Fluoride Action Network

Minnesota: Judge disqualifies outside counsel in Minn. AG’s 3M case

Source: Legal Newsline | October 12th, 2012 | By John O
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

MINNEAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) – A Minnesota judge has ruled a private firm can’t represent state Attorney General Lori Swanson in her lawsuit against 3M Company.

According to the ABA Journal, Hennepin County District Court Judge Robert Blaeser decided Thursday to grant 3M’s motion to disqualify Covington & Burling, an international firm with U.S. offices in three California cities, Washington, D.C., New York City.

The issue was the firm’s previous representation of 3M on another matter.

“Covington has exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty to 3M by failing to raise its conflicts arising from the fact that it previously advised and represented 3M on FC [fluorochemical] matters,” Blaeser wrote, according to the ABA Journal.

“Additionally, Covington is disqualified in order to protect 3M’s confidential information Covington obtained during its representation of 3M, which is relevant to the issues at the heart of the state’s case.”

Swanson sued 3M in late 2010, alleging it caused damages to the state’s ground and surface water and natural resources.

Swanson alleged the disposal of chemicals called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which she says the company used to make stain repellents like Scotchguard™, fire retardants, paints and chemical products.

“3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals. The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters,” Swanson said.

PFCs are a class of chemicals — not natural to the environment — in which fluorine atoms replace the hydrogen atoms that are normally attached to the carbon “backbone” of hydrocarbon molecules. The chemical structure of PFCs makes them resistant to breakdown in the environment.

For more than 50 years, the attorney general said, 3M disposed of PFC waste and wastewater in the state.

For decades, she said, the company buried the chemicals below ground, allowing them to seep into the groundwater, and piped the chemicals into surface water flowing into the Mississippi River.