A North Carolina judge has appointed attorneys from South Florida and Seattle as interim co-lead class counsel in a class action, water contamination lawsuit against global chemical producer DuPont and its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Chemours Company FC LLC.
Judge James C. Dever III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina appointed Theodore “Ted” Leopold, partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll’s Palm Beach Gardens office, and Steve Morrissey, a partner in Susman Godfrey’s Seattle office, to lead the litigation over the state’s water supply.
“For decades, Dupont and Chemours have disregarded the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians by contaminating their drinking water,” Leopold said. “We look forward to getting justice for the families who have been harmed by these companies’ irresponsible acts.”
Leopold filed the suit in October, claiming the companies’ plant in Fayetteville had dumped toxic residue from its chemicals—like GenX, the trademark substance used to make Teflon for cookware—for decades into the Cape Fear River. Daily Business Review affiliate, the National Law Journal, reported on the suit’s claim that the companies knowingly exposed people in five counties to liver cancer and other health risks, then concealed their actions from regulators.
In June, online news publisher The Intercept reported on the presence of GenX in the drinking water in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in surface waters in Ohio and West Virginia.
The class action lawsuit alleges DuPont and Chemours have dumped toxic waste from their 2,000-acre Fayetteville plant since 1980. Plaintiffs lawyers cite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials on claims that the affected counties—New Hanover, Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland and Pender—have the highest concentration of liver disease in the United States.
“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says the rates of liver, pancreatic, testicular and kidney cancers are higher in the five counties than anywhere else in the state,” according to a statement Cohen Milstein issued Monday. “And DuPont’s own testing has shown that these chemicals can cause liver, pancreatic, testicular and kidney cancer, liver disease, fetal and birth defects.”
Leopold is chair of Cohen Milstein’s Catastrophic Injury & Defective Products Practice and co-chair of its consumer protection group. He is co-lead counsel in a class action by residents of Flint, Michigan, against their city, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, 17 local government officials and a group of engineering companies over contaminated water. Morrissey, who represented 1960s music group The Turtles, is counsel for Flint property owners suing over the water supply.
The two attorneys will consolidate and oversee five putative toxic tort class actions in the North Carolina litigation.
“By discharging GenX and other toxic chemicals into the Cape Fear River, DuPont and Chemours have shown a complete disregard for the lives, health and property values of North Carolina residents who depend on the river for their drinking water,” Morrissey said. “We recognize that this is a very important case for the people of this state.”
Cohen Milstein’s team includes North Carolina partner Martha Geer and Washington, D.C., partner Douglas S. Bunch