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SALEM City loses battle over settlement



Published: Sat, May 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city is still pursuing another legal avenue.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

SALEM -- A federal judge has ruled against the city in its effort to contest a settlement in a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit alleging pesticide contamination.

Earlier this week, Judge Donald Nugent of U.S. District Court in Cleveland denied the city's Feb. 14 motion that the settlement issue be reopened.

The city requested the action because it alleges that its attorneys in the pesticide lawsuit, Murray & amp; Murray of Sandusky, failed to properly notify the city of the settlement.

The alleged notification failure caused the city to miss in sharing the $18 million settlement in the case, which was reached in August 1999. The settlement has since been disbursed.

City officials have estimated that the city's settlement share would have been about $500,000.

Murray & amp; Murray has argued that it complied with notification procedures by informing the city twice by mail about the settlement and the city's need to complete a claim form.

The city contended it didn't receive either of the mailings.

Ruling: Judge Nugent determined that the city hall address to which the notices were sent was correct. The city must ensure that its mail is responsibly handled, the judge said in a written opinion.

"The bottom line is that the court is indicating that it's the city's own fault for not opening their mail and responding to the claim form," Atty. Dennis Murray Jr. said Friday.

City Law Director C. Brooke Zellers said the ruling disappointed him.

Additional suit: But the city also is tackling the issue through a lawsuit filed against Murray & amp; Murray in March in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

In that case, the city says the law firm was negligent in its duty to ensure that the city was notified of the settlement.

The lawsuit is pending while Judge Nugent decides whether it should be heard in federal court, Zellers said.

Murray & amp; Murray represented the city and about 1,300 area residents in the 1990 class-action lawsuit that led to the settlement dispute.

The case was against the former Ruetgers-Nease Chemical Co. of State College, Pa.

It alleged that a Ruetgers-Nease chemical plant along state Route 14, northwest of Salem, contaminated nearby Little Beaver Creek with mirex, a pesticide that may cause cancer.

The plant closed in 1973, but plaintiffs contended that the pollution adversely affected property along the stream, including land owned by Salem.

leigh@vindy.com




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