menominee Area Public School District (MAPS) will be joining in a lawsuit, along with several other school districts, for litigation that may be coming against a popular e-cigarette company.

During Monday’s MAPS Board of Education meeting, Interim Superintendent Pete Mayhew said that Juul, a well-known e-cigarette or vaping company, is being sued by Frantz Law Group, a California law firm with a background in representation of school districts. The suit alleges that Juul, as well as several other vaping companies, have been fraudulently and intentionally marketing their products to minors.

Thrun Law Firm, a Michigan based law firm that MAPS works with, has been asked by Frantz to gauge whether or not Michigan school districts are interested in joining the suit, according to a letter sent by Thrun to the Milan Area Schools Board of Education in Milan, Mich., in August.

The letter says that the suit seeks monetary compensation for damages incurred by schools for the “vaping epidemic” created by Juul and several other companies, splitting the damage into past and future categories.

For past damages, Thrun said schools will be seeking reimbursement for costs associated with the installation of vape detectors as well as state aid lost as a result of suspensions and expulsions related to vaping. For future damages, Thrun said the focus will be on obtaining compensation for schools involved in the suit to handle the issue going forward without taking money out of their general funds.

Mayhew said Frantz is operating on a contingency basis, meaning they will not be paid unless they win. “Thrun (Thrun Law, the law firm MAPS works with) is getting a finder’s fee, but also will not get paid unless they win the lawsuit,” he said, “so from our standpoint, the way I see it, there really is no risk of us incurring costs and losing money on this.”

If the school does join with the suit, there will be a questionnaire that will need to be filled out. “Then we’ll let the lawyers hash it out, and if we win there might be some money in it,” he said.

Board Vice-President Dawn Wesolowski said that, at one time, MAPS had considered purchasing vape detectors. Menominee High School Principal Drew Buyarski said he had spoken with Karianne Lesperance, the executive director for prevention services for the Healthy Youth Coalition, earlier this month about that. Buyarski said she had told him that she applied for a grant for that purpose, however the grant is still in the works.

“I don’t see a reason why not (join the suit),” Wesolowski said.

The board unanimously voted to join the lawsuit.

Similar cases have been brought against Juul in other states recently as well. According to CNBC, Juul was sued by the state of North Carolina in a similar case, agreeing to pay the state $40 million and alter their business practices in the state. The investigation for this suit began in 2018 and was announced in 2019. According to CNBC’s report, the judge in that case ruled that the company had destroyed documents, provided thousands of pages of irrelevant information and ignored several related court orders.

CNBC further reported that, under the agreement reached in this case, Juul cannot target its advertising to minors, use anyone in marketing materials under the age of 35 or pay for online influencers to promote their products. The settlement also places limits on the number of devices North Carolinians can buy in a month.