Orrick Pro Bono Team Strikes a "Blow for Justice" in Critical Environmental Law Case

April.25.2012

After more than two years of intense litigation, an Orrick pro bono team has prevailed in a significant federal case involving contaminated drinking water in a small Tennessee community.

The Orrick team litigated the case on behalf of the Natural Resource Defense Council, Orrick's legal services partner, who sought to address an imminent and substantial endangerment to the drinking water supply of Dickson, Tennessee.

Several decades ago, a landfill was placed near a lower-income community in Dickson, which is located an hour west of Nashville. Over the years, industrial solvents dumped at the landfill seeped into groundwater.

In 1988, tests revealed trichloroethylene (TCE) in the well of the Holt family, who lived next to the landfill. Three years later, TCE levels in the well had risen to a concentration of more than five times the Environmental Protection Agency's safety standard. The government, however, continued to assure the family that the water was safe to drink. The Holts continued to drink TCE-contaminated water for nine years, until they were connected to a public water supply. Two family members developed cancer, and several others have been diagnosed with serious illnesses.

With the Orrick team's assistance, the case settled on the eve of trial. The consent decree provides for a $5 million remedy fund that will be used to establish a scientifically justified environmental risk area, provide free public water connections to people who live within that area and establish a monitoring program to detect further spread of TCE contamination from the landfill. In addition, the settlement of a parallel civil rights suit will provide the Holt family with $1.75 million for their suffering.

"Orrick struck a blow for justice in this case," said NRDC Senior Attorney Michael Wall in a letter thanking the firm for its representation. "Your team led our development of the case against two private companies that had contributed to the contamination and defended NRDC against unsavory litigation tactics by one of the defendants."

San Francisco commercial litigation partner Joe Malkin and Seattle securities litigation senior associate Charles Ha served as co-counsel to the NRDC, and former Orrick lawyers Stephanie Zook (Sacramento) and Ranjit Narayanan (Seattle) were significantly involved in achieving this tremendous result.