A class action lawsuit accuses the Orlando Utilities Commission and several Orlando-based real estate entities of failing to protect more than 30,000 people from the harmful byproducts of a nearby power plant.
The complaint filed Monday names residents of the Stoneybrook, Avalon Park, Eastwood and other Orlando communities as plaintiffs in the case against the utilities commission, developer Lennar Corp., builder U.S. Home Corp., the real estate firm Avalon Park Group and its CEO, Beat Kahli. According to the filing, the defendants are legally liable under Florida Statutes 376.30 through 376.319, which regulate legal action with relation to pollutants and hazardous substances.
Co-lead counsel Theodore Leopold told the Daily Business Review residents reached out to him for consultation in early 2018. Leopold, who is at work on litigation pertaining to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, and other pollution-related cases, said his team began investigating almost immediately.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of investigation and testing of the soil. After months and months of testing the results say a lot,” the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll attorney said.
The press release announcing the suit claims the rates of rare, cancerous diseases and carcinogenic toxins in the neighborhoods far outpace national averages.
Read the complaint:
“Evidence shows that the incidence ratio for central nervous system cancer in the area is five to ten times higher than the ratio nationwide,” the release said. “Additionally, the incidence ratio of Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely rare form of cancer that occurs primarily in children and young adults, is approximately nine times higher than the rate expected for the area.”
Leopold said the facility in question, the Curtis H. Stanton Energy Center, produces “extremely toxic” byproducts as a result of the coal it burns.
“Wind brings these hazardous materials into the neighboring communities,” Leopold explained. He added that the defendants’ marketing of the communities as safe, comfortable places to live are at odds with his own findings and the maladies found among residents in the neighborhoods. Copper, lead, mercury and arsenic were among the toxic contaminants detected in the soil according to the complaint.
“There’s really no other plausible source of these contaminants,” said co-lead counsel Steve Morrissey.
The Susman Godfrey attorney added it’s fortunate Florida has a strict liability statute for pollutants, or what he describes as “the hook” for bringing his client’s case to trial.
“The Florida Legislature made it possible like the class in this case to sue anyone who either pollutes or is allowing pollution to remain on a property,” Morrissey said, noting the developers “should be held responsible” for building communities without adequately addressing the possible problems posed by the nearby power plant.
Requests for comment from Lennar Corp. were not returned by press time. A representative for the Avalon Park Group told the Daily Business Review the company does not comment on pending litigation.
In a statement to the Daily Business Review, Tim Trudell, spokesman for the Orlando Utilities Commission, called the Stanton Energy Center’s operations “highly regulated by both the state and federal governments.”
“OUC meets or exceeds all permitting requirements, as environmental stewardship is one of the key principles of our organization,” the statement reads. “Due to the pending litigation, we cannot get into any additional detail at this time.”
The utilities commission’s website refers to the Stanton Energy Center as a “clean, modern, fuel-diverse, environmentally sound power-generation facility.”