Dann drawing criticism for lead paint suit

John O'Brien Apr. 9, 2007, 5:00pm


COLUMBUS - Being labeled an activist doesn't necessarily bother Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, though his activity has bothered several.

"It would be fair to say he's a self-proclaimed activist," said Ryan Augsburger of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association. "There was an article I read last week that compared him to activist attorneys general, and it's not a shameful tag.

"To this man, it's a badge of honor."

Augsburger and the OMA, a statewide association of more than 2,000 manufacturing companies that employ the majority of 800,000 men and women who work in the manufacturing industry, don't see it that way.

To them -- and others like the United States Chamber of Commerce -- Dann's public nuisance suit is little more than a nuisance to the courts system.

"Lawsuits that rely on the novel legal theory of 'public nuisance' are a classic case of over-reaching by a state attorney general. Attorney General Dann's lawsuit twists the purpose of public nuisance law and misapplies it because he can't make a case under traditional product liability law," said Lisa Rickard, President of the Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform.

"Lead paint remediation remains an important issue, especially in areas with older housing. However, to target paint manufacturers with this kind of junk lawsuit puts at jeopardy the good-paying jobs of Ohioans who currently work in the industry, and will almost certainly cause the companies to look elsewhere to grow."

In January, Dann commended new Gov. Ted Strickland on his veto of Senate Bill 117, which would have restricted nuisance suits against lead paint manufacturers. The veto is being challenged, with arguments before the Supreme Court set for May 1.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch has been victorious against three companies -- two of which who have already filed an appeal to the state's Supreme Court -- in his state's suit, the first of its kind.

The OMA has a problem with the origin of the suit. It says South Carolina-based plaintiffs firm Motley Rice introduced the nuisance suit, which offers fewer defenses than a products liability claim, then teamed up with local counsel to bring it to an attorney general's office.

"(Dann's lawsuit) is the brainchild of this formula, which was systematically concocted to use public nuisance as its legal argument because there are not a lot of statutes," Augsburger said.

"Motley Rice contacts the local law firm, which goes to the Attorney General and says, 'We can get you money and get headlines by going after polluting companies.' How is he going to turn that down?"

Some experts thought other states would wait to see how Rhode Island's suit was decided in the state's Supreme Court before they filed similar suits. Dann apparently did not see the need for delay.

"Clearly, the opportunist trial lawyers identified Ohio as ripe ground to take their assault," Augsburger said. "So they've been here. I'm not especially surprised that the Ohio Attorney General chose to do this knowing his activist propensities."

Dann could not be reached by presstime. A request for a statement was received Friday, though Dann did not return it.

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