Federal court denies motions to quash U of C professor's depositions in atrazine case

Amelia Flood Mar. 9, 2011, 10:00am


A University of Chicago professor whose role as an expert witness is central to discovery disputes in two proposed atrazine class actions says he will comply with discovery requests.

Don Coursey had filed motions in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on March 2 to quash or stay discovery requests served by the City of Greenville, Ill. in its proposed class action against Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. and Syngenta AG.

He claimed that Greenville's requests would impinge on his attorney/client privilege rights as related to Syngenta.

Coursey also pled that his teaching schedule was reason for delay in a deposition Greenville wants to take.

Syngenta also filed a motion to quash Coursey's deposition.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert, who presides over the case, denied the motions March 2.

Gilbert called Coursey's concerns about the scope of discovery directed at him "not well-supported."

Greenville proposes to lead a multi-state class of water providers against the Syngenta defendants over alleged water contamination caused by their chemical atrazine.

Atrazine is a common weed killer used by farmers.

The federal suit is nearly identical to a series of proposed class actions filed seven years ago in Madison County.

Those suits, spearheaded by lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District, allege that atrazine runs off farm fields and contaminates drinking water supplies that the plaintiffs must then remediate.

Syngenta is one of the companies named as defendants in those cases.

In Madison County, the Syngenta case is only one of the set that has
progressed into full-fledged discovery.

Coursey's role as an expert witness retained by Syngenta is also under scrutiny there.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge is set to hold an evidentiary hearing March 18 to determine when Coursey was actually hired by Syngenta as an expert and what parts of his work, if any, are privileged.

The hearing comes in response to a move by Holiday Shores for sanctions against Syngenta.

The plaintiffs allege that Syngenta intentionally misled them and the court about when Coursey was hired as an expert witness.

Statements made by attorneys Stephen Tillery for Holiday Shores and Kurtis Reeg for Syngenta at a hearing on the matter last month indicate that while originally Coursey was thought to have been hired in 2006, he was not hired until 2009.

Tillery represents the plaintiffs in the federal and Madison County cases.

Reeg represents Syngenta in both cases.

C. Raymond Bell represents Coursey.

The 2010 federal case is case number 10-188-JPG-PMF.

The 2004 Madison County class action where Coursey's role in the suit is at issue is Madison case number 04-L-710.

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