Gilbert strikes objection filed to proposed settlement over atrazine

Bethany Krajelis Sep. 17, 2012, 12:37pm


The recently-filed objection to the proposed $105 million settlement over atrazine has been thrown out.

U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert late last week issued a memorandum and order over the objection California attorney Darrell Palmer filed earlier this month on behalf of Public Water Supply District 1 of Clinton County, Mo., and the Nocona Water Department in Texas.

In his clients' objection, Palmer called the request for attorneys' fees – nearly $35 million — excessive and claimed that one of his clients never received notice of the proposed settlement.

St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery, who represents the plaintiffs in the 2010 class action lawsuit against Syngenta AG and Syngenta Crop Protection, countered Palmer's claims and dubbed him a serial objector in his firm's response to the objection.

Tillery's response also stressed that even if Palmer's objection had merit, it was filed too late.

Under the proposed settlement, claimants had until Aug. 28 to object and records show that Palmer signed the objection on Aug. 28, mailed it on Sept. 4 and electronically filed it on Sept. 6.

Relying on the fact that Palmer electronically filed the objection nine days after the deadline, Gilbert struck down the objection and denied Palmer's request for pro hac vice admission.

Noting the allegation by Tillery's firm that Palmer files "meritless objections to extract payment in exchange for dismissal of [his] frivolous claims," Gilbert wrote that he "has not had the occasion to review whether the objections filed in this case are part of such an effort because the objections were not timely filed."

"Had the objections filed by Palmer been timely, the Court may have granted him pro hac vice admission and addressed any frivolous objections using Rule 11 sanctions," Gilbert said. "However, the objections were untimely and have been stricken. Palmer's admission would serve no purpose in this case."

Pursuant to his decision, Gilbert ordered the clerk of the court to terminate Palmers' two clients as objectors and to refund his $100 pro hac vice admission fee.

Palmer's objection was the only one electronically filed, which means the proposed settlement will likely face next month's final fairness hearing without opposition.

An update on the atrazine settlement website stated that "[s]ome class members have expressed an interest in attending the final fairness hearing to speak in support of the settlement."

A handful of attorneys last month submitted declarations in support of the proposed attorneys' fees, which would not exceed one-third of the settlement fund.

If approved, attorneys at Tillery's firm and fellow class counsel at Baron & Budd in Texas would share more than $30 million in attorneys' fees. They also requested an additional $8.4 million in litigation costs and expenses.

The update further noted that "Response to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are currently in the process of validating the more than 1,000 claims received."

The deadline to file claims was Aug. 28. Attorneys on both sides have previously estimated that the settlement would resolve claims of about 1,800 water providers.

The update on the settlement website explained that once claims are validated, claimants will be notified of their claim's status. If a claim is denied, the party will be notified as to why and if approved, will find out the percentage of the settlement they will received.

"Finally, we will file a motion for final approval of the settlement that among other things will ask the Court to approve our validation of claims and calculation of each approved claimant's percentage of the settlement proceeds," the update on the website states.

The final fairness hearing over the proposed settlement is set before Gilbert on Oct. 22 in Benton.

In 2010, Tillery filed a class action suit in federal court against the Syngenta defendants and on behalf of the city of Greenville and several other water providers in six Midwestern states.

The plaintiffs contend that atrazine ran off farm fields and into their water supplies, forcing them to incur expenses related to the testing, monitoring and filtering of their water.

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