Trade groups fight subpoenas in Syngenta atrazine class action
Two trade groups representing the chemical and fertilizer industries in Illinois are fighting subpoenas issued in one of a series of class action cases over alleged water contamination by a popular weed killer.
The Chemical Industry Council of Illinois (CICI), the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Heartland Institute, V Fluence Interactive, and Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) both filed appearances and motions to quash subpoenas issued in the case of Holiday Shores Sanitation District et al vs. Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. et al July 13.
A potential expert witness, Dr. Don Coursey of the University of Chicago and the university itself have also filed a move to thwart a subpoenaed deposition.
Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder heard arguments on the motions Monday at an emergency hearing.
Crowder has taken the moves to quash under advisement.
Syngenta is one of a number of makers and distributors of the weed killer, atrazine, at the heart of a series of class actions filed in 2004.
Holiday Shores and several other named plaintiffs propose to lead a class of municipalities and other water providers against the companies, claiming atrazine runs off farm fields and contaminates drinking water supplies.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that atrazine is safe in drinking water up to three parts per billion, the plaintiffs contend that even smaller amounts can cause health issues in human beings.
Neither trade group is a party to any of the atrazine class actions.
Syngenta has moved to stay or dismiss the Madison County suits filed by Holiday Shores until a nearly identical federal class action case filed earlier this year by the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Stephen Tillery, has been resolved.
In that federal case, water providers in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and other states allege Syngenta's atrazine has contaminated their water supplies.
To date, the Madison County suits only contain plaintiffs from Illinois and no other states.
Crowder, who oversees the Madison County atrazine cases, has taken Syngenta's move for a dismissal or stay under advisement.
Holiday Shores opposes that move.
Holiday Shores issued the subpoenas to the two trade groups June 29.
In them, the plaintiffs demand the groups turn over documents related to Syngenta, documents related to the organization's staff, and documents related to atrazine.
The documents subpoenaed would include any raw data the organizations have about atrazine, reports about atrazine compiled by the groups and anything related to training the organization's staff may have received from Syngenta.
The plaintiffs are also seeking documents related to the Triazine Network, The Kansas Corn Growers Association, The Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association and Crop Life America.
The subpoenas also include calls for depositions to be given by Mark Biel and Jean Payne, the heads of the CICI and IFCA respectively.
In both motions to quash, the CICI and IFCA argue the scope of the subpoenas is overly broad.
The trade groups argue that the scope is "unduly burdensome to a non-party."
The groups also argue parts of the subpoenas are improper and that the subpoenas infringe upon the groups' guaranteed free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Crowder had previously denied a discovery request by Holiday Shores that sought to gain documents related to Syngenta's trade group activities, a move now cited by the two groups.
"Plaintiffs should not be able to obtain through a back door, i.e. [the CICI or IFCA], what it was not able to obtain through Syngenta's front door," the motions to quash read.
If Crowder does not grant the motions to quash, the groups ask that she in the alternative enter protective orders.
No date is set as yet for a hearing on the motions to quash according to the case's docket sheet.
Kurtis Reeg represents Syngenta in the Madison County case.
Edward Dwyer and Jennifer Martin of Hodge Dwyer & Driver of Springfield represent both the CICI and IFCA.
Daniel Donahue represents Coursey and the Heartland Institute.
Mary Lamb represents the University of Chicago.
V Fluence is represented by Larry Helper.
Christopher Byron represents the Farm Bureau.
The Syngenta atrazine case is Madison case number 04-L-710.
The atrazine cases are case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.
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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20460
The University of Chicago
5801 S Ellis Ave
Chicago, IL 60637