Chinese government issued summons in Mississippi COVID-19 lawsuit

Lynn Fitch
Lynn Fitch(Lynn Fitch)
Updated: Dec. 28, 2020 at 2:09 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Mississippi court issues summonses in the state’s lawsuit against the People’s Republic of China.

In May, Attorney General Lynn Fitch, in her capacity representing the state, filed suit against the nation and other parties seeking recovery “for the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil experienced by all Mississippians from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

On December 9, the court issued summonses to the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party of China, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Ministry of Emergency Management, its Ministry of Civil Affairs, the government of the Hubei Province, and the government of Wuhan City.

Summonses were also issued for the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to court records.

The summonses give the entities 21 days to respond.

If the entities fail to respond, the district court notifies them that “judgment by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in the complaint.”

The news comes as the virus continues to ravage the United States and Mississippi.

As of Monday, more than 208,000 people in the state have been infected by the virus, including 4,634 people who died.

On December 24, the state matched its daily record for new hospitalizations for COVID-19, according to a tweet from Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer.

The state’s suit alleges that the Chinese government allowed the virus to spread and then attempted to cover up the outbreak after it began.

Attorneys for the state cite media reports indicating that some five million people were allowed to leave the Wuhan province to celebrate the Lunar New Year, all without being tested.

Meanwhile, court records point to numerous efforts to censor information about the virus, including that “Chinese authorities … did not publicly confirm the outbreak as originating from a novel coronavirus until January 9, 2020.”

Fitch argues that the defendants’ actions allowed “COVID-19 (to) spread rapidly across the world, and as of May 2, 2020, the CDC reports 1,092,815 confirmed cases in the United States and 64,283 deaths.”

As of Monday, 18,909,910 cases have been reported across the country, as have 330,901 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fitch also points to the economic impact of the virus.

“In addition to the toll on human life and health, the pandemic has caused enormous economic disruptions across the United States and in Mississippi, with over 30 million American jobs lost in less than two months and over 203,000 Mississippians filing jobless claims between March 15, 2020, and April 25, 2020.”

In November, Fitch’s office asked for additional time to serve process, citing the international nature of the case and the need to handle other COVID-19 related matters locally.

For parties that cannot be served through the United States’ diplomatic channels, they must be served through the Hague Convention in the Netherlands, court records indicate.

“The complete procedure for service of process via the Hague Convention takes approximately 16 weeks or longer,” the motion states.

The Hague Convention is located in the Netherlands and was established in 1964 to serve international process, according to the American Bar Association.

That process aside, Fitch said that since filing the state’s complaint, her office has been “inundated with COVID-related complaints and issues, including but not limited to price-gouging.”

“Our attorneys have strived to meet their caseloads and the needs of Mississippi consumers in this extraordinary time.”

Fitch also is seeking relief for China’s actions regarding personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Among concerns, she argues that the country not only hoarded materials but shipped defective materials elsewhere.

Fitch says the actions violate the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act and the state’s antitrust laws.

The state is seeking all restitution authorized by law.

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