JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) – John Simmons of Alton, who made more than $1 million suing a business that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued at the same time, has contributed $275,000 to Koster’s campaign for governor.
Except for unions, no one has given Koster more.
Simmons gave $100,000 to Koster’s campaign for attorney general in 2012.
In March 2013, Koster and the Simmons firm filed separate suits against Republic Services in St. Louis County court.
Republic Services owns a smoldering landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
The Simmons firm sued first, on behalf of neighbors representing a plaintiff class.
Koster’s suit for the people of Missouri followed eight days later.
Both suits claimed odors from the landfill harmed the local quality of life.
The Simmons suit sought compensatory and punitive damages, plus any other necessary relief.
Koster’s suit sought to recover cleanup costs and any illegal gains from dumping solid waste into waters of the state.
In April 2013, Republic Services removed the Simmons suit to U.S. district court.
There, in May 2013, John Phillips of the Simmons firm moved to remedy and prevent communications between Republic Services and the class.
Phillips wrote that after plaintiffs filed their suit, Koster sued Republic Services on substantially similar allegations.
Koster and Republic Services entered into a consent injunction including remediation efforts that would cause odors to worsen for 26 days.
Phillips wrote that Republic Services offered temporary housing in a “Dear Neighbor” letter to residents within a mile.
He found the letter inadequate and ambiguous, and wrote that it did not reserve the rights of the class nor provide security for their homes.
He wrote that Republic Services did not contact him before contacting the class.
He wrote that a mile was precisely the distance in the class definition.
In a conference with Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert, Republic Services agreed to send a letter stating that accepting the offer would not release legal claims.
“Such clarification is particularly important in the instant case due to the pendency of the state court action initiated by the Missouri attorney general about the same landfill,” Mummert wrote.
“Thus, confusion is a distinct possibility.”
Mummert wrote that defense counsel could avoid confusion by notice to plaintiff’s counsel of a prospective communication.
In June 2013, Simmons gave $50,000 to Koster’s campaign.
In September 2013, he gave Koster another $50,000.
In October 2013, Phillips proposed to amend the complaint.
Republic Services responded by moving to compel production of medical records, arguing that the new complaint alleged injuries as well as damages.
Phillips answered that the class claimed only property damage and “attendant discomfort and inconvenience.”
Mummert denied the motion, finding no injury claim in the complaint.
In November 2013, Republic Services moved to exclude a report of an expert for the class, a portion of another expert’s report, and another expert’s declaration.
An attachment from a deposition showed expert Albert Heber didn’t know the area included chemical manufacturers and formulators.
Phillips asked for an extension of time to reply, and Mummert granted it.
No reply followed, for Phillips and Republic Services achieved substantial agreement in December 2013.
In March 2014, a lingering dispute caused Phillips to issue a subpoena on owners of apartments for rental records.
The owners moved to quash the subpoena, and Mummert denied the motion.
Parties submitted a settlement in April 2014, and Mummert granted preliminary approval.
The court sent notice to 1,244 class members.
Mummert received objections, starting with Elmer Klump and Margaret Klump.
They wrote that, “it is not in the best interest of our property value or our health and welfare to be bound by the terms of the settlement and receive a cash payment at this time.”
Frank Licata and Lupe Licata wrote that the Simmons firm couldn’t represent them, “because we have never signed anything with them, nor have we asked them to represent us.”
“Republic cannot throw a few dollars at homeowners and then proceed to stink them out,” they wrote.
Sharon Bishop wrote, “I am really concerned that this lawsuit was settled and we had to sign claim forms before they are going to open the trench which will be bad because of the extra stench and possible radiation coming from it.”
An adjacent landfill holds radioactive waste.
Bishop wrote, “I feel they settled so no one would be able to make any other claims against them.”
David Blackwell wrote, “How anybody can call giving up your health rights a proper thing to do is beyond me.”
Martha Watson of Bridgeton disagreed with the settlement, “because the issues with health and property concerns related to the landfill have not been resolved.”
Thomas Olmsted and Jill Olmsted wrote, “We will not agree to a settlement that allows unjust treatment to me or other members of our community.”
They wrote that the attorneys were being compensated at an unmerited rate compared to the small amount of damages they would receive.
“We feel that the attorneys representing us are underestimating the strong liability case against the defendant and that the proposed fee may be unduly influencing their willingness to further litigate this matter,” they wrote.
Joseph Smith and Deanna Smith wrote that they felt they should be compensated for more money.
They wrote that they had their house on the market and felt that the landfill odor and its reputation brought negative attention to the neighborhood.
Geraldine Zoll, Mitchell Vardeman and Heather Bernardon each signed a statement that, “The property values have dropped and no one would ever buy here if I wanted to sell. $5,000 is an insult!”
Twelve neighbors signed a statement claiming the settlement betrayed them.
“The settlement is great for the defendant because it releases a multitude of claims with the potential of monetary damages,” it stated.
“The settlement is great for the class counsel because it receives overwhelming compensation.”
John James retained lawyer Daniel Finney, who argued that the release was vague, confusing and misleading as to what claims survive the settlement.
He wrote that counsel on both sides made statements that contradict the release.
In response to the objections, the parties deleted from the release a statement that there are no known substantial radioactive emissions from the landfill.
They added a sentence allowing recovery for radiation contamination of property.
In July 2014, Phillips moved for an award of $1,154,984.86 in fees, $251,147.21 in expenses, and $15,000 each for six class representatives.
He wrote that 947 individuals chose to participate, a rate of 76 percent.
He wrote that 194 essentially opted out by not responding, 80 affirmatively opted out, and 23 objected.
In August 2014, Mummert overruled all objections and entered final judgment.
He ordered Republic Services to distribute $3,323,576.36 to class members and $90,000 to the class representatives.
He ruled that class counsel could retain $1,192,281 as their fee and $253,266.64 as cost reimbursement.
In November 2014, Simmons gave Koster $25,000.
Simmons gave Koster $50,000 in June 2015, and $50,000 last September.
This June, Simmons gave Koster $50,000.
Koster’s landfill suit took a detour last year, when Republic Services removed it to U.S. district court.
Republic Services claimed an amended complaint and expert reports implicated federal interests, but District Judge Ronnie White disagreed.
In April, he remanded the case to the county court.