Summary of 3M Settlement
In December 2010, the State of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against 3M Company seeking payment for natural resource damages caused by 3M’s disposal of perflourochemicals (“PFCs”) in the East Metropolitan Area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota for several decades. The lawsuit was brought by the Attorney General and the Minnesota Commissioners of Pollution Control and Natural Resources, acting as trustees for the State of Minnesota’s natural resources.
In February, 2018 the lawsuit was settled after seven years of intense litigation―involving 27,000,000 pages of documents, the taking of approximately 200 witness depositions, over $10 million dollars in tests, fees and costs, over 100 judicial hearings and conferences, over 1,600 court filings, and a non-stop negotiation lasting 22 hours just before trial was scheduled to begin. By the end of the case, over 75 lawyers were involved in the matter, which included appeals to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court.
The matter was resolved with the payment of $850 million by 3M to the State of Minnesota. The Minnesota Environmental Remediation Fund will receive the $850 million in the form of a restricted grant. The money will earn interest in the Remediation Fund. According to the Harvard Law Review, this is the third largest natural resource recovery in the history of the United States. It is the largest environmental settlement in Minnesota history, more than 100 times larger than the next largest case.
The lawsuit related to a 100 square mile underground “plume” of PFC chemicals in the East Metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. As noted above, the money was paid by 3M as a restricted grant, with the primary purpose to construct clean drinking water systems for communities located above the contaminated plume. The company will pay up to another $40 million to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) to help these communities with short-term drinking water solutions. If the $890 million is exhausted at some point in the future and drinking water problems remain, the company will continue to pay to fix those problems under a 2007 consent order with the MPCA.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are the trustees who will administer and implement the settlement. They will form a Working Group to consider and evaluate potential projects that meet the terms of the settlement agreement. The two agencies also will conduct “listening sessions” in the affected communities. People who believe that they, their business, or their community are eligible to have projects completed under the settlement agreement should contact those agencies as follows:
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Road North
St. Paul, MN 55155
(651) 296-6300 or (800) 657-3864
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
500 Lafayette Road, Box 37
St. Paul, MN 55155
(651) 296-6157 or (888) 646-6367
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has developed website pages to inform people about the settlement and allow people to track progress of the settlement. You may access the website at www.pca.state.mn.us/waste/3m-and-pfcs-2018-settlement.
This lawsuit was about damage to the State’s natural resources. A cutting-edge statute with limited judicial history provides that the State of Minnesota is the trustee of the State’s natural resources, including the water, the vegetation, and the birds, fish, wildlife, and that the Attorney General may file a lawsuit when those natural resources are damaged. In short, under this statute, following what we call the “Pottery Barn Rule,” an entity that harms the State’s natural resources must compensate the State for the harm.
Because the Attorney General’s Office does not have jurisdiction to act as a lawyer for people who have suffered individual personal injuries or property damage, people who feel that they have suffered such injuries and who wish to pursue a legal claim should consult with a private attorney.
In West Virginia, several law firms filed a personal injury lawsuit against DuPont for its disposal of PFCs used to make Teflon. The lawyers settled that class action personal injury lawsuit with a $671 million payment to the class. The law firm that represented the litigants in the DuPont case also was involved in bringing a lawsuit in Minnesota against 3M. The court dismissed the claims for personal injury damages of the litigants in Minnesota. The lawsuit also involved claims for diminution of home values caused by PFCs, but the Washington County jury found for the company.
In 2011, the Metropolitan Council also filed a lawsuit against 3M, claiming it needed $1 billion to retrofit a water plant. In 2017, the Met Council settled the matter by paying $1 million to 3M.