Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr has dropped his “toxic mold spores” lawsuit against the county and the Public Building Authority, he confirmed to WBIR 10News on Thursday.
The move comes after Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Ailor ruled that Arnett could not sue in his official capacity as an elected official, but could as an individual. That means Arnett – and not the taxpayers – would have to cover his attorney fees.
In his order, filed July 14, Ailor notes that neither the state nor the county charter gives the county clerk, or any elected officeholder, the authority to pursue such a lawsuit against the county.
“Thus, the Knox County Clerk may not sue the PBA because that would be Knox county suing Knox County,” Ailor wrote. “Moreover, if the claims by Foster D. Arnett Jr. in his official capacity were allowed to proceed, the court notes that no matter the outcome of the case, the Knox County taxpayer would be the loser. If the plaintiff won, defendant PBA would use Knox County taxpayer money to pay the judgment. Additionally, if the defendant won, Knox County taxpayer money would pay the Knox County Clerk’s attorneys’ fees.”
Ailor also ruled that Arnett – because he can’t sue in his official capacity – cannot use money from the county’s general fund or his own office to pay his attorney fees.
Arnett told 10News that he "respects the judge's opinion" and opted not to further pursue the matter.
Arnett in February 2015 filed the lawsuit after, he said, the PBA failed to remove “toxic mold spores” form the Old Courthouse where he works. Arnett said the mold cause his health to deteriorate.
The PBA argued that he didn’t lack the authority to sue the county in his official capacity as the clerk.
Since filing the lawsuit, Arnett has worked out of his Cedar Bluff satellite office.