Seattle Objects to Monsanto PCB Settlement

On Sept. 4, plaintiffs the City of Long Beach and several other municipalities and defendants, Monsanto Company, Solutia Inc., and Pharmacia LLC (collectively Monsanto) jointly responded to a filing lodged by the City of Seattle (Seattle) in the cities’ lawsuit against Monsanto for harm caused by toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) it made and sold decades ago. After four years of litigation, the cities and Monsanto have agreed to a nationwide class settlement. They subsequently requested and were granted a stay of all proceedings pending settlement approval.

On Aug. 27, Seattle asked the Central District of California to “deny preliminary approval of the proposed Settlement or to amend the settlement language,” on the basis that the definition of released claims in concert with the contribution protection provision impair its and others’ rights. Seattle reasoned that the settlement creates an overbroad release of claims because it “attempts to bar contribution claims by anyone in the world for anything related to Monsanto’s PCBs.”

Seattle further contended that it will suffer harm because, as written, the settlement could hinder its recovery in an independent lawsuit against Monsanto. Seattle concluded by proposing an amendment to the released claims provision to preserve rights of action under the Comprehensive Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and equivalent statutes.

Notably, the filing came after Seattle purportedly tried to discuss the matter with the cities’ counsel, who indicated that they “would not consider amending the problematic provisions.” Seattle also reportedly attempted to reach Monsanto’s counsel for clarification about the meaning of the provisions, but was told that Monsanto would not “offer legal opinions as to the application of fact and law.” Seattle supposedly tried to reach Monsanto’s counsel once more by phone, but to no avail.

The settling parties’ joint response contends that Seattle lacks standing to sue, arguing that “[r]ather than wait until all other Settlement Class Members are given the opportunity to object, the City of Seattle has manufactured an opportunity to object to the Settlement and opt out of the class.” The parties also ask the court to deny Seattle’ motion as “premature and inappropriate,” because it “identifies no authority that would allow it to object to the Parties’ settlement before the preliminary approval hearing, much less require revisions to a private contract between the Parties.”

Finally, the cities and Monsanto argue that Seattle incorrectly interprets the settlement provisions at issue. They aver that “[a] straightforward reading” of the agreement “does not release governmental claims under CERCLA…” The parties request that the court deny Seattle’s motion and proceed with class settlement approval process as planned. The preliminary approval hearing is currently set for Oct. 22.

The plaintiffs are represented by Baron & Budd, P.C., and the defendants by Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. Seattle is represented by Keller Rohrback L.L.P. and the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.