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Court Grants Final Approval of $375 Million Settlement in Cook v. Rockwell International Corporation

Posted: May 1, 2017
Outcome: Settlement
Practice Areas: Environmental & Mass Tort

Philadelphia, Pa., May 1, 2017. On April 28, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted final approval of a $375 million settlement in Cook et al. v. Rockwell International Corp. et al., one of the longest running cases in the United States. The case, which involves plutonium releases from the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site northwest of Denver, Colo., was filed in January 1990 against The Dow Chemical Company and Rockwell International Corporation. Both companies managed the plant from 1952 to 1989 for the United States Department of Energy. Homeowners alleged that plutonium releases from the plant had contaminated their property.

"We are very pleased with the final approval," said Merrill G. Davidoff, Chairman of Berger & Montague and lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs in a four-month trial held from October 2005 to February 2006. On February 14, 2006, Mr. Davidoff and his team won a jury verdict on behalf of thousands of class members. Compensatory damages as found by the jury were $177 million. Judgment in the case was entered by the Court in June 2008, including interest and punitive damages.

Recognizing this tremendous achievement, the Public Justice Foundation awarded its prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for 2009 to Mr. Davidoff, Berger & Montague Managing Shareholder David F. Sorensen, and the entire trial team. The entire judgment was reversed and vacated on appeal, including the punitive damages. See Cook, et al. v. Rockwell Int'l. Corp., et al., 618 F.3d 1127 (10th Cir. 2010) ("Cook Appeal I").

After remand to the District Court following an unsuccessful petition for certiorari, the District Court dismissed the entire case. On a second appeal to the Tenth Circuit, the Court of Appeals in 2015 found that plaintiffs' state law nuisance cause of action was not preempted by the federal Price-Anderson Act, and that plaintiffs could pursue a state law nuisance judgment based on the existing verdict. See Cook, et al. v. Rockwell Int'l. Corp., et al., 790 F.3d 1088 (10th Cir. 2015) ("Cook Appeal II"). This was a precedent-setting decision written by now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Thanks to Berger & Montague's tireless efforts litigating this case, a proposed class settlement for $375 million was reached on May 19, 2016.  The settlement will return to class members recoveries in excess of the compensatory damages found by the jury in 2006, even after fees and costs to class counsel.

In addition to Mr. Davidoff and Mr. Sorensen, the trial team also included the late shareholder Peter Nordberg and was supported by attorneys Jenna MacNaughton, Caitlin G. Coslett, and Ellen Noteware, as well as lead trial paralegal Karen Markert. Louise Roselle of the Cincinnati law firm Markovits, Stock & DeMarco; Jean Geoppinger McCoy, currently of the Cincinnati law firm White, Getgey & Meyer, Co., L.P.A., and Gary B. Blum of Silver & DeBoskey, P.C. in Denver, also assisted at trial.

Berger & Montague is a full-spectrum class action and complex civil litigation firm, with nationally known attorneys highly sought after for their legal skills. The firm has been recognized by courts throughout the country for its ability and experience in handling major complex litigation, particularly in the fields of antitrust, securities, environmental, mass torts, civil and human rights, whistleblower cases, employment, and consumer litigation.  In numerous precedent-setting cases, the firm has played a principal or lead role.