The complaint is forty-two (42) pages long, with eleven (11) formal sections. I have attempted to summarize each of the sections below. Please keep in mind that everything in the complaint is from the plaintiffs’ point of view, and lays out the basics of the plaintiffs’ case, without evidence. The purpose is to start the lawsuit and inform the defendants of why they are being sued.
Section 1. Introduction
The Introduction lays out the plaintiffs case in very broad and simple terms. In this section, the plaintiffs claim that they were injured because the defendants were reckless and negligent in the way they processed, transported, stored, handled and/or disposed of radioactive materials near residential neighborhoods. Because of the defendants’ reckless and negligent behavior, hazardous, toxic and radioactive substances were released into the environment, and contaminated the soil, air and groundwater. This caused the plaintiffs physical injury and emotional distress.
Section 2. Jurisdiction
The Jurisdiction section explains why the case should be heard in federal court instead of state court. The plaintiffs claim that federal court is the proper court, in part, because two specific federal laws were broken: the United States Atomic Energy Act and the United States Price Anderson Act. Some state laws are involved, but where a federal law is in question, the federal court may also hear the state law claims.
Section 3. Venue
The venue is the physical location of the court. Because the plaintiffs were injured and the nuclear incidents causing the injuries both occurred in St. Louis County, the federal court responsible for that geographic location – here, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri – is the proper court to hear the case.
Section 4. The Parties
This section describes all of the parties to the lawsuit – both plaintiffs and defendants. The plaintiffs must explain why each plaintiff is included in the lawsuit, and why each defendant is included in the lawsuit.
The complaint lists thirteen (13) individual plaintiffs, along with their injuries, and a brief explanation of each plaintiff’s exposure to radioactive waste.
The injuries include:
- Stage III Glioma (brain cancer);
- two (2) cases of ovarian cancer;
- ovarian tumors;
- throat and neck cancer;
- Hodgkins Lymphoma;
- cervical cancer and related hysterectomy;
- breast cancer;
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (cancer) of the throat;
- kidney cancer;
- two (2) cases of prostate cancer;
- Ewing Sarcoma and related sterility;
- pancreatic cancer;
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor;
- lung cancer and colon cancer.
The exposure to radiation includes: living in the exposed area for anywhere from eight (8) to forty-eight (48) years; playing in the creek; playing in fields and playgrounds next to the creek; eating produce grown near the creek; extensive yard work in the affected area; general outdoor recreation near the creek; living in a home and playing in a yard on the creek bank; catching crawdads and tadpoles in the creek; having the creek flood into the plaintiffs’ homes or basements.
The complaint lists fifteen (15) defendants, all corporations which processed, distributed, transported, stored, handled or disposed of hazardous, toxic and radioactive materials, or which own(ed) or acquired another company that processed, distributed, transported, stored, handled or disposed of hazardous, toxic and radioactive materials. (When one company acquires another, it takes over its assets and its liabilities, including legal liabilities.)
Section 5: Relevant Facts
Here, the plaintiffs explain their version of the facts of the case.
The defendant businesses processed, distributed, transported, stored, handled or disposed of radioactive materials. The nuclear processing facilities and the hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste residues they created were owned, operated and solely controlled by the defendants. Because the defendants were reckless and negligent in handling the radioactive materials, the materials leaked into the air, water and soil in and around their homes. This exposed the plaintiffs to the radioactive waste, and made them sick.
Next, the plaintiffs explain the history of the radioactive contamination of Coldwater Creek, beginning with the work on the “Manhattan Project” in St. Louis during World War II, the processing of uranium ore through the 1950s in downtown St. Louis (SLDS), and the storage of radioactive waste at the St. Louis Airport site (SLAPS) beginning in 1946. They describe the transportation of waste from SLAPS to a site on Latty Avenue in Berkeley, Mo., which later became the Hazelwood Interim Storage Site (HISS). This resulted in the contamination of HISS and the haul routes between SLDS, SLAPS and HISS. The U.S. government later added these sites to the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Progam (FUSRAP) – sites that the government determined need to be ‘cleaned up.’
The complaint explains in detail the contamination of the North St. Louis County Sites. It describes the airport site (SLAPS) as 21.7 acres (bordered by McDonnell Boulevard, Banshee Road, the Norfolk Southern Railroad and Coldwater Creek) that was primarily used to store radioactive waste in bulk on the open ground, or buried near Coldwater Creek. The contaminated haul routes include Coldwater Creek, former ball fields, Eva Avenue, Frost Avenue, Hazelwood Avenue, McDonnell Boulevard and Pershall Road.
The complaint also lists the Madison Site as a contaminated site. The complaint states that the Madison site is located across the river from the downtown site (SLDS) in Madison, Illinois, and is the location where Dow Chemical operated a uranium extrusion and rod-straightening facility.
The West Lake Landfill has also been added to the FUSRAP list of contaminated St. Louis sites. The landfill consists of 200 acres at 13570 St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton, Mo., and is the disposal site for thousands of tons of radioactive waste from the airport site (SLAPS). Radioactive soils are buried at depths of 7 – 15 feet over 24 acres. The Landfill is upstream from the sources of drinking water for Florissant, North County, and St. Louis, and lies partially within the Missouri River floodplain. Groundwater beneath the landfill shows radiation levels above the maximum allowed by law. The Landfill was placed on the federal government’s National Priorities List in 1989.
Section 6. Site History
This section describes the site histories in more detail, and describes how defendant corporations are connected to the sites.
It explains that rain water drains from contaminated sites directly into Coldwater Creek. When parts of Coldwater Creek were backfilled to support construction, soil and sediment were contaminated by waste from the airport site (SLAPS).
Waste materials were removed from the airport site (SLAPS) and the Latty Avenue site (HISS) during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1973, 47,700 tons of contaminated material was disposed of into the West Lake Landfill. The contaminated soil was routinely used to cover municipal waste and for other landfill operations.
Section 7. Investigation of Contamination
This section describes government investigations of contamination at the North County sites, beginning with the addition of the airport (SLAPS) and Latty Avenue (HISS) sites to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List in 1989. In 1994, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report concluding that the soil at the North County sites is contaminated. Additional DOE investigations in 1995 confirmed widespread radioactive contamination in Coldwater Creek, along the haul routes (including vegetation, soil and ground water), and at the North County sites.
Section 8. Topography and Drainage of Contaminants
This section of the complaint describes the physical landscape at the various contaminated sites. Because of this landscape, rain water flowing off the contaminated sites becomes contaminated, and then drains into Coldwater Creek. Because the water runoff into Coldwater Creek has increased due to development, the creek floods more often. The contaminated water then enters areas beyond the banks of the creek. Investigations show that contamination levels at the North St. Louis County sites exceed federal dose limits. Because of the long half-life of radioactive waste, people living near the contaminated sites have been, and will continue to be, exposed to hazardous substances.
Section 9. Causes of Action
This section explains the specific laws that defendants are accused of breaking, and how the defendants’ liability should be measured. This part is very confusing for non-lawyers, because the causes of action are often various legal theories of how the case should be handled by the court. Plaintiffs have the right to plead causes of action that are mutually exclusive of one another, so that if the court rejects one, it could still accept the other. For example, the counts in this case include three various types of negligence.
Count 1. Violations of the Atomic Energy Act and the Price-Anderson Act.
Under the Atomic Energy Act, companies engaged in the development, use and control of atomic energy are required to get a federal license allowing them to engage in these activities. All of the defendants to the lawsuit (or their predecessors or agents) obtained this license.
Under the Price-Anderson Act, any release of by-product, special nuclear, or source materials causing bodily injury, sickness, disease, death, loss or damage to property, or loss of use of property constitutes a ‘nuclear incident.’ The complaint claims that defendants have caused a nuclear incident or series of nuclear incidents. Because the plaintiffs were injured as a result of a ‘nuclear incident,’ under the Price-Anderson Act it is considered a ‘public liability action.’ Under the act, when a public liability action occurs, the court must follow the laws of the state in which the nuclear incident occurred in to decide the case – here, Missouri law.
Count 2. Negligence
The Defendants processed, handled, stored, and/or disposed of hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste materials at the St. Louis FUSRAP sites in a reckless, negligent and illegal manner. As a result, hazardous, toxic and radioactive materials were released into the communities surrounding the FUSRAP sites, including Berkley, Hazelwood, and Florissant, Mo. Exposure to these materials injured the plaintiffs.
The Defendants had a duty to warn or notify plaintiffs of the potential danger of exposure to hazardous, toxic and radioactive materials. Defendants had a duty to warn or notify plaintiffs that the contaminants had been released, and were likely to be released in the future. Defendants failed to act to prevent their releases from harming plaintiffs. Defendants knew or should have known that the manner in which they were handling the contaminated materials would result in actual injuries and increased risks to the population.
Defendants’ negligence was the direct cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.
Count 3. Negligence Per Se
The defendants violated several statutes (laws passed by Congress) and regulations (rules created by the government agency responsible for carrying out the laws passed by Congress) related to the handling of radioactive waste. Defendants violated the Atomic Energy Act, the Price-Anderson Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRTKA), and regulations related to each act. The Defendants also violated Illinois air and water quality protection and waste disposal laws. If the defendants are found to have violated these statutes and related regulations, they are automatically found to have injured the plaintiffs. The violation of these laws in and of themselves caused plaintiffs injuries, even if plaintiffs cannot prove a direct connection between their injuries and the defendants activities.
Count 4. Absolute or Strict Liability
Defendants activities at the St. Louis FUSRAP sites were abnormally dangerous. Even though defendants knew that their activities were abnormally dangerous, they conducted those activities near residential neighborhoods like those of Berkeley, Hazelwood, and Florissant, Mo. The abnormally dangerous activities of defendants directly injured the plaintiffs. Because the activity is so dangerous, the defendants need not have intended to harm anyone in order to be found liable. (Normally, the defendant must have intended to hurt someone – such as hitting someone in the head with a baseball bat.)
Counts 5, 6 and 7. Intentional, Reckless, or Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
The defendants’ conduct caused the plaintiffs mental anguish, severe emotional distress, and serious mental injury. Different levels of proof are required to determine whether the emotional distress was inflicted intentionally, recklessly or negligently. The plaintiffs allege all three types in the complaint, so that even if they can’t meet the highest level of proof (intentional), they still have a chance of proving one of the lower levels (reckless or negligent).
Count 8. Medical Monitoring
The plaintiffs are requesting (under Missouri state law) that defendants provide medical monitoring due to the increased risk of injury due to exposure to radioactive waste. The tests are effective, easy, cost effective, and make the early detection and treatment of injury or disease possible and beneficial. Such a medical monitoring program is reasonable and necessary to continue to monitor existing diagnosed conditions and for early detection of injuries that have not yet been diagnosed. Modern scientific principles, medical literature and expert opinion support this type of program.
Section 10. Damages
This section describes how the plaintiffs were damaged – expenses, physical impairment, permanent partial disability with a risk of permanent total disability in the future, the need for current or future nursing care or other domestic assistance, loss of a vibrant and active lifestyle, and the loss of enjoying a full and complete life. Plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages (monetary payment by the defendants as punishment for their acts) and compensatory damages (money to make up for expenses incurred due to their illnesses). Specifically, plaintiffs are seeking monetary payment for: reasonable and necessary medical expenses; lost earnings and net accumulations; loss of care, maintenance, services, support, advice and counsel that plaintiffs provided their family members; pain and suffering; emotional distress; punitive damages; costs related to the lawsuit and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Section 11. Prayer for Relief
Here, the plaintiffs simply summarize what they want the court to do. In this case, the plaintiffs want the court to grant them general damages, special damages, punitive and exemplary damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, prejudgment interest from the date of exposure, post-judgment interest on the judgment, and injunctive relief – forcing the defendants to stop the activities that caused the plaintiffs harm.
The complaint is then signed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys:
Eric J. Carlson and Christopher W. Byron
Byron Carlson Petri and Calb, LLC
411 St. Louis Street
Edwardsville, IL 62025
Telephone (618) 655-0600
Facsimile (618) 655-4004
It also lists Co-Counsel as:
Mark J. Bern and Kevin J. Lawner
Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Assoc., LLP
The Empire State Building
350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 7413
New York, NY 10118