Syngenta opposes environmental groups' intervention in federal atrazine class action

Amelia Flood May 4, 2011, 2:30am


The defendant fighting a proposed federal class action over alleged water contamination caused by the weed killer atrazine contends that it has "serious doubts" about why two environmental groups are asking to intervene in the suit brought by the City of Greenville, Ill. and to unseal documents in the case.

Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. filed its opposition to the intervention move filed jointly by the Environmental Law & Policy Center of Chicago and the Prairie Rivers Network (ELPC/PRN) April 21.

A week later, the two environmental groups filed their response to that opposition, arguing that Syngenta is telling "fanciful stories" alleging they have colluded with the plaintiffs. The response also claims Syngenta has not made its case to deny the ELPC/PRN motion.

The federal case filed by Greenville involves what could be a multi-state class of water providers who contend that atrazine runs off farm fields into drinking water supplies that the plaintiffs must then remediate.

The allegations are virtually identical to a series of suits filed against Syngenta and other makers and distributors of atrazine in 2004 in Madison County on behalf of Holiday Shores Sanitary District.

Stephen Tillery and Christie Deaton represent the plaintiffs and Kurtis Reeg represents Syngenta in both matters.

The Syngenta case has advanced the furthest to date in Madison County with discovery proceedings despite a series of disputes.

Most recently, Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge ordered Syngenta to turn over documents related to work done on its behalf by a Chicago public relations firm.

The judge also canceled a May 6 hearing.

Neither the Madison County nor the federal Syngenta class actions have been certified to date.

Discovery has been proceeding in the federal case.

A settlement conference last month did not result in the end of the suit.

The environmental groups filed to intervene in the case March 31.

The ELPC/PRN asked that the court unseal certain documents that had been designated as privileged.

The court then went on to enter an order to show cause that mandates Syngenta state why the documents should stay sealed. That order was entered April 19.

Syngenta disputes the ELPC/PRN's right to intercede in the suit.

The company argues that the issue of unsealing the documents was already before the court and parties before the environmental groups' motion to intervene was filed.

It argues the groups haven't made their stake in the issue clear.

"Further, ELPC/PRN have not provided sufficient facts to justify their intervention on behalf of their members who use water in Illinois; and who have an interest in learning about 'the potential effects of atrazine on those waters,' especially when facts in the record raise serious doubts about their true purposes for seeking intervention," Syngenta argues.

The defendant alleges that the publication of the documents could create undue prejudice.

"Here, there is the possibility that the proposed interveners are not acting on behalf of the public interest, as they assert, but as a shill for Plaintiffs."

Syngenta points to the timing of the intervention motion. It was filed on the same day that the federal court denied a Greenville motion to unseal certain documents.

It also disputes two affidavits supplied in support of the ELPC/PRN motion to intervene signed by Sarah Wochos and Glynnis Collins.

"These 'members,' however, are really officials of ELPC and PRN," Syngenta contends in the April 21 opposition motion. It states that Wochos is employed by the ELPC as a policy advocate while Collins is named as the executive director the PRN.

"ELPC/PRN have presented no facts whatsoever that any member of the public, as opposed to these two specific environmental groups, has any interest in this litigation."

The ELPC/PRN deny the defendants' claims in their April 28 response.

"ELPC and Prairie Rivers are positioned differently here than both the Plaintiffs and Defendants, who are primarily focused on the merits of the underlying case," the response reads. "By contrast, ELPC and Prairie Rivers seek intervention for the limited and sole purpose of advancing the right of public access to judicial documents, as recognized in the Court's Order to Show Cause."

It also seeks to clear up what it calls Syngenta's "meritless" allegations about its role in the suit.

"Syngenta's fanciful story of how ELPC and Prairie rivers somehow joined with the Plaintiffs to attempt to somehow circumvent one of Magistrate Judge Frazier's Orders is absurd."

The groups call attention to their years of efforts to publicize pollution it claims is caused by atrazine and other pesticides.

They also argue there was no way they could know that Frazier would enter the order to show cause when he did.

"Syngenta's remaining accusations make no sense," the ELPC/PRN writes. "For example, ELPC and Prairie Rivers could not have known that Magistrate Judge Frazier would deny the Plaintiffs' Motion to Re-Designate Documents Under the Protective Order on the same day they moved to intervene because the Court's Order . . . was entered into the docket after ELPC's and Prairie Rivers' Motion to Intervene."

They argue that Syngenta has not made a case for denying the motion to intervene.

Howard Learner represents the ELPC/PRN.

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

The 2004 Madison County case against Syngenta is case number 04-L-710.

More News