September 28, 2005
Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
3M wants papers sealed
Suit over Scotchgard chemicals proceeds
BY JOHN WELBES
3M Co. is prepared to hand over more than 500,000 pages of documents
related to its production of two chemicals but wants the judge
handling the Washington County lawsuit to seal the records.
Six county residents are suing the Maplewood-based manufacturer
for contaminating ground water with certain perfluorochemicals,
one of which 3M once used in its Scotchgard fabric protector.
The plaintiffs want access to company documents detailing the
50-year history of the chemicals. But 3M attorneys argued during
a court hearing Tuesday that they don't want to have to carefully
screen each document for trade secrets or confidential information
that should remain private.
"It would take months to get these out" if they aren't
going to be sealed, said Cooper Ashley, an attorney representing
3M. The 3M legal team added that they've had 60 attorneys and
paralegals compiling the 500,000 documents for four months. Sealing
the records keeps them out of the public's view but allows plaintiffs'
If the plaintiffs' attorneys found something in the documents
they wanted to share with government environmental regulators
or the media, Ashley said, they could come back to court for that
3M is just shifting the burden of determining what is confidential
to the residents' legal team, said Mark Englehart, an attorney
representing the Washington County residents.
The lawsuit, filed almost a year ago, centers
on 3M's production of two perfluorochemicals, PFOA and PFOS, and
their disposal at nearby dump sites. The chemicals were made at
3M's Chemolite plant in Cottage Grove. 3M insists that
studies show the two chemicals are not harmful to humans.
The three-hour hearing Tuesday before Judge Mary Hannon in Washington
County District Court showed the two sides have key differences
on exactly what the Minnesota case is even about.
"Fundamentally, this is a personal injury case," said
Mike McCarthy, an attorney for 3M.
The plaintiffs' attorneys disagree, arguing they shouldn't have
to prove their clients have been injured to get class certification
for the lawsuit and head to trial. Hannon is expected to rule
on a number of pre-trial motions in coming weeks.
Earlier this year, another Washington County
judge ruled that medical monitoring of residents in Washington
County wouldn't be required, something the plaintiffs' attorneys
had sought. The plaintiffs' attorneys are coordinating blood tests
of Washington County residents on their own.
Englehart emphasized during Tuesday's hearing that the case will
proceed whether as a class-action suit or as a number of individual
John Welbes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-2175.