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Houston law firm represents New Jersey in record $355 million settlements

TRENTON - Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin announced today that Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi has entered the Consent Judgment requiring Occidental Chemical Corporation (OCC) to pay the State of New Jersey $190 million to resolve its liability for certain economic damages, natural resource damages, and past cleanup and removal costs related to contamination of the Passaic River. http://nj.gov/oag/newsreleases14/pr20141217a.html

The OCC Consent Judgment represents the final settlement in the State's long-running battle to recover the public's costs and damages arising from the historical contamination from OCC's Lister Avenue Agent Orange plant and brings to $355.4 million the total amount recovered by the State of New Jersey as a result of the Passaic River litigation.

Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, PC, of Houston, Texas, working closely with Acting Attorney General Hoffman, Deputy Attorney General John F. Dickinson of the Division of Law, and Special Counsel Mike Gordon of Gordon & Gordon, PC, of Springfield, New Jersey, represented the State of New Jersey in the Passaic River litigation.

"We are honored to have worked on the Passaic River Litigation with Acting Attorney General Hoffman, Commissioner Martin, Governor Christie's Office, and all of the incredible public servants at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Law," stated Special Counsel Bill Jackson. "The results that the State of New Jersey achieved on the Passaic River are truly historic. These settlements represent the largest environmental cost-recovery case in the history of New Jersey and the single largest economic damages recovery of its kind. Moreover, the restoration projects to be implemented along the Passaic River and Newark Bay can be transformative to those communities and are anticipated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic redevelopment and growth over the generations to come."

"The Occidental settlement approved today, along with the two Passaic River litigation settlements that preceded it, represents a tremendous victory for the citizens of New Jersey," said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.

"Cleaning up the lower Passaic River is a top environmental priority for New Jersey, one that is vital to the health and safety of people who live and work along the river and who have long had to bear the burden of this pollution,'' Commissioner Martin said. "Those responsible for the pollution must be accountable for the expense of the remediation, and not the taxpayers of New Jersey. We continue to stand firm in that commitment, will continue to work closely with the U.S. EPA to get this cleanup project started as soon as possible, and strongly support the settlement being announced today."

"With the forthcoming EPA remedy and cleanup of the Passaic River, announced in April to cost an estimated $1.7 billion, this is easily one of the largest Superfund Sites and environmental recoveries in the history of our country," said Jackson.

For a decade, Special Counsel from Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, PC of Houston, Texas and Gordon & Gordon, PC of Springfield, New Jersey have vigorously represented the interests of the State of New Jersey in the Passaic River Litigation. In 2005, the Passaic River Litigation was launched by the State against Occidental Chemical Corporation and other companies associated with the former Diamond Shamrock site on Lister Avenue in Newark. Diamond Shamrock manufactured pesticides and herbicides from the 1940s through the 1960s, including the infamous defoliating chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, and was the lone remaining defendant sued by the State over contamination of the Passaic River that had yet to settle. The OCC Consent Judgment resolves the State's claims for past costs and damages in the Passaic River Litigation, although the cleanup obligations continue and will be enforced by EPA under the federal Superfund process.

Collectively, the three entered Passaic River settlements provide over $67 million for natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex, which are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional direct, indirect and induced economic benefits to the Newark area.

OCC has also agreed to pay up to an additional $400 Million in potential State costs associated with the EPA remedy of the dioxin and other contamination emanating from the Agent Orange plant formerly located at 80 Lister Avenue in Newark. Under the terms of the Consent Judgment, OCC has also agreed to various reopeners and potential future remediation obligations and costs if new contamination from the Lister Avenue Plant is ever discovered.

Last year, Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi approved two prior settlements in the Passaic River litigation totaling $165.4 million, $17.4 million of which is to be spent on natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex. The first settlement resulted in payments to the State totaling $130 million by several foreign defendants, including Spanish oil company Repsol, S.A., and Argentina-based YPF, S.A., YPF Holdings, Inc. and YPF International and their domestic subsidiaries Maxus Energy Corporation and Tierra Solutions, Inc.

The second settlement approved by Judge Lombardi involved 261 third-party defendants -- including 70 municipalities and other public entities that were sued by Maxus Energy Corporation and Tierra Solutions, Inc., but not the State. Under that settlement, the third-party defendants paid a total of $35.4 million to the State.

Occidental also has agreed under the proposed settlement announced today to pay certain costs associated with the $1.7 billion plan for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River announced by the federal EPA in April of this year, if those costs are assessed to the State under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

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Announcements
  • Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, PC shareholder John Hagan was awarded the 2015 Excellence in Public Interest Award for pro bono service in the field of public interest law.
  • Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs, PC was again named a "Best Law Firm" by U.S. News and Best Lawyers in 2015.
  • Bill Jackson has again been honored as a leading Environmental Litigator by Chambers and Partners' 2015 Chambers USA Guide.
  • Lori Warner was again named to "The Best Lawyers in America" in the Environmental practice area for 2015.
  • Bill Jackson will present to the American Association of Port Authorities at the April 7, 2015 conference in New Orleans on innovative approaches to moving from environmental contamination and natural resource injury directly to restoration and economic redevelopment.
  • As part of a pro bono team, Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs partner John Hagan obtained a landmark decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that fundamentally changes the process for certifying juveniles to stand trial as adults in the State of Texas.
  • Bill Jackson was named to "Texas Super Lawyers" for Environmental Litigation again for 2014.
  • Will Petit and Kenny Corley were again named "Texas Rising Stars" by Super Lawyers in 2015.
  • Lori Warner and Bill Jackson were named "Top Rated Lawyers in Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources" in the American Lawyer and The National Law Journal.
  • Bill Jackson and Lori Warner were honored in the Texas Lawyer as "Top Rated Lawyers in Texas" and A/V preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell.