Crowder cancels atrazine hearings as she nears venue change ruling

Amelia Flood Apr. 14, 2010, 9:10am


Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder canceled a hearing set Wednesday in a series of proposed class action suits against the makers of a popular weed killer.

According to her order canceling the hearing, Crowder wanted more time to rule on moves by the defendants in the suit to split off the claims of seven joined lead plaintiffs.

That order resolving the venue issues has been entered, however a copy of it is not yet available in the case files.

Defendant Growmark had filed a motion to quash the April 14 hearing six days earlier asking that the judge decide the venue issues first.

The venue order, if it grants the defendants' request, would send the claims of the cities of Carlinville, Flora, Mattoon, Hillsboro, Litchfield, Mount Olive, and Fairfield back to their home counties.

Crowder heard motions on the venue change issues in late February.

The April 13 order canceled a hearing in which the judge would have heard arguments on two defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' second amended complaint.

Copies of those motions are not yet available in the case file. They were filed by Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. and United Agri-Products.

The seven cities have joined Holiday Shores Sanitation District, the original lead plaintiff, to sue the makers of atrazine, a common weed killer, alleging it runs off of farm fields and contaminates their drinking water supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that atrazine is safe in water up to three parts per billion.

The plaintiffs, however, contend that smaller amounts of the herbicide cause medical problems for humans.

In Crowder's April 13 order, she notes that there have been disagreements about whether she should hear arguments on the motions to dismiss before she decides the venue issues.

The defendants are seeking to spin off the seven cities from the proposed class actions, arguing that they must sue in their home counties because their claims stem from property damage that took place in those counties.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen Tillery, has disputed those arguments. The second amended complaint struck most of the property claims from the plaintiffs' cases.

Crowder goes on to write in her order that she is canceling the hearing so she can decide the venue issue.

"This Court is nearly finished with the venue ruling and chooses to take the afternoon of April 14 to complete the orders on venue," the order reads.

The order does not say when exactly Crowder will enter the venue orders.

The series of 2004 cases are in the initial discovery stages after several years of stagnation.

Crowder took over the cases in August 2009. They had been assigned to Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who has announced he will retire later this year.

Tillery represents the named plaintiffs and the proposed class.
The defendants and their representation are as follows:

Sipcam Agro USA is represented by Geoffrey Bryce.

Growmark and Dow are represented by Robert Shultz Jr. Growmark is a defendant in all of the suits.

Syngenta is represented by Kurtis Reeg.

United Agri-Products Inc. is represented by Reeg in a special limited appearance.

Drexel Chemical Company is represented by Daniel Cray.

Makhteshim-Agan of North America is represented by Russell Scott.

The atrazine cases are Madison case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.

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