Judge OK's request to pay settlement administrator in Syngenta case

Bethany Krajelis Jun. 26, 2012, 8:07am


U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert has ordered the escrow agent of the settlement fund in the Syngenta case to pay a Minnesota company about $25,000.

Gilbert's directive came in an order issued late last week and in response to a motion filed by the City of Greenville, the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against Syngenta Crop Protection and Syngenta AG over the weed killer atrazine.

The Syngenta defendants agreed to settle the case for $105 million late last month. The city on June 19 asked Gilbert to issue an order directing $25,687.64 from the case's settlement fund to BMC Group Class Action Services, a Minnesota company that has been helping in the implementation of the settlement.

The company sent an invoice to the city earlier this month for costs associated with the professional services it provided in April and May as the settlement administrator. According to the invoice, that amount includes about $14,400 for designing settlement notices and creating a settlement website and online form, as well as $11,287.64 for costs associated with publishing notice of the parties' agreement.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, expenses incurred by the settlement administrator must be paid from the fund within 30 days of invoice.

It also provides nearly $35 million in fees to St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery, who brought the case on behalf of the city in 2006, and co-counsel Scott Summy of Baron & Budd in Dallas.

Objectors to the settlement of fees or expenses to class counsel have until Aug. 27 to file a statement with the court. A settlement fairness hearing has been scheduled to take place on Oct. 22 in Benton before Gilbert.

It appears that there is at least one pending motion in the case.

Gilbert earlier this month sent two motions to Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier, who has been handling preliminary matters in the case, for disposition

Both motions deal with documents filed in 2010. The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and Prairie River Network, both of which intervened in the case in July 2011, asked Gilbert to unseal them as a matter of public access. The Syngenta defendants, however, filed a motion seeking the continued confidentiality of the documents they contend deal with the operations of Syngenta AG, a Swiss holding company that does not manufacture or sell atrazine.

Although Gilbert directed these motions to Frazier, he denied as moot the interveners' motion for a status conference and ruling on the sealed documents. It appears from Gilbert's order, however, that the Syngenta defendant's motion requesting the documents' confidentiality remains pending.

The proposed settlement stems from a 2010 lawsuit Tillery filed in federal court on behalf of the city of Greenville and other water providers in six Midwestern states. Six years earlier, he filed six separate class actions against manufacturers of atrazine, which is a commonly used herbicide in agriculture.

The plaintiffs contend atrazine ran off farm fields and into their water supplies, forcing them to pay for the testing and monitoring of their supplies and the installation of filter systems.

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

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