Syngenta pushes back on sealed documents issue in federal atrazine class action

Amelia Flood May 19, 2011, 1:51am



Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. agrees that some documents plaintiffs filed under seal in a proposed federal class action over alleged water contamination should never have been sealed.

But in a response brief, the company insists some things filed under seal by the City of Greenville should stay out of the public eye.

"Syngenta has a very real concern that Plaintiff's excessive and unnecessary filing of documents under seal was a premeditated scheme designed to exert pressure on Syngenta by pressuring the Court to unseal the court file, and thereby disclose Syngenta's confidential information to the public," the response reads.

The issue arises in a suit brought by Greenville that, if certified, could include a multi-state class of cities and water providers contending they paid to remediate water contamination caused by weed killer atrazine made by Syngenta.

Greenville is represented by Stephen Tillery. Kurt Reeg represents Syngenta.

The suit was filed last year in U.S. District for the Southern District of Illinois.

It is nearly identical to six Madison County class actions filed by the Holiday Shores Sanitary District seven years ago. One of the Holiday Shores suits also finds Syngenta at the defense table.

None of the suits have been certified to date.

A settlement conference earlier this year in the Greenville case did not result in a settlement.

The federal court entered the order to show cause against Syngenta April 19.

In that order, the federal court asked for reasons why documents currently sealed in the case should not be unsealed.

The plaintiffs had asked for the order and two environmental groups, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Prairie Rivers Network, also filed moves to unseal certain documents in the suit.

Syngenta argues in its response to the order filed May 13 that it does not object to unsealing a number of documents.

It contends that many documents that are currently sealed were not designated confidential by the plaintiffs and that others that are sealed aren't referenced in briefs.
Other documents, the defendant claims, are duplicates of others already in the case file.

"The Court's frustration with the size and content of documents filed under seal is well-founded," the response reads. "More frustrating is that this situation could have been avoided had Plaintiffs acted in good faith. By filing under seal documents that were not designated confidential, were duplicative, or were not even cited or referenced in any filing, Plaintiffs have wasted the Court's and Defendant's time and resources."

Syngenta goes on to cite U.S. District Court Judge J. Phil Gilbert's April 19 order that indicates the judge finds sealing items such as a press release to be "hogwash."

The company goes on to list "hogwash" as another press release, public documents such as Syngenta SEC filings, printouts of its Web site and Syngenta employee's "LinkedIn" Web page.

The defendant also questions what reason their counterparts could have for filing such things under seal in the first place.

The company asks the court to strike and remove the duplicative items and to keep those items already designated confidential under seal except certain items Syngenta has reviewed and would agree to make public.

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

The Madison County case also currently pending is case number 04-L-710.

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