Law360 (November 21, 2022, 2:48 PM EST) — A California federal judge awarded attorneys from three law firms $91.7 million for representing Long Beach and other local governments after settling a $500 million lawsuit accusing Bayer AG‘s Monsanto Co. of contaminating waterways and causing increased costs for the localities.
U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin said in the Saturday order that in addition to the $91.7 million, Baron & Budd PC, Gomez Trial Attorneys and Gordon Wolf & Carney will receive $6.3 million in court expenses from Monsanto. The case was dismissed with prejudice.
“Judge Olguin’s approval of this $537.5 million national class action will provide communities with resources to monitor and reduce [polychlorinated biphenyls] in stormwater after a long, hard-fought case with Monsanto,” co-lead counsel John Fiske of Baron & Budd told Law360 on Monday. “We are proud to represent these public entities, especially those that chose to litigate this case for years, benefiting over 2,400 communities across the country.”
Most of the $537.5 million Monsanto agreed to pay to the plaintiffs in March will be divided into three funds to compensate the main identified harms: $42.8 million for the need to monitor PCBs in stormwater, $250 million for the need to comply with the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System, and $150 million for sediment remediation.
The remaining $107 million will be put into a fund to compensate special needs and costs of class members, according to the March order.
“This settlement will provide funds directly to public entities burdened with reducing PCBs from stormwater and sediment,” co-lead class counsel Scott Summy of Baron & Budd said in a statement Monday. “This groundbreaking settlement marks the first time a product manufacturer will pay damages for stormwater contamination, and the class members include counties, cities, ports and other government entities.”
Along with Monsanto, the plaintiffs named as defendants Eastman Chemical Co. subsidiary Solutia and Pfizer Inc. subsidiary Pharmacia.
The plaintiffs collectively filed the operative class complaint in the Central District of California, seeking relief from the costs of testing and monitoring water sources, removing PCBs from sediment areas, reducing PCB levels in stormwater, and complying with any regulations that require additional measures.
The chemicals were used in everything from paint and ink to hydraulic fluids and industrial equipment until PCBs were outlawed by Congress in 1979.
PCBs have been proven to cause cancer, weaken the immune system, decrease resistance to viruses and infections, and hurt the reproductive, nervous, neurological and endocrine systems, while studies in animals have shown that even the smallest level of PCBs will affect the immune system.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision to grant final approval of the class settlement that resolves most of the company’s exposure to municipal government PCB water litigation,” Bayer AG said in a statement Saturday. “Under the proposed agreement, Bayer does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, and the court’s final approval fully resolves the claims of class members.”
Long Beach and the other local governments are represented by Scott Summy, Carla Burke Pickrel and John P. Fiske of Baron & Budd PC, by John Gomez of Gomez Trial Attorneys, and by Richard Gordon and Martin Wolf of Gordon Wolf & Carney, among others.
Monsanto is represented by Mark D. Anstoetter and Brent Dwerlkotte of Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP.
The case is City of Long Beach et al. v. Monsanto Co. et al., case number 2:16-cv-03493, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
–Additional reporting by Lauren Berg. Editing by Khalid Adad.