Bay Area Cities Eager|to Take on Monsanto

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – An attorney for three cities suing Monsanto over the presence of dangerous chemicals in the San Francisco Bay told a federal judge Thursday he was eager to take the matter to trial.
     “We would like to push this case toward trial,” John Fiske, attorney representing the cities of San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland in their respective lawsuits against Monsanto, said during a case management conference on Thursday.
     U.S. District Judge Edward Davila labeled Fiske’s push to put the trial on the 2017 calendar as “ambitious.”
     Monsanto attorney Robert Howard agreed, telling Davila that the local claims of each of the three cities would take time to parse.
     “There are 40 years of history here. This is not the set-up for a quick trial,” Howard said.
     Nevertheless, Davila did schedule the initial motions for the case, establishing deadlines for a motion to dismiss for July and scheduling a hearing for August. The judge also agreed to consolidate the motions to dismiss, rather than making the Monsanto file a motion for each city.
     Thursday’s hearing came a month after a request to consolidate lawsuits by several West Coast cities suing the chemical company in Federal Court claiming that the company’s manufacture of polychlorinated biphenyles (PCBs) is responsible for contaminating bodies of water in proximity to their respective cities.
     Since January, the city of Seattle sued Monsanto related to the costs of removing PCBs from the Duwamish River; Spokane, Washington sued over the same contamination in the Spokane River; Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose all brought actions related to contamination in the San Francisco Bay and San Diego sued Monsanto for the presence of PCBs in the San Diego Bay.
     On April 7, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied a motion to move the cases to the Northern District of California — finding that while the cases all related to PCBs, the specifics of each case were likely to differ substantially.
     “It is undisputed that these actions share questions of fact arising from allegations that PCBs manufactured by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 have contaminated certain marine environments and that plaintiffs have or will incur costs to remediate PCBs from urban runoff, stormwater, sediment, and bodies of water,” the ruling reads. “That, however, is where the commonality among these actions ends.”
     While Fiske indicated more municipalities in Southern California were likely to join the legal fray — without disclosing which — he said the three cities in the Bay Area were firm and advocated for moving through the process expeditiously.
     The dispute arises from the manufacture of PCBs, conducted solely by Monsanto beginning in 1935 and ending with the Toxic Substances Control Act. The chemical compound has disseminated throughout the United States, bioaccumulating in marine environments, trees, wildlife and human beings, according to the cities.
     PCBs are known to cause adverse health effects in humans and are listed as a known carcinogen. The chemicals also have other ill effects primarily related to the nervous system and child development, the cities say.
     PCBs have entered the San Francisco Bay in a number of ways, as the compound was included in many industrial and commercial applicants such as paint, caulking, transformers, capacitors, coolants, sealants, inks, lubricants and other uses.
     The compounds regularly leak out of their applications, enter into stormwater runoff and make their way to the Bay, where they accumulate.
     “San Francisco Bay is contaminated with PCBs, which have been detected in the Bay’s water, sediments, fish and wildlife,” the Bay Area cities say in their complaint.
     Monsanto says the case should be dismissed because it did not place the PCBs in the San Francisco Bay, claiming instead that it manufactured the compound in good faith outside of California in order to assist the production of important industrial products.
     In its original motion, filed in August last year before the case was stayed to consider consolidation, the company’s attorneys gave eight different reasons Davila should dismiss the case.
     Davila said attorneys from both sides had to refile their motions by June 20, giving them the option to file the same motions or update them.
     Fiske is with Gomez Iagmin Trial Attorneys in San Diego. Howard is with Latham and Watkins, also in San Diego.

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