U.S. Supreme Court rejects asbestos appeal

Chris Rizo Jun. 23, 2008, 12:55pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by W.R. Grace & Co. over the company's alleged release of asbestos from a Montana mine.

The high court's decision, without comment, allows the federal government's criminal case against the Columbia, Md.- -based company to go to trial. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.

W.R. Grace & Co and six of its executives were charged in February 2005 with violating the federal Clean Air Act by releasing asbestos from a vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont., even though prosecutors say they were aware of its dangers.

Plaintiffs' attorneys say asbestos from the mine has sickened about 2,000 residents and caused up to 225 deaths. Asbestos is a known carcinogenic.

The company argued that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's definition of asbestos doesn't cover most of the substances taken from the mine.

A federal district court judge agreed, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling.

The company said it had been named in 110,000 asbestos-related lawsuits. In April, it agreed to a $3 billion settlement that will allow it to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection without further asbestos liability.

The $3 billion settlement established a trust fund to pay claims against the company.

The high court also declined to hear the separate appeal by W.R. Grace's executives, who could face prison sentences of up to 15 years if found guilty.

The U.S. solicitor general's office, which argues cases on behalf of the White House, urged the court to deny the appeal, arguing that the case has yet to go to trial.

The cases are W.R. Grace & Co. v. United States, 07-1286, and Henry A. Eschenbach v. United States, 07-1287.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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