Dioxin in the Courts

February 17, 2016 | Commercial Litigation | Complex Torts & Product Liability

Now, Seattle Sues Monsanto

As we have previously observed, the San Diego Unified Port District and the cities of San Diego and San Jose, California, as well as the city of Spokane Washington, among others, have sued the Monsanto Company, seeking to hold it responsible for damage they alleged had been caused by polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). Now, the city of Seattle has filed its own PCB-related action against the company.

Seattle’s Allegations

Seattle’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleged that PCBs were used in “many industrial and commercial applications” such as paint, caulking, transformers, capacitors, coolants, hydraulic fluids, plasticizers, sealants, inks, and lubricants, and that PCBs “regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, contaminating runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events.”

As a result, Seattle asserted, PCBs “contaminate City streets, the City’s drainage systems, stormwater, and water bodies within the City of Seattle.”

More specifically, Seattle said, the Duwamish River runs through the heart of the city and that Harbor Island is at the mouth of the Duwamish, bounded on one side by the East Waterway and on the other side by the West Waterway. Beginning at the upstream end of Harbor Island and continuing for about six miles upstream is a section known as the Lower Duwamish.  PCBs, Seattle alleged, were detected in 75 percent of more than 1,000 samples collected from catch basins and drainage lines in the Lower Duwamish drainage area.

Seattle’s complaint asserted that the Lower Duwamish is listed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund Site and that the city is subject to an administrative order issued jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Washington Department of Ecology that required extensive investigation of contamination in the Lower Duwamish and preparation of a feasibility study identifying remedial options. According to Seattle, the EPA selected a remedy for the Lower Duwamish that it estimated will cost $342 million.

It also alleged that remediate options for the East Waterway ranged in cost from $267 million to $443 million.

Seattle asserted causes of action for public nuisance, products liability-defective design, products liability-failure to warn, negligence, and equitable indemnity. It said that it is seeking damages, interest, attorneys’ fees, and costs, among other relief.

Status of the Action

The proceedings have been stayed pending a ruling from the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) on a motion to consolidate the actions against Monsanto in the Northern District of California.

Next Steps

We will continue to monitor this lawsuit and discuss developments as warranted.

Learn more:

Cities Sue Monsanto, Alleging that Its Chemicals Polluted the Environment, at http://www.rivkinradler.com/publications/dioxin-in-the-courts/.

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