Describing both the litigation and settlement as extraordinary, Iowa District Judge John Telleen granted final approval of a $51.5 million settlement in Freeman v. Grain Processing Corporation (GPC). The case was a nuisance class action lawsuit over smoke, odor and haze emitted by a corn wet-milling plant in Muscatine, Iowa. Lead counsel were Miner, Barnhill & Galland (MBG) partners Sarah Siskind and Scott Entin. Their class counsel team included Deanna Pihos, David Baltmanis, Betty Eberle and Matt Owens of MBG, and James Larew and Claire Diallo of the Larew Law Office.
At issue since the case was filed in 2012: property rights and clean air. The GPC plant processes Iowa corn into various products, emitting particulates, SO2 and odorous VOCs. The Plaintiffsfamilies living in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the plantsought to vindicate their right to breathe clean air. Clean air is a right, not a privilege, Sarah Siskind said.
The case was hard-fought from the beginning to the eve of trial. In two appeals to the Iowa Supreme Court, Plaintiffs made law on issues of first impression in Iowa and of national significance. First, in 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court considered GPCs preemption defensethat citizens private common law property rights (e.g., nuisance, trespass, negligence claims) were wiped out when Congress passed the Clean Air Act. The Court unanimously rejected it. In May 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court took up the lower courts decision to grant class certification, and unanimously affirmed it over GPCs argument that plaintiffs claims raised too many individual issues to be handled in a class action.
Both decisions will have far-reaching significance for claims like these in other states, said Scott Entin. The Settlement provides substantial relief for past harms (ranging from $2,000 to 16,000 per person, with residency in the class area for the full period), and significant affirmative relief to minimize pollution going forward. Were eager to close this chapter on the litigation so that Muscatine citizens, and GPC, can move on.
About Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C.
Founded in 1971, MBG represents a broad range of individual, government, non-profit and corporate clients with offices in Chicago, Ill., and Madison, Wis. The firm is nationally known for its class action practice in environmental law, civil rights, employment rights, voting rights, predatory lending, as well as for complex litigation against government fraud. Its environmental practice includes individual and organizational representations, regulatory enforcement, and private law claims to protect the environment, people and their property from corporate polluters. Distinguished MBG alumni include President Barack Obama, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, and law professors at leading universities. For more information: www.LawMBG.com.
GADIEL CASTRO-ZAPATA ([email protected])