3M Settles Lawsuit with the State of Minnesota Over Dumping of PFCs

In 2010, State Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit against 3M over damage to fish and waterways in Minnesota allegedly caused by the dumping of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). In November 2017, the State filed an amended complaint, seeking punitive damages. The state filed the amended complaint after reports found elevated levels of cancers, leukemia, premature births, and low fertility among citizens in the area of the dumping. The State used new reports including a report from Harvard that 3M knew about the possible health risks as early as the 1970s and avoided performing research that would supply the State and citizens with more information.

3M, the maker if Post-It notes, claimed that the dumping of chemicals was performed legally. The company made PFCs at their plant in Cottage Grove beginning in the late 1940s and would dispose of the PFCs in Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Oakdale, Woodbury, and St. Paul Park. After an agreement with the EPA, 3M phased out the chemicals completely by 2002. 3M maintained that although the chemicals may be widespread, they were not dangerous; the company often cited that its own employees showed no adverse effects despite being exposed to higher levels of the chemicals than the general population. William A. Brewer III, an attorney for 3M called the lawsuit an abuse of power and stated that “the case is based on the mistaken belief that the mere presence of these chemicals presents a harm to human health and the environment.”

The detoured for four-years, when in 2012, 3M sought to disqualify Minnesota’s counsel, Covington & Burling, because the firm had once represented 3M on the chemicals used in microwave popcorn bags. The District Court disqualified Covington as counsel and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. When the case was brought before the Supreme Court of Minnesota, the court remanded to the District Court for further findings and to determine if 3M had impliedly waived its right to seek disqualification. After a process of limited discovery and argument, the District Court determined that Covington could not be disqualified.

The jury abruptly stopped at the jury selection phase on February 20 in the morning. At that time, the State was seeking $5 billion in damages. By the afternoon, the case was settled for $850 million. The money from the settlement will finance projects involving drinking water and water sustainability. John Banovetz, a 3M representative, stated that “[w]hile we have never believed there is a PFC-related health problem, this settlement allows us to move past this litigation and work together with the state on activities and projects to benefit the environment and our communities.” Lori Swanson stated that the money was dedicated to fixing the problem and that it was a hard fought litigation.

Further Reading:

Kary, Tiffany, 3M faces new cancer claims in Minnesota’s $5 billion lawsuit, Bloomberg Technology, November 20, 2017.

Kary, Tiffany, 3M may settle $5 billion Scotchgard suit as trial abruptly halts, Bloomberg Technology, February 20, 2018.

Kary, Tiffany, 3M settles Minnesota Scotchgard lawsuit for $850 million, Water & Law Policy Monitor, February 22, 2018.

Marcotty, Josephine & Jennifer Bjorhus, Minnesota AG’s lawsuit asks: What did 3M know about PFCs?, Star Tribune, November 27, 2017.

Shaw, Bob, Minnesota, 3M reach settlement ending $5 billion lawsuit, Pioneer Press, February 20, 2018.

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