Apex and Sinclair settle Hartford suits for $4 million; Attorneys to share $1.3 million in fees

Steve Korris Jan. 13, 2011, 8:10am


Apex and Sinclair, the last oil companies defending claims that refinery operations contaminated groundwater in the village of Hartford, agreed to settle for $4 million.

Former Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack granted preliminary approval to the agreement on Dec. 1, in his final week before retiring.

BP, Shell, Equilon and Premcor previously settled claims that refinery operations created an underground petroleum lake that released harmful vapors when rain fell.

Defendants other than oil companies remain in the case, but lawyers for Marathon Pipeline and Explorer Pipeline told Stack the deal includes dismissing their clients.

Stack told them he couldn't dismiss them, advising them to wait for a fairness hearing that his successor, Circuit Judge William Mudge, plans to hold on April 28.

Apex and Sinclair agreed to contribute about $1.6 million for property damage and about $1 million for loss of enjoyment and loss of use.

Mark Goldenberg's firm in Edwardsville and two Missouri firms will share up to $1,333,333 in legal fees.

The settlement involves two class actions, Hopkins from 2003 and Abert from 2004.

Earlier settlements came up first at Stack's hearing, with Norman Siegel of Kansas City asking Stack to close their administration and remove any excess funds.

Siegel said $30,000 was outstanding in the first case and $86,000 in the second.

"These are tiny percentages of the overall 16 million and 19 and a half million fund," he said.

Siegel continued reviewing settlements, but Clark Cole of St. Louis interrupted him for Explorer Pipeline.

Cole said, "What case? Excuse me?"

Siegel said, "Well, it's in Hopkins and the Abert case and the second case, Hopkins, their case with BP, in that case, as described in our motion."

Then he brought up the settlement with Apex and Sinclair, telling Stack they modeled it closely on previous ones he approved.

As he handed Stack an implementation schedule, Marathon Pipeline lawyer Mike Maher of Chicago interrupted.

"We haven't seen any of these documents," he said, and he entered an objection.

Cole said Explorer objected with respect to notice.

"We are a party to the Abert case and not the Hopkins case," he said.

Goldenberg said, "This really is technically just a settlement in the Hopkins case.

"To the extent that the Abert plaintiffs, all of whom are members of the Hopkins class, this resolves their claim as a consequence of the settlement in the Hopkins case, but it's really not, I don't think, technically an Abert order.

"The Abert case continues. It just settles all of the claims of the Abert plaintiffs as to these two defendants."

For Sinclair, Bernard Ysursa of Belleville said he wanted to make sure Marathon, Explorer or anyone else didn't sue Sinclair.

"This whole settlement is contingent upon there being a good faith finding and we get our contribution protection," he said.

Stack said, "If there is a good faith finding, I don't know what cause of action they might have against you."

Ysursa said, "The problem with a good faith finding is, you have to give notice to the other parties. They're saying they didn't get notice.

"It's fundamental, it's not in good faith if the other parties don't have notice."

Stack said, "Well, they're here."

Ysursa said, "But there may be others who are not here."

For Apex, William Knapp of Edwardsville said he was sure all defendants would get more than adequate notice of the good faith hearing.

Cole said there is already a set of contribution claims among all third party defendants.

"It is my understanding for quite some time that when the Sinclair and Apex pieces of the Abert settlement came into the puzzle, as is happening today with the announcement of this settlement, that the pipeline defendants would be dismissed," Cole said.

"Mr. Goldenberg has announced today that he says the Abert case is going to continue against the pipeline defendants."

"That is the first we have heard of that."

He said they should be dismissed so the whole litigation can be wrapped up.

Stack said, "I would love to finally approve it today but unfortunately, it can't be done that way."

Knapp said Apex settled out of Abert years ago and the settlement was found to be in good faith.

Stack said, "I have been intimately involved in the negotiations of this settlement, and probably more than I have in any other case ever.

"Even though I can't make that finding at this point, I know this is in good faith.

"I know how hard it was to arrive at this settlement."

Siegel practices at Stueve Siegel Hanson in Kansas City.

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