A coalition of 23 legal representatives has drafted an official omnibus opposition to a class settlement announced between 3M and a group of public water utilities over contamination of public water and drinking stores caused by 3M allegedly leaking per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into water supplies. The representatives claim that this $12.5 billion settlement is premature and does not adequately compensate the many potential class members, and a more comprehensive settlement must be reached before undergoing the lengthy and costly process of disseminating class notices.
In an official document titled “States’ and Sovereigns’ Omnibus Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion For Preliminary Approval of Class Settlement, For Certification of Settlement Class and For Permission to Disseminate Class Notice,” nearly two dozen legal representatives from the states and territories of the U.S. discuss what they feel are the many inadequacies of 3M’s settlement. The full lists of attorneys general or attorney general equivalents who formed the coalition include representatives from:
- Washington D.C.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
These representatives claim that while 3M’s motion suggests that the court system should play a limited and largely ceremonial role in addressing a motion for preliminary approval of a class settlement, the true role of the court is to consider the gravity and complexity of the settlement. This added scrutiny is due to the fact that the district court has a duty to protect unnamed class members from “unjust or unfair settlements affecting their rights.”
The omnibus alleges that the court has a duty to protect from “parties and counsel overeager to settle” particularly when the parties are simultaneously seeking class certification and preliminary approval of a settlement for that potential class. The representatives acknowledge that while closer scrutiny of a settlement is usually reserved for the final hearing, the review of the preliminary approval must “be sufficient to demonstrate that the settlement terms do not suffer from obvious defects and that final approval is likely to be granted.”
The representatives note that one reason for this needed scrutiny is the significant investment of time, money and resources that goes into alerting class members and then proceeding to a final hearing.
If the court sides with the representatives in their opposition, the settlement proceeding could be slowed, halted or outright dismissed, causing 3M and public utility groups to have to either negotiate a new settlement to the satisfaction of the state and territorial authorities, or proceed through a lengthy class action process with potential settlement after a more significant period of consideration.