SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court has denied leave to appeal an order questioning a $10 million settlement of 11,256 pollution claims against Monsanto in St. Clair County Circuit Court.
The high court's Sept. 26 decision leaves in place an order from the Fifth District Appellate Court that raised doubts about the settlement and called on circuit judges handling the matter - Andrew Gleeson and Vincent Lopinot - to determine whether the plaintiffs had received enough information to make informed choices.
In April, an appellate panel vacated the settlement and told the judges to consider whether plaintiffs received enough information to make informed choices. Justice Judy Cates wrote the opinion, saying Gleeson and Lopinot approved the settlement without reading the agreements behind it.
“The settling parties did not offer even an estimated amount of the final settlement or any basis for the settlement proposed,” Cates wrote. “The total lack of information casts a shadow on the legal validity of the settlement itself.”
Cates directed Gleeson and Lopinot to require production of a trust agreement that appointed plaintiff counsel as trustees.
“In the absence of a trust agreement, the trial court could not possibly know how the plaintiffs’ attorneys, as trustees, were going to allocate the additional funds, if any, among the individual plaintiffs and claimants whom they represented,” Cates wrote.
Justices Melissa Chapman and Randy Moore concurred.
According to the ruling, Monsanto paid more than $10 million into a settlement fund. The settlement agreement provided $600 to some plaintiffs, but provided nothing but possible future payments to others. An additional $500 payment would go to those randomly selected to provide blood samples, but anyone who failed to participate after being randomly selected – unless given a doctor’s excuse - would forfeit the right to participate in distribution of funds beyond the base payment of $600.
The action started in 2009, when 1,022 plaintiffs filed 20 suits against Monsanto and Cerro Flow Products. Monsanto is accused of producing, storing and disposing of hazardous substances on its property and at a landfill in Sauget, and Cerro is accused of draining hazardous substances into a creek running through its property.
Claimants say defendants released the substances for more than 70 years, actively concealing health risks and property contamination.
They allege they suffered diabetes, hypertension, depression, sinusitis, anemia, endometriosis, tumors, anxiety, gout, heart disorder, arthritis, hysterectomy, diverticulitis, ovarian cysts, thyroid problems, respiratory infection, urinary tract infection, asthma, leukemia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, osteoporosis, stomach disorder, bone diseases, migraines, and various forms of cancer.
Property owners seek to recover remediation costs and loss of value.
Former Fifth District judge Clyde Kuehn is local counsel for plaintiffs. The Environmental Litigation Group of Birmingham, Ala. leads the litigation.
Belleville lawyers Bruce N. Cook, Bernard Ysursa of Cook’s firm, and Robert Sprague are counsel for Monsanto, along with Missouri lawyers Joseph Nassif, Charles Hobbs and Patricia Silva.
Belleville lawyer Thomas Ysursa of Belleville is counsel for Cerro, along with Mark Kircher of Milwaukee and Chicago lawyers Stephen Agin, Lindsey Millman, E. King Poor IV, and Anthony Steinike.