Plaintiffs' attorneys push for final approval of settlement over atrazine; Final fairness hearing set for Monday

Bethany Krajelis Oct. 18, 2012, 2:47am

If a federal judge rejects a proposed $105 million settlement over atrazine, plaintiffs' attorneys warn that "the litigation would likely take several years to complete and be both extremely costly and have considerable uncertainty."

In a motion filed Tuesday, attorneys for the plaintiffs urge U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert to put his final stamp of approval on the proposed settlement in the class action lawsuit against Syngenta AG and Syngenta Crop Protection.

Court records show that attorneys are set to participate in a telephone status conference this afternoon, just days before Monday's final fairness hearing in Benton.

"The proposed settlement would put an end to the expense, inconvenience and distraction of further litigation while providing significant monetary relief to the Class," plaintiffs' attorneys contend in their motion.

"All told, 1,085 community water systems will receive substantial payments under the settlement ... The settlement is more than fair. The Court should finally approve the settlement."

If approved, the proposed settlement will resolve litigation that originated about eight years ago in Madison County Circuit Court.

On behalf of Holiday Shores Sanitary District, St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery filed six separate class action suits in the circuit court against various manufacturers of atrazine, a commonly used agricultural herbicide.

Tillery in 2010 then sued the Syngenta defendants - the leading manufacturer of atrazine - in federal court on behalf of the city of Greenvillle and several other water providers.

The plaintiffs claim 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.

In May, the Syngenta defendants agreed to pay $105 million to settle the suit.

The proposed settlement, which will go before Gilbert for his approval on Monday, garnered one objection, which was eventually dismissed for being filed after a deadline.

California attorney Darrell Palmer had objected to the settlement on behalf of two water districts, claiming among things that the attorneys' fee request is excessive.

If approved, Tillery and his colleagues at Korein Tillery will share in about one third of the settlement or nearly $34 million.

The plaintiffs' attorneys wrote in their motion that the proposed settlement will award each claimant $5,000, "which is equal to the approximate cost of 20 water tests."

The remaining money in the settlement fund will be distributed among the claimants based on the amount and frequency of atrazine in their water, as well as the population served.

Saying that "plaintiffs would face a number of very serious obstacles to their claims" if they had to go forward with litigation, their attorneys contend in their motion that the proposed settlement is more than fair.

Although a plaintiffs' expert estimated the maximum recovery at $139 million, their attorneys assert the class would be "better off" with the settlement.

"The amount of a class settlement must be viewed in light of the strength of the case, the time and expense needed to achieve a favorable outcome at trial, and the risk that the plaintiff will be unsuccessful and recover nothing for the class," the plaintiffs' attorneys assert. "Viewed in this context, the settlement in this case is certainly fair, reasonable, and adequate."

They further contend that the fairness of the proposed settlement can be seen in the reaction of the class, which "overwhelmingly" support it.

"Here, out of nearly 2,000 Class Members, only 24 opted out and there were no timely objections," the motion states. "Notably, no state attorney general, no governmental body or representative and no advocate group have voiced opposition to the settlement."

In addition, the attorneys reminded Gilbert that they provided proper notice of the settlement, which included written notices, advertisements, personal phone calls, an information line and a website.

"The claims administrator logged 557 calls to the toll-free information line, and the settlement website received a total of 10,313 visitors who viewed a total of 25,627 web pages," the motion states.

The motion was submitted by Tillery and fellow Korein Tillery attorneys Christine Moody, Aaron Zigler, Christie Deaton, Christopher Hoffman, Michael Klenov and John Craig.

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