Attorneys ask court to pay settlement administrator in Syngenta case

Bethany Krajelis Jun. 20, 2012, 12:31pm



The City of Greenville has asked a federal judge handling the proposed $105 million settlement in the class action lawsuit over the weed killer atrazine to issue an order directing about $25,000 from a settlement fund to a Minnesota company helping in the implementation of the parties' agreement.

On behalf of the city and the other plaintiffs in the case against Syngenta Crop Protection and Syngenta AG, attorneys at Korein Tillery filed the unopposed motion for approval of interim payment of expenses on Tuesday. The plaintiffs' attorneys said in their motion that the Minnesota company, BMC Group Class Action Services, "has incurred a number of expenses in furtherance of the proposed settlement as reflected in the invoice attached as exhibit 1."

The invoice, which BMC sent to Korein Tillery last week, details the company's $25,687.64 bill, for the professional services it rendered in April and May, as well as other costs. The company's services, which included designing the settlement notices and creating a settlement website and online form, totaled about $14,400. The remaining $11,287.64 of the bill comes from the costs associated with publishing notice of the settlement agreement, the invoice shows.

The motion states that under the settlement agreement, expenses incurred by the settlement administrator will be paid from the settlement fund within 30 days of invoice.

Syngenta Crop Protection has already paid $5 million of the proposed settlement fund into an escrow account held by U.S. Bank, the plaintiffs' attorneys said in the motion.

The Syngenta defendants agreed to settle the case for $105 million late last month, nearly eight years after St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery of Korein Tillery filed six separate class action lawsuits in the Madison County Circuit Court against various manufacturers of atrazine.

Tillery and co-counsel will share approximately $35 million in fees under terms of the proposed settlement.

In 2010, Tillery brought the case to federal court on behalf of the city of Greenville and other Midwestern water providers, claiming that atrazine ran off farm fields and into their drinking water supplies. This, the plaintiffs contend, forced them to incur past and future expenses related to the testing and monitoring of their water supplies, as well as the installation of filter systems.

U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert presides over the case. Earlier this month, he issued an order dealing with two previously filed motions. One of the motions was filed by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and Prairie River Network, both of which intervened in the case in July 2011, and the other one came from Syngenta Crop Protection.

The interveners asked Gilbert to unseal certain documents in the case while Syngenta Crop Protection requested the continued confidentiality of these documents. The 88 documents at issue were filed as exhibits in the plaintiff's opposition to the Syngenta AG's May 2010 motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

While the interveners argue the public has a right of access to these documents, Syngenta Crop Protection contends that since the documents deal with the operations of Syngenta AG, a Swiss holding company that does not manufacture or sell atrazine, they provide no information on the potential effects of the farming chemical.

Gilbert's June 12 order directs these two motions to Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier for disposition. Frazier has been handling preliminary matters in the case for Gilbert, a relatively common procedure in complex cases.

"In light of this reference, the court denies as moot the intervenors' motions for a status conference and for a ruling unsealing the remaining sealed records in this case," Gilbert said in his order.

Gilbert is set to preside over a settlement fairness hearing in the case on Oct. 22 in Benton. Objectors to the settlement of fees or expenses to class counsel have until Aug. 27 to file a statement with the court.

If the court approves the settlement, about 2,000 water districts will each be eligible to make a claim for a fixed payment of $5,000, plus a share of the remaining balance after legal fees and costs.

Michael A. Pope, an attorney at McDermott, Will and Emery in Chicago, represents the Syngenta defendants. Tillery represents the plaintiffs along with co-counsel Scott Summy of Baron & Budd in Dallas.

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