Four lawsuits by Athens County residents, filed last month in county Common Pleas Court against the giant chemical firm E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., have been transferred into federal court. The company has answered the suits, claiming it didn’t knowingly poison anyone, and asking that a federal judge throw the complaints out of court.
The suits are among more than 20 filed statewide in connection with contamination of water supplies in Ohio and West Virginia by C8, a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon at DuPont’s Washington Works Plant in Wood County, W.Va. They were filed in Athens County Common Pleas Court in early December.
The four plaintiffs from Athens County have claimed they suffer from thyroid disease and in one case, ulcerative colitis, illnesses that have been linked to exposure to C8.
The way was cleared for the lawsuits when a science panel, set up to study health risks connected with DuPont’s release of C8 into area drinking water supplies, issued a final report in October. The panel was established as part of the settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the corporation, whose plaintiffs included anyone living in any of six water districts affected by the releases, including the Little Hocking Water Association, which serves parts of Washington County, and Troy and Rome townships in Athens County.
The panel’s final report found probable links between C8 exposure and a number of medical problems.
On Dec. 20, DuPont filed notices of removal with the U.S. District Court in Columbus, announcing that it was transferring the four cases to federal court. Other cases filed at the county level in Ohio have seen similar treatment, district court records indicate.
In the filings, DuPont cited “complete diversity of citizenship” between itself and the plaintiffs – meaning they’re based in different states – and also its expectation that, although the plaintiffs don’t ask for specific damage amounts, “a reasonable interpretation of the pleadings” suggests that the amount will exceed $75,000, which gives the federal court jurisdiction.
The filings also ask that if the court has any question about the validity of accepting the transfer, it grant DuPont an opportunity to argue the issue.
DuPont also has filed answers to the lawsuits in federal court, in which it maintains, among other claims, that “studies have shown only very low levels” of C8 in the environment and the blood of the general population near the Washington Works Plant.
It also claims that the damages alleged, “if any, were proximately caused by acts of God and/or by intervening and superseding actions by others, over which DuPont had no control”; that any damages “were not reasonably foreseeable by DuPont at the time of the conduct alleged”; and that “DuPont neither knew, nor should have known, that any of the substances to which plaintiff was allegedly exposed were hazardous or constituted a reasonable or foreseeable risk of physical harm by virtue of the prevailing state of the medical, scientific and/or industrial knowledge available to DuPont…”
The answers also suggest that each of the plaintiffs, by their involvement in the settlement of the class-action suit, “released various claims against DuPont arising from DuPont’s use of PFOA at Washington Works, and/or has already obtained relief and/or received consideration for such release.”
Granting the plaintiffs damages from DuPont, the company maintains, would deprive the company of its right to due process and equal protection under law, as well as its right to be free of the imposition of excessive fines.
The company’s alleged actions in connection with the C8 releases, it claims, “conformed to industry standards based upon the state of medical, scientific, and/or industrial knowledge which existed at the time or times that plaintiff is alleged to have been exposed.” Further, it claims, the plaintiffs “cannot establish that DuPont knew that the activities… were unreasonably dangerous…”
DuPont has asked that the complaints be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be re-filed, that the plaintiffs “recover nothing from DuPont,” and that the court award the company court costs.