MUSCATINE — A Muscatine County District Court judge will soon set at two-week time period where Southend residents can decide whether to accept a settlement agreement or rejoin a class action lawsuit against Grain Processing Corporation for its plant's emissions.
After a class action lawsuit against GPC was certified by the Iowa Supreme Court, hundreds of Muscatine residents began filing individual lawsuits over harmful pollution at the Oregon Street plant. In September, lawyers, representing some of the residents, announced they reached a settlement agreement with GPC.
The settlement is separate from the class action, which will go to trial next July.
The Parry Group of lawyers, who sent out the announcement about the settlement, say the agreement is the quickest way to win compensation over GPC's emissions. In the announcement, they said residents who have lived within 1.5 miles of the plant for at least eight years could win up to $33,000, depending on proximity to the plant, home ownership status and other factors.
In order to sign the settlement, residents must opt out of the class action lawsuit, and according to court documents, more than 2,000 have chosen to leave the class so far.
Last month, a judge ruled the Parry Group did not provide complete information to residents about the settlement. He said lawyers told residents the top dollar amount they could win from the settlement, but not the other conditions.
For example, by agreeing to the settlement, residents would not be able to sue GPC for future harm caused by its operations and would agree to placing a permanent easement on their properties, allowing GPC to continue operating its plant regardless of the environmental impact. The settlement announcement also failed to include the fee lawyers will claim in the agreement.
The judge ruled, however, the settlement is still valid and could be an appropriate option for some residents seeking compensation as soon as possible.
Because the judge decided the settlement announcement was not complete, he ordered lawyers to mail a corrective notice, explaining the details of the court proceedings, the conditions of the settlement and their options in suing GPC.
The judge will also determine a two-week long period for residents, who have opted out of the class action lawsuit, to decide whether to continue with the settlement agreement or rejoin the class.
This week, lawyers issued a proposal for the corrective notice, and the judge will soon decide on when it should be mailed. According to court documents, once residents receive the notice, the two-week period will begin for residents to decide whether to rejoin the class action lawsuit or stick with the settlement.
The opt-in and corrective notice are only available to the more than 2,000 residents who have signed the settlement agreement after Aug. 31. Before that date, around 280 clients had hired the Parry Group, and they are not subject to the ruling, according to the judge
In an interview, Attorney Ron Parry said GPC is already sending checks to the 280 residents who signed prior to August. This week, some Southend residents, including Brian Freitag, who ran for Muscatine City Council this fall, said they have received settlement checks.