Syngenta settles atrazine claims for $105 million; Tillery to get share of $34.9 million in fees

Ann Maher May 24, 2012, 8:00pm



EAST ST. LOUIS - Syngenta Crop Protection and Syngenta AG have agreed to a $105 million settlement to resolve claims of water providers over the weedkiller atrazine.

Plaintiff attorneys will share approximately $34.9 million in fees, according to the settlement agreement filed late at night Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery originated the litigation in 2004 in Madison County Circuit Court by filing six separate class action suits against various manufacturers of atrazine - one of the most commonly used herbicides in agriculture.

The case involving Syngenta in Madison County grew to include many municipalities and water providers in southern Illinois.

Tillery sued in federal court in 2010 on behalf of the city of Greenville and various providers in six Midwestern states.

"After years of litigation, the parties agreed to settle these lawsuits in order to avoid further business uncertainty and expense of protracted litigation," the company said in a prepared statement.

"Syngenta acknowledges no liability. And, despite almost eight years of litigation, the water systems involved were never able to come up with any new scientific studies relating to the safety of atrazine."

The federal court settlement is expected to stay litigation at Madison County presided over by Circuit Judge William Mudge.

"The proposed settlement would put an end to the expense, inconvenience and distraction of further litigation while providing significant monetary relief to the proposed class in the form of $105,000,000.00, in exchange for a release that resolves the Plaintiffs' claims related to the presence of atrazine in their water, without interfering with the jurisdiction of any regulatory agency, and preserving any claims arising from a point-source contamination and for indemnity, contribution among joint tortfeasers or apportionment of liability or fault, with respect to any claim against a Releasing Party, arising from the consumption of the Releasing Parties' Water, that is not a claim for property damage or economic loss," states a proposed order.

A settlement administrator will mail a proposed notice plan by June 11.

Objectors to the settlement of fees or expenses to class counsel have until Aug. 27 to file a statement with the court.

A final fairness hearing will be held Oct. 22 in Benton.

U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert presides.

The plaintiffs have alleged that atrazine has continuously entered their water supplies allegedly injuring their property rights; that they have had to test and monitor their water supplies for atrazine, as well as to install, operate, and maintain systems to filter atrazine from their water supplies.

Plaintiffs also have alleged that in addition to these past expenses, the continued presence of atrazine in their water supplies will cause them to incur future expense.

Approximately 2,000 water districts in the U.S. may be eligible to make a claim.

Claimants will receive a fixed payment of $5,000, plus a pro-rata share of the remaining balance of the settlement fund after the payment of legal fees and costs.

Through the course of the litigation, the parties have produced more than 10 million pages of discovery, according to a related court document.

"This settlement is good for the company and the farmers who depend on atrazine, as well as our retailers, distributors, partners, and others who have been inconvenienced by this ongoing and burdensome litigation," the company stated.

"The value of atrazine is clear. It benefits American farmers by up to $3.3 billion and supports up to 85,000 American jobs related to farming annually. Atrazine helps protect the environment and critical wildlife habitat by reducing soil erosion by up to 85 million tons each year. There is no substitute for atrazine, which is used in more than 60 countries and meets the most stringent safety requirements in the world."

Scott Summy of Baron & Budd in Dallas, plaintiffs' co-counsel will share the fees.

Michael Pope of McDermott, Will and Emery is lead defense attorney.

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