Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder will allow plaintiffs in one of a series of proposed class actions against a maker of the herbicide atrazine to discover evidence among non-parties to the litigation.
In a Sept. 22 order, Crowder wrote that her order seeks to balance the third parties' First Amendment rights with what is discoverable under Illinois law.
Overall, the order allows the plaintiffs, including Holiday Shores Sanitation District and various Illinois municipalities, to discover evidence that relates to exchanges between non-parties and defendant Syngenta Crop Protection Inc.
For example, as to the Heartland Institute, an agricultural non-profit organization, Crowder ruled that information related to Syngenta's relationship to the organization was discoverable. Information about other members of the group is not discoverable at this time, according to the order.
Crowder also granted limited discovery with respect to Don Coursey, a professor at the University of Chicago who studies atrazine, the university, the Illinois Farm Bureau and other groups.
Crowder entered the ruling on various objections raised by non-parties to the suit two days before a proposed hearing in the case.
Those parties, trade groups and others objected to discovery requests in the case and had moved to have them quashed.
That hearing, set for Sept. 24 and slated to deal with dueling motions to compel, was canceled by agreement.
Holiday Shores and the other named plaintiffs proposes to lead Illinois water providers in six class actions against the makers and distributors of atrazine and atrazine containing products.
The plaintiffs allege the herbicide runs off farm fields and contaminates their water supplies.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that atrazine up to three parts per billion is safe in drinking water, the suits claim smaller amounts cause unspecified human health problems.
The plaintiffs had been seeking depositions and other discovery from third parties including the University of Chicago, the Illinois Farm Bureau and chemical trade groups.
They were joined in their objections to the discovery requests by Syngenta.
The case at issue has progressed ahead of the other suits because it is the primary maker of atrazine.
The discovery dispute is one of a series in the six year-old case.
Crowder heard arguments on the matter Aug. 25.
Crowder dismissed earlier arguments by the plaintiffs that the third parties had to file privilege logs with the court in order to stop the discovery.
Crowder noted that her order is not intended to be the final word on discovery matters in the case.
"Again, this court is well aware that discovery disputes may continue and be ongoing," the order reads. "The court has attempted to balance the need for discovery with the First Amendment rights of the non-parties looking at the specific counts. This order is not intended to be a final and definitive statement as to any future discovery issue."
Upon the entry of the non-party order, the Syngenta case joined the other atrazine cases under the watch of Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack,
Stack originally helmed all of the atrazine cases.
The suits were transferred to Crowder last year after Stack announced his retirement plans.
Stack will leave the bench later this year.
However, when Crowder took up Stack's former asbestos docket last month, Stack took over her civil docket, including the atrazine cases.
Kurtis Reeg represents Syngenta.
Stephen Tillery represents the plaintiffs.
Edward Dwyer and Jennifer Martin of Hodge Dwyer & Driver of Springfield represent both the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and Chemical Council of Illinois.
Daniel Donahue and others represent Coursey and the Heartland Institute.
Mary Lamb represents the University of Chicago.
V Fluence, another third party in the suit, is represented by Larry Helper.
Christopher Byron represents the Farm Bureau.
The Syngenta case is Madison case number 04-L-710.
The atrazine suits are Madison case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.