CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--On Monday, October 22, 2018, Judge John Telleen granted preliminary approval of a proposed $50 million settlement in Freeman v. Grain Processing Corporation (GPC), a nuisance class action over persistent smoke, odor and haze emitted by a corn wet-mill in Muscatine, Iowa. Miner, Barnhill & Galland (MBG) partners Sarah Siskind and Scott Entin were lead class counsel for the plant’s residential neighbors, working with James Larew and Claire Diallo of the Larew Law Office on the class counsel team.
At issue since the class action was filed in 2012: property rights and clean air. Since shortly after World War II, the mill has been processing Iowa corn into corn syrup, starches, animal feed, and other products. GPC’s mill was also emitting pollutants the neighbors claimed were soiling their homes and cars and generally impairing use and enjoyment homeowners take for granted—e.g., open windows, backyard barbeques, and the like.
The case was hard-fought from the beginning to the eve of trial, when Judge Telleen directed the parties to mediation. And—in two appeals to the Iowa Supreme Court—the case made law on issues of first impression in Iowa and of national significance. First, in 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court considered GPC’s preemption defense—that citizens’ private common law property rights (e.g., their nuisance, trespass, negligence claims) were wiped out when Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970. The Court unanimously rejected it.
Then, in May 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court took up the case again to consider the lower court’s decision to certify the plaintiffs’ claims for a class action trial. The Court unanimously affirmed, rejecting the argument that the plaintiffs’ claims raised too many individual issues to be handled in a class action trial.
“Both decisions were crucial to the Freeman case; and both will have far-reaching significance for claims like these in other states,” said Scott Entin (MBG).
In the end, it took MBG six years of work—with the Larew Law Office and support from scores of class-member witnesses—to take on one of the oldest and most influential businesses in a community where residents had only recently started to gather to find solutions.
If approved by the Court (as the class action rules require), the Settlement will require GPC to:
(1) Pay $45 million into a settlement fund to pay: Class Member claims, the costs of Settlement Administration, court-approved Attorneys’ Fees and Costs, and court-approved Enhancement Payments to certain Class Members in recognition of their contribution to the Class Action. Class members’ payments from the fund—assuming residence in the class area for the full 10 years the action covers—are expected to range from $12,000 to $16,000 in the hardest hit areas (to each eligible individual, including minor children), to $2,000 to $4,000 in areas farthest out from the plant.
(2) Spend, within five years following the effective date, $6.5 million on new pollution controls (in addition to millions GPC already spent on a plant upgrade recently made) to reduce plant emissions, especially odor.
“Clean air is a right, not a privilege,” Sarah Siskind (MBG) said. “We’re eager to close this chapter on the litigation so that Muscatine citizens, and GPC, can move on.”
The Court has scheduled a Fairness Hearing on the settlement for February 2019.
About Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C. (MBG)
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 civil rights, employment rights, voting rights, predatory lending, and more, as well as for complex litigation against government fraud. Its growing 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 a MacArthur Foundation fellow, several law professors at leading American universities, and President Barack Obama. For more information, visit www.LawMBG.com.