Environmental groups file to unseal documents in federal atrazine class action against Syngenta

Amelia Flood Apr. 6, 2011, 9:55am


Two environmental groups are moving to vacate an order sealing documents in a federal suit against the leading maker of the weed killer atrazine.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and Prairie Rivers Network (ELPC/PRN) asked U.S. District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert to vacate a protective order covering documents in a dispute between lead plaintiff the City of Greenville, Ill. and Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. and Syngenta AG.

The City of Greenville proposes to lead a multi-state class of water providers and municipalities.

Greenville alleges that atrazine made by the Syngenta defendants runs off farm fields and contaminates water supplies that the plaintiffs must then remediate.

Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. is also embroiled in a class action filed seven years ago in Madison County on nearly identical claims.

That suit, filed by lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District, is one of six proposed Illinois-centered class actions related to atrazine.

The Madison County Syngenta case is currently bogged down in discovery disputes with another hearing set in May.

Neither the Madison County suits nor the federal Greenville case have seen classes certified to date.

The Greenville case had been set for a settlement conference April 11.

In the April 4 filing, the two environmental groups ask that Gilbert unseal exhibits related to Syngenta AG's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Discovery on that matter has been ongoing since June 29, 2010 with Federal Magistrate Phillip Frazier ordering the parties to research the issue and the relationship between Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. and the Switzerland-based Syngenta AG.

A protective order covering that discovery was entered in October 2010.

It designated that discovery was "confidential."

Several motions related to the matter were filed under seal throughout the rest of last year.

The ELPC and PRN argue that the information covered by the information it seeks is not covered by exemptions to the public access of judicial records.

It cites court opinions that have found that judicial records and proceedings are matters conducted in public.

They argue that the defendants have not shown good cause as to why the documents should remain sealed.

The groups claim the October 2010 protective order is too broad and is defective because it does not provide a specific way for third-parties to challenge the sealing of the documents.

"A protective order may not be used as an end-run around the requirement that good cause be shown in order to seal portions of the judicial record," the filing reads.

Howard Learner, Jennifer L. Cassel, and Albert Ettinger represent the ELPC and PRN.

Stephen Tillery represents the plaintiffs.

Kurtis Reeg represents Syngenta.

Both attorneys represent the parties at odds in the Madison County suits led by Holiday Shores.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge oversees the Madison County suits.

The federal case is case number 10-cv-188-JPG-PMF

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